Wednesday, December 10, 2014

To Belfast and Beyond...

Friday the 5th, I met up with Lexi in the morning and we took off straight-shot down Western Road for hot chocolate at O'Connell's to study Strategic Management. We looked over each other's notes on corporate vs. business strategy, the core competencies, industry analysis, Porter's Five Forces, etc. The chocolate was creamy and beautiful and the time spent was productive enough. Even though I had an exam coming up, I was excited for the weekend. "So you're going to Northern Ireland this weekend?" "Yes...! I can't actually believe it. Thought I wouldn't be able to go and well, now I'm able to!"

Friday evening, after a long and laughter-filled skype with my sister Bekah, I headed out of my apartment with my bags. Meeting up with James and Melissa, it was a good-length walk to the cars. The three of us are a unique poshi of friends in that we have a common love for the poetry of nature, and speak to each other in such terms. We go crazy over a bright moon, the rivers and sea, and enjoy adventuring, speaking in quotes and poetic thought. And so as naturally as ever, we were laughing about trolls and lepricons of the stream beds before we even got into the car  for the 4+ hour trip to Belfast. Being so used to taking the bus everywhere is Ireland, it was the best feeling to be on a road trip in a cute UK-style car.

Crossing the border into the North was not nearly as epic as I'd thought it would be, as I didn't have to show anyone a passport as I thought I might. It was just mostly the songs on the radio that I noticed such as"you're so fancaaay." We arrived at the parents' home of our adventure leader, PG. They were the kindest couple and had beds all set up for us. I slept surprisingly well and woke up feeling so blessed to be in a Belfast home, with sunrise coming in over the garden.

After breakfast Saturday morning, a few from Dublin joined our adventure party, as well as a newly-wed Northern couple with those distinct accents I love. They say "jest a wee bet" in a rise and fall pattern of speech. We had a three-car party and I rode with the newly-weds up the North Coast. They were very fun and I had some great conversation with them. The Mr. drove fast and I soon felt the familiar stomach churn from the Island's typical roads. After some time he switched driving with his wife and kindly offered me the front seat, which actually helped. We soon turned onto a road that took us up the side of a large Glen, which is a valley that lies even with the sea coast, but with high headlands on its sides. There were country homes here in the Glen and at one of my favorite there were a few large geese puddling around the front. We pulled into a lot and got out to see some waterfalls. The waterfalls of this Glen fall down from high ground and run down the Glen toward the sea. They are the 'gems of the Glen'. We grabbed some coffees in the lodge at the head of this Glen, and I loved the decor of the ceiling. There were old artifacts of all types: lamps, kettles, saws, hanging everywhere.

We headed back for the drive along the coast and made a few stops along it. Of this I was very much appreciative, as I needed bits of fresh air repeatedly. And fresh it was indeed, the sea air off the North Sea gusting around my face. The views were divine:

Our traveling clan reached the town of Ballycastle around lunchtime, and picked up deli sandwiches at a store there, then ate them in the park near the boat docks. Paying for my things in pounds was a bit of a challenge, and I first when paying I'd say, "Well, I've got these coins; what do you need?" This was quite unprofessional so soon I asked British James to identify the coins for me so I knew what I was doing. After our sandwiches we got some of the best ice cream ever, even though it was a bit cold out. Back on the road, we made our way to the Causeway. I had presupposed imaginations of the Causeway, but when I got there it was a bit different than I had thought. Therefore it was a pleasant surprise, and a cold one too. We entered the area on top of a hill, and took the path down to the peculiar rock formations. I hadn't realized that there'd be so many of these weird hexagon rocks; I'd never seen anything so perfectly formed by nature: the affects of an artistic Designer. It took years, yes, but it was deliberate.

