Ireland & Scotland 2016

Days 1 & 2: NYC Recap and Arriving in Dublin

As I write this, I’m sitting in the common room of the Paddy Wagon hostel in Dublin and trying to get it in my head that I’m actually in Ireland. I would love to say that I am already so inspired by this beautiful country and that I’ll write you a tear-jerking ballad, but I’m too tired and culture-shocked to produce something like that. So, let me give you a little overview of the past 48ish hours, and you’ll see why my brain feels like scrambled eggs.

Let me begin by saying NYC is an extremely impressive city, but let me quickly follow that statement by saying NEVER EVER EVER EVER PLAN A DAY IN NYC BEFORE CATCHING A PLANE AT JFK. Murphy and his law were in full swing yesterday. The beginning of the day was fine, with my mom getting up early to drive us to the train station (thanks, Mama!), us successfully catching an early train to the city, seeing Times Square, and navigating the subway to get to the ferry that would take us to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. We hung out in Battery Park, where I befriended a flock of pigeons by feeding them honey-roasted cashews. One of them landed on my hand several times and let me pet it.

I’ll spare you the details of the security process that we had to endure in order to get on the boat to see Lady Liberty, but the procedure included us standing in line for an hour, surrounded by people who did not seem to understand basic hygiene. My nose is crinkling thinking about it.

The Statue is absolutely incredible!! Seeing her in person is, in all honestly, indescribable. I wish I could see how she looked when she was first delivered, before the elements turned her green. Alas, while gazing at her magnificence, my fingers began to freeze and were soon white and aching. Here comes Murphy…

We hardly had any time at Ellis Island since the boat took so long getting there, and we had to catch a subway to the airport. Emylee’s feet were in pain from her shoes fitting incorrectly, and I felt so bad that she had to walk through the underground hellhole that is the subway system.  We ended up on the subway much later than anticipated and ended up getting on the wrong train and getting off the right one. At one point, we were shoved into a train that was so cramped that I thought of comparing our state to that of those nasty sardines in their cans. However, I then realized that even sardines have enough room to slide around in that gross salty liquid. We didn’t have space even for that… It was then I came to the conclusion that we were pressed together like a bunch of sweaty butt cheeks, without room for even the smallest of farts to squeak through.

Once we finally got to the airport, we ended up at the wrong terminal and had to take the air train to the correct one. Miraculously, we made it through security and had an hour to spare before boarding. I was able to sleep all the way to Ireland, and, thankfully, Murphy seems to finally be leaving us alone.

I will write more about Dublin in the next few days but, now, I really don’t have much to say. People drive on the opposite side of the street, the bathroom is called the toilet, nothing (so far) is taxed, and I’m still trying to figure out the currency. Don’t get me wrong, I am quite enjoying myself here. I had some delicious stew and coffee and a beer and already bought myself a new hat. I think I’m just too sleep-deprived to come to any real opinion of what I think. Hopefully some sleep will remedy that.

And so, I wish you a good night. Sleep tight. Don’t let the bed bugs bite. I pray to God there are no bed bugs here.

Day 3: History Geek-out Time 

I had a wonderful day today geeking out at the National Museum of Anthropology, seeing the Book of Kells, and going to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Here are some brief experiences I’d like to share (I’m tired, so this will be quick):

The anthropology museum was HUGE and filled with artifacts. Some of my favorites were those from Catholic churches from the Middle Ages. Seeing a monstrance and knowing that it held the Eucharist, Jesus’ body, all those years ago, really touched me.

On a more macabre note, I also saw a viking’s skeleton, a skull that’d been smashed in by an axe, and the torso of a bog body. The skin was like leather, and I could kind of make out some of the organs. It was so cool! Creepy and surreal, but cool. The human body is fascinating, in life and in death.

Now onto the Book of Kells. I love literature–not just stories but the printed word itself. I love seeing how a work is laid out on the page. So learning about how the ink was made, the four monks who wrote out the manuscript, and how the book was bound, was a glimpse of nerdy heaven. After wandering through the information part of the exhibit, I finally saw the book. It was originally a whole manuscript but, at one point, was separated into four smaller books: one for each gospel. On display were two of the books, one of which was open to an excerpt of a gospel and the other open to an intricate illustration. Every time I see an artifact, I want to touch it. I know that sounds bad, but I get my hands on everything and am always that person trying to sneak a touch at a museum when you aren’t supposed to. I was just aching to get my hands on that 1200 year old masterpiece. Unfortunately, a few inches of glass separated my fingers from its delicate pages. Wanting to get my hands on such things isn’t a result of OCD or anything like that. I just love history. Everyone has a sense that they favor. Some people learn better via visuals, other via listening. I learn the best by touching. Touching something so old is experiencing a bit of history. By touching something so old, you are feeling the same sensation people felt hundreds, if not thousands, of years earlier. I love it. My dad got me an old pocket knife found at Benners Hill from the Battle of Gettysburg, and it’s one of my favorite possessions. I want to know who owned it, what it was used for, who made it. I will never know those things about that knife, but I can share in its story by feeling the same surfaces felt by the man who lost it one day in battle.