Our traveling clan meandered around the Causeway until it literally was too dark to see anything else. We decided to drive straight-shot back to Belfast to eat dinner at the Christmas market there. I'd heard about Christmas markets before, but had never been to one, so it was a world of wonder to me. It's full of huts and stands selling all sorts of artisan crafts and foods, and has some old-fashioned festival amusements as well. We basically walked in circles around the whole place checking out the different types of food, before finally choosing the specialty burger hut. There was kangaroo burgers, buffalo, wild boar, venison, etc. And since I come from Venison Land, I thought I should be true to my roots and get this type. No joke, it was probably the BEST venison burger I'll ever taste. However, I was inspired by it's flavor and so I hope to imitate it some day, as I love to cook. It was colder in Belfast than it normally is down here in Cork, so standing outside for a couple hours gave me a bone chill. After the Christmas market we went to view the political graffiti of the city, which was very fascinating. One street has the Peace Walls along it, dividing East Belfast from West Belfast. The drivers of our group feared for their cars on where to park in the midst of our stops, because if you're not careful apparently having a southern plate in the North makes you liable to have your tires popped. Yikes. And though I didn't see police cars while up there, I heard that they are extra 'armored' in case of riots. Here in the South the police are called Garda. On the subject of cars however, I should mention that because Northern Ireland is apart of the UK, most of the taxi service use London cabs, which I think look way-cooler than the normal taxi cars. Getting home after a long day had us all exhausted in a good way, and ready for hot tea and showers.

After church and lunch the next day, we finished sight-seeing. We drove around the docks where the Titanic was built and they still have the original Nomadic loading boat there. There are two huge famous cranes here that are used for ship-building, normally called David & Goliath. Next we went into the suburbs for the C.S Lewis tour. P.G's father grew up near where the great author had also grown up, and brought us to the house LittleLea. This is the house with the attic that inspired the wardrobe for the Narnia books. It it currently privately owned so it is by no means a tourist house.

Besides seeing Lewis's boyhood home, we went to a statue in the city that was erected for him. Though not too large, it is the wardrobe, the professor opening it, a chair, the face of a lion,  with a letter and other inscription on the back of the wardrobe. The concrete around the statue has the words inscribed: "Writer - Teacher - Scholar - Christian. Born 1898,  Reborn 1931." On the tour we also stopped at the church where he was baptized. I hadn't ever know all this stuff about this author, but now I was more enthralled than ever. Here I was in the land where Narnia was created!
 The last adventure of out time in Northern Ireland was jogging up to the Parliament building. It was quite the trek as it was a long, paved upward road, but totally worth the exercise. When we were most of the way up, the evening sun broke with brilliance out of the rain clouds.

When we returned back to the house, we packed up our things, and had a tea dinner with light sandwiches on delicate, flowered china plates. Before hopping into the cars we heartily thanked our hosts. Our drive back to the South was filled with laughter, story-telling, light sleeping, deep conversations, snacking, and just plain-tired silliness. Oh, what good times! I love being a traveler.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Chasing Coasts...with my Wellies in the Water

"Just WHO proclaimed there wouldn't be rain?" My friend Lexi cried as we stepped out of the Centra this morning where some of us were grabbing breakfast or drinks. "Oops, sorry, I should have kept my mouth shut", I whimpered. "But hey, it's not raining where we're headed__ see that blue spot up there!?" James put in a hopeful word. But I had already whipped out my now broken thrift-shop umbrella. "Look Lexi, it's now gotten the better of me...this umbrella isn't so great anymore." But we were close to the city center where we soon hopped onto the coach for our anticipated day trip with O'Brien's. Besides us three, there were the two Christina's, as well as a few others on the coach who'd just happened to book the same tour as us. We left for West Co. Cork and the Mizen, or southernmost point of Ireland. My friend James is from England(the area of Mr. Darcy in Pride & Prejudice), but now lives in Whales and is living here a short time for his Apple job, and therefore wanted to do sightseeing like us students. He and I happened to sit in the seats behind a very lovey-dovey German couple who kept petting each other's faces and kissing. James and I just snickered about it and tried to focus on good conversation and the lovely scenery out the windows. Our bus driver was a normal professional Irish driver, let me tell you, we were almost ALL very motion sick by the time we reached the town of Bantry. He had been going like 100 km around those super windy barely-two-track roads across the countryside. At once point there was also a sharp slam-on-the-brakes as we narrowly scraped a haul truck on a curve. Anyway, in Bantry(just a stop on the way), we all lined up in the Pharmacy to get motion sickness tablets! Then we got fresh air by walking along the water and down to the beach. With the motion sickness tablets starting to kick in, we chatted cheerily about the boats on the water, about the gypsies living nearby, and about the swan who was out on a morning swim.