I was able to get my hands on a chair from 1690, however, when we visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Apparently, King William III sat in it when he came to St. Pat’s to give thank for defeating James II at the Battle of the Boyne. So, there is now some Maresh DNA on the armrest. (I need to point out that there wasn’t a sign saying NOT to touch it… So I technically didn’t break any rules.)

I am off to bed soon. Jet lag is no fun at all.

Oíche mhaith agus codladh sámh. Good night, and sleep well.

Days 4 and 5: Paddywagon Tours and into Galway

As I write this, we are on a train headed for Galway. I was way too tired last night to post, so I’ll catch up now.

We went on a tour yesterday that took us to the Rock of Cashel, Cork city, and Blarney Castle. This was definitely my favorite day so far. The bus ride let us observe a lot of the countryside, and I loved seeing the occasional abandoned tower off the highway and the multiple herds of sheep, cows, and horses.

Before the tour, however, we experienced the wonders of a continental breakfast in a hostel. I was in desperate need of coffee, but the only coffee was the instant kind that looks like hot chocolate mix. It looked like hot chocolate, so I figured it’d work like hot chocolate mix. I proceeded to fill half of my cup with coffee mix, poured in some water, and tossed it in the microwave. This was probably the worst thing I’ve tasted in my 22 years of life. Even after pouring a third of it into another cup, adding water, milk, and sugar, it was still not potable. I tried to wash it down with juice, but the urine-colored liquid that I thought was cheap orange juice was some combination of rotten pineapple and children’s tears. I had no other choice than to make some toast, which was more like two warm pieces of bread slathered in butter and strawberry jelly. Thankfully, that was the end of my misfortune for the day. Yesterday was awesome.

Our first stop was the Rock of Cashel. It sits atop a hill that overlooks a quaint village on one side and rolling hills and fields to the other. It was breathtaking. The castle was originally built to house kings but then became a cathedral. A chipping painting of Jesus on the cross still remained on one of the walls, and an artist’s reproduction was on a board near it so to show how it would have looked. I really liked seeing that.

I was excited to find out that there was a cemetery beside the structure. I like cemeteries. I don’t know why, but I find them very relaxing. Emylee and I strolled around, snapping pictures and taking in the view. She found a lovely spot to leave some of her Nana’s ashes, in between three Celtic crosses. I had my own little adventure when I climbed behind a massive grave to find the remains of a giant Celtic cross that’d fallen down. Emylee later told me that she learned it was struck by lightning in the 1800’s. After an hour of exploration, we headed to Cork.

Cork reminded me a bit of Portugal. It’s right by the River Lee and is adorably quaint. I actually prefer it over Dublin. I like city life, but only for a short time. It can get overwhelming. Most of the buildings in Cork are colorful, either on their entire exterior or just on the doors. A jazz festival was going on, so there were street performers and even a band playing from the top of a double-decker bus. We got some tasty sausages for lunch, bought stamps, mailed postcards, then hopped back on the bus to go to Blarney Castle.

I LOVE BLARNEY CASTLE! I knew I’d like it–castles are awesome, right?!– but I had no idea I’d like it as much as I did. The base of the castle is built into a big rock/hill, so there are natural caves to explore that weave under the structure. Emylee and Katie took a picture of me in there, and, from the way I had to hunch over, I totally look like Gollum from Lord of the Rings. I took a couple rocks as free souvenirs…*My precious!*

As Katie explored other parts of the grounds, Emylee and I headed into the castle to find and kiss the Blarney Stone. Emylee is afraid of heights, and I’m afraid of falling, so this was a feat that we agreed to do only if we did it together. Our anxiety rose as we ascended the old steps that looked like they’d been built only to support the feet of toddlers. We were able to see some of the bedchambers and the dining room as we journeyed forward, which was quite neat, but I was sweating with nerves when we reached the top. However, the view made the nerve-racking climb worthwhile. You can see for miles at the top of the castle. The fall leaves, contrasted with the deep green grass, looked like an oil painting. After snapping some pictures, we proceeded to the Blarney Stone.

For some reason that I don’t know, the Blarney Stone is supposed to give you the gift of eloquence, or “the gift of gab,” for seven years. I was expecting just a rock siting at the top of the castle. Nope. It’s part of the outer wall of the castle, but it juts out over the side. The only things keeping you from plummeting to a blood-splattered death are two metal bars and an old man who gently takes your waist as you lie down and lean back…90 feet in the air. I did it. Then Emylee did it. It wasn’t terrible…a little peck doesn’t take too long, but looking up at it later and knowing that half of my torso had been hanging over the side was a bit surreal. I’m glad I did it, though. We both bought certificates, accompanied by a picture of us kissing the stone, to prove that we did it.