On the road again, we headed for the southern point again, hoping this shorter leg of the journey would be easier on our tummies. Thankfully it was. But whatever help that was, because when we got there our breath was taken away the Beauty. The sun had broken out of the clouds at just the perfect time, and here we were standing on a plateau over the HUGE Atlantic. I've always known that the Atlantic is huge,but...this time my small eyes helplessly realized that IT was more than they could contain. There were cliffs...wave masses crashing into salt puree phantoms, ever high upon the most jagged rocks I've ever seen. I laughed to James,"The sea is saucy and the rocks dashing," knowing the sea and rocks have played for all the ages past. Up ahead we all crossed probably the grandest bridge I'll ever cross. The Atlantic expanse on my left and a God-sized ragged rock window on my right, with more rock walls and sea inlets beyond. And then I realized, if I were Amelia Earhart, this would be the PERfect rock cavern to dip your little plane down into and swoop around and up. I may just have to be the Amelia Earhart come-back-to-life and get my own plane to do this. It'd be totally worth it! It was sharp and deep, and the sun rays beamed over it's shadows, turning it into an enormous luminous hole toward heaven. Naturally we all turned crazy and realized our car sickness had been more than worth it. (Unfortunately I couldn't capture this rock chasm at its best).

There is a lighthouse out here, but it happens to be perched a lot a rocky spit-of-an-island, so we merely toured the lighthouse chambers, such as where the keepers lived. Now I have the old lighthouse scene plugged into my mind for any future novels I just may happen to write, haha. I've tried to envision the living space of lighthouse keepers for a long time now, especially after reading about Captain Jim in Anne's House of Dreams. Now I've got it. The Keepers live the lonely-beautiful. They have a dedication that courageously faces the deadly sea and then pet her calm and sleep, all the while keeping the light beaming for all the brave ships of the Northern sea. I contemplated such a life and story as I perched on the Island's southern tip lookout, literally yelling out,"Hey America out there!"(I know you're out there). I am far from home and yet I feel at home, and just can't keep my 'wellies'(rain boots) out of the water!!!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Whiskey and the Wildlife of the Land

Early November in Ireland. Means you're busier with assignments at college and the rainy days have increased. So you feel quite lucky when it's a sunny day for traveling about. I did a whiskey tour this past Saturday, to the Jameson Whiskey Distillery. It was actually a field trip with my International Marketing & Management class, and this was just one of our stops. What history lies here__ while walking the historic courtyard you can almost hear the men blowing up the whiskey with gunpowder to test if it was any good or not. That was called 'shot whiskey' in olden days. You can easily imagine the old water wheel turning and making electricity for the blowers and pulley systems. You can imagine the farmers hauling in the barley from their fields...wagon wheels jiggling upon the uneven cobblestone. This place is old for sure, though they haven't made whiskey here since the 1970's or something like that. However they do still have some aging in barrels in one of  the dark, cool warehouses. What I found interesting is that while U.S. whiskey is only distilled once, the Irish distill their's three times. I especially loved the barrels everywhere, and there was furniture made from barrels everywhere too! Being a lover of design, I could hardly keep my eyes and hands of the barrel chairs. If you've ever seen barrel making, or a video of them being made, you gain high respect. It's a lot of work! And nowadays, especially here on the Emerald Island, they use barrels not only for alcohol but for decor as well.

After lunch at the Distillery cafe(sandwiches and soup), me and the rest of my class headed off to Fota Wildlife Preserve. This is truly an unforgettable place to me. I saw so many animals here that I've never seen before in my life, since I've never been to a big zoo or anything. This place was like a "little Africa" or "little Asia" really, as they take such animals as zebras, tigers, giraffes, monkeys, kangaroos, & many others, to protect, manage, and breed their species. I stood in the beginning of the park a bit dumbfounded, looking around thinking,"Wow, you'd never expect to see this in Ireland, it's so exotic!" Because, for one, it's not indoors at all, bit actually most of the animals are just in farm-type fences, if even that. The kangaroos and moneys practically free-roam, especially the many birds they have there too. I tried to get quality shots of as many animals as I could, but there were still plenty that I missed.For instance, the red pandas were curled up taking naps in the branches of their tree so it was hard to get capture them well. And some of the moneys....well as I mentioned some moneys are hardly penned and even have a "money island" for a natural-like habitat, but other kinds are surrounded by high fence. The zebras reminded me of horses, though a bit shorter and well, 'wilder-looking'.