I need to address a common rumor about the stone. Some people say it used to be used as a toilet or that locals pee on it. Maybe some guy drained the lizard there hundreds of years ago, but there is no way he’d get away with it now. It’s under lock and key at night and the watch of cameras 24/7. I just wanted to clarify that misconception, since I had believed the rumor for a while.

Another thing that I loved about Blarney Castle is that it’s like a smaller version of the castle I envision in the book I’ve been working on. Wandering up the stairs and through the rooms made me feel, for a few wonderful minutes, like I’d slipped into the world of my book. I bought a miniature of the castle that I’ll put on my writing desk when I get home, just to remind me of how real my fantasy world seemed while I explored the castle. Hopefully, it’ll give me some encouragement to keep writing when I get discouraged or overwhelmed (which happens much more than I like to admit).

We were able to spend two and a half hours on the castle grounds then headed back to the bus and arrived at our hostel around 8. Emylee and I were starving, so the three of us dumped off our stuff in our room then got a cheap dinner of pizza and soda for only €4. I’ve been spending more money on food than I’d like, so that meal was perfect for my wallet. Upon returning to the hostel, Katie went to the common room to write while Emylee and I stayed in our room. We weren’t in the mood to be around many people, and the common room was pretty crowded. We had a relaxing evening of talking, writing, and sharing conversation with a German girl in our room.

As I said, we are now on the train to Galway. I might post about it tonight. If not tonight, tomorrow… Halloween is tomorrow!

Until then, God bless.

Day 6: Cliffs, Caves, Abandoned Buildings… My Kind of Day!

Galway is lovely! I prefer it so much more over Dublin. Even thought it’s a city, it has a quaint charm and inviting atmosphere. Walking into our hostel made it even better. Our hostel in Dublin was grungy and smelled of must and body odor. Having never stayed in a hostel before, I presumed that this was normal. Our hostel in Galway, on the other hand, is like a hotel! It’s clean, has a nice kitchen, a common room with a pool table, a breakfast with coffee that is NOT instant, and a bathroom in the room rather than down the hall.

Funny story about the bathroom… Two of the girls sharing our room showered before me and left the floor pretty wet. Emylee and I shrugged it off, and I got in the shower. After a few minutes (thankfully after I rinsed all the conditioner from my hair), I heard Emylee banging on the door and yelling at me to turn the water off. I freaked out, turned off the water, and ran out of the bathroom in my towel…only to splash through a huge puddle that had accumulated on the carpet of our little hallway. Apparently, the drain was clogged. Emylee alerted the guy at the front desk, who felt the need to apologize every two minutes as he fixed the drain and dried the carpet. I told him that he had nothing to apologize about, to which he replied. “I can’t help it. I’m Irish.” He was great about the whole thing. It was pretty amusing.

Today, we took a bus tour around the Burren region to Aillwee cave, the Cliffs of Moher, the town of Doolan, and Dunguaire Castle. Our bus left at 9:30 and was driven by a learned, funny Irishman named Daren. As we passed different sights on the way, he shared a lot of history with us. He talked about Irish politics, the famine, the language, the old abandoned cottages, etc. etc.

Our first stop was Aillwee cave. We took a tour through the safe part of the cave (some of it hasn’t even been explored yet), and I was amused to find most of the tour guides were dressed up for Halloween. One of them made me nearly jump out of my skin when he came up beside me and said, “Welcome,” in a very impressive Dracula voice. Inside the cave, we saw stalactites and stalagmites, waterfalls, and the markings from a river that had flown through there over 10,000 years ago. It was really cool.

We then got back on the bus and proceeded to the Cliffs of Moher. If you’ve ever seen The Princess Bride, you’ll remember the Cliffs of Insanity. They filmed that scene at the Cliffs of Moher! There is a quick scene from the 6th Harry Potter movie that was filmed there, too. So I enjoyed a little geek-out moment while there.

I think the best word to describe the cliffs is “overwhelming.” They seem to go on forever. We climbed to the top of an old tower on one of the cliffs, and that made them look even more magnificent. It took me a while to realize that what I saw was real. That may sound like an exaggeration, but it’s the truth. They’re gorgeous, breathtaking, and intimidating, all at the same time.

One thing I noticed is that the air wasn’t salty, even though they overlook the Atlantic. I was kind of looking forward to smelling salt air–it’s one of my favorite aromas. Oh well.

As Emylee and I journeyed down one of the paths close to the edge (which was pretty but freaky), she wanted to leave some of her grandmother’s ashes behind. A guy saw her toss them into the wind and asked, “Was that cocaine?”

Without missing a beat, Emylee replied, “No, it’s my grandma.”

The guys’s face froze, and his girlfriend, clearly mortified, began apologizing and scolding him. They ended up being really nice people from New York. We talked with them for a while then headed to the gift shop and back to the bus. On the way, Emylee and I both laughed about why anyone would buy