Just look at these beautiful creatures! And yes, Ostriches ARE huge; so are giraffes! However, cheetahs and tigers aren't necessarily as big as I'd imagined. They are super strong and powerful looking though! I think my favorite were the giraffes.Oh my but the tiger too...have you ever looked into a tigers's huge cat-eyes? They are truly stunning creatures! Seeing all these amazing creatures, I realize just what a sense of variety and creativity God has. Obviously this place isn't a zoo exactly, but they do take some of the animals from the Dublin zoo, as well as other places around he world. It was just so incredible that I got to see so many of the animals in one day that I've been wanting to see my whole life!!!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

This City I Love

Well I've been living here in Cork City for at least two months now, and I couldn't love it more! Rain or shine, cold or pleasant, my heart is here. And the funny thing is, I haven't even seen all the city yet, I realized just last weekend. There are whole other sides of town that I haven't even visited yet. Last Saturday the other ISA students from Galway came down to "my city" and I got to experience the pride and joy of showing them around. First I met up with them in the Crawford Art Gallery, and that was funny because I sort of got lost trying to find the place. I do feel dumb about that because I've been living here for two months now and it should be easy. But hey, how is one supposed to find something they've never been to before? Anyway, the gallery is absolutely LOVely and I want to go back there now!

It was a very rainy Saturday. And before I met up with the Galway girls I had a parsnip soup lunch in the Farmgate Cafe with my friend Lexi. We went shopping a little together too, as we were planning a potluck for that night. Poor girl, Lexi's umbrella wasn't working right as the wind kept blowing it inside out, so she ended up getting pretty wet. My U.S. thrift-shop one was fairing out fine to keep the top part of me dry, but my boots were aweful. I've been wearing my boots everywhere lately, so that's probably why the wear-n'-tear caused them to start leaking. So I went into one charity shop after another until I found a pair of rain boots for 6.50 euro. I then took my wet socks and other boots off and stuffed them in my backpack, so I could wear the dry rain boots. They helped some, since we did a whole bunch of walking around the city, showing the Galway girls UCC campus and the English Market, etc. By evening though, I had blisters on my feet. But since the rain had stopped I delightedly put my Chaco sandals on. I made my Swiss potato kugel for the potluck, and chocolate chip cookies for dessert. After the potluck I went with a couple of the girls I'd invited to the potluck, to a pub where most of the other students were, and handed them the left-over chocolate chip cookies. (There was some great live music in there.) I wanted them all to feel at home in "my city." I was just bummed I couldn't invite all ten+ girls to the potluck, because they're all fabulous!

Sunday after church, I hung out with my Irish friend Anna. They skies played like kittens with sun and cloud most of the day, but Anna took me to new lookouts of the city. Off of Penrose Quay there are some steep-hilled streets, and the views of the city are just stunning! While climbing the street we also popped into one of the crafty shops along the way, and I saw yet others that I totally want to return to later on. A thought also crossed my mind: "Why be in such a hurry to travel all over when I'm in such a great place right here?" I feel blessed to live here.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

On the Trail of the Galway Hooker and the Doughnut Man

Black, slender, one-of-a--kind fishing boat: that's the Galway Hooker. I fell head over heels and with my camera I chased her down. Morning rays were casting their splendid spill over Galway Bay as I took this shot, though I'm not sure whether this rig was just going out to sea or returning from a venture. If I recall right, this is a smaller one and there are larger versions as well. I arrived in Galway the evening of the 17th and left the afternoon of the 19th, of October. Being on the far west side of Ireland and right on the FAR side of the Atlantic, Galway's weather is not very dependable. I was quick to learn this. Friday when I arrived it was windy and rainy, and I'd already been sitting wet on the bus for three hours anyway. Saturday when traveling out of the city it was quite fair, then Sunday being back in town brought more drizzle. When this photo was taken it was a sunny Saturday morning.

The rest of Saturday involved a bus tour of the Burren. You can definitely tell the difference in the terrain there from my side of the Island; very rocky soil that gives it a slightly 'barren' look. We visited a castle and heard all about the Irish Cheiftains(like the big daddy on Brave) of the land and the onslaughts of the English, at that very castle. Our guide taught us about long bows and what it was like to try and shoot through the ancient slits-of-window in the castle walls, to hit down a man inside. Point being it took great skill to do so. Then we heard about the strong wife of a Cheiftain who would still not surrender even after the English dumped the dead body of her husband into the castle walls. She just exclaimed,"I've no use for a dead man in here!" But this same woman later married an upper hero in the opposing English army after all, and said it was just for the security of her people. Interesting! It's the coolest thing to be on the sight of history; to look at their surroundings, try and play out the figures of history against this land. I do know something: all these castle builders sure chose their spots well!


We went further up the Burren peninsula and heard about the special species of plants there. Apparently scientists and people who are into this stuff go to this area to study the species and such. Along the roadside were colorful cows grazing skimpy grass in rocky fields. I nearly whispered to the girls sitting next to me,"You know this land has a different, neat kind of beauty." She agreed. We stopped at a historical grave site place that is supposed to even older than Stonehenge in England. Not sure what all that means from archaeological and dating standpoints, but I would like to read up some on it.                              
The coach driver next stopped at a place that had had a big connection with Irish folklore and religion. The Fairy Ring. This is a place apparently used by very early people of the land, because all the trees and earth are developed into a big deep circle, or shelter-like place. But some of the Irish have since believed that it's inhabited by fairies, which to them are more like strong, spiritual beings than the fairies we depict of in America. I must admit, I was a little freaked out. The coach driver, though a very sweet man in intentions, was telling us we all needed to close our eyes and 'leave our problems with the fairies.' 

A couple other stops along the way were of course, the cutest pubs. My favorite was one in a quaint fishing village, where there's no public transportation. The Pub was at least 150 years old, so the coach driver said. It looked it too, because it had super-thick white stucco walls, the kind of building you'd imagine in an Irish novel for sure. I didn't get pictures of the inside but they wouldn't do it justice anyway. Inside their was a fireplace that was lit and so comforting. There were old, worn wood tables and chair, things on the walls such as an ocean turtle's shell, and windows that had the most lovely view of the water. The pub owner was so kind too. I wanted to get ginger ale for my twisted stomach, but only had so much change and couldn't use my card there. So he just asked how much change I had and took it, handing me the glass bottle. I'm sure I had quite a bit less change than it should have costed; that's why I felt so blessed. Oh man, I'd go back there if I could, it's so perfect and you know pub food is the best!

The big destination of Saturday, was reaching the Cliffs of Moher, where parts of the Harry Potter movies(I think parts of other movies as well), were filmed. Needless to say, it's an extremely, wildly, beautiful and famous place. Huge too, I hadn't realized there are a number of cliffs, not just a couple. They are grass-topped and cow-covered, super tall steep rocks that fiercely defy the wild sea waves from moving the 'emerald jewel' that is Ireland. People have died there because of getting too close to the edge and falling off, and in truth it would be easy to fall off. The paths that run near the cliff edges aren't all that safe either, but you still see people bring their kids there and trot along. Bu I enjoyed it and found it very stimulating! Thankfully the weather was quite good too and that made it all the better for viewing.

Back in Galway, the next morning, after a drizzly city tour(which involved visiting the school also where Harry Potter was filmed), I enjoyed the local Farmer's Market. Since it was a Sunday morning there weren't too many people there, but what WAS there was totally worth it. The Doughnut Man. And he looked just like one, decked in a cap and long pin-striped apron, humming tunes. I stood in line and watched him work away, fast and without a flaw. I ordered one with cinnamon and sugar on top, then bit into the hot melt. People, you haven't tasted a proper doughnut until you've tasted one of those! Next I got a falaffel, sort of a hand-made pita stuffed with salads and meats. Also perfect take-back-on-the-bus lunch.The sweetest memory I have about standing in the falaffel line was the little boy and his puppy. You could tell the two just adored each other, and they chased each other all around the cobblestone while the little boy's parents ordered. When they practically bumped into me, I asked the boy what the puppy's name was. All the sudden he became shy and backed up to the safety of his daddy. But his dad tried to get him to tell me and he still wouldn't, so his dad walked up closer to my ear and said,"Shampoo. We told him he could name the puppy whatever he wanted, and after thinking about it for twenty minutes, he said he wanted to name it Shampoo." !!!! Now that's the most darling story I've heard in a long time. I'll never forget the curly-haired toddler and his doggie Shampoo. 
These are only some of my memories of Galway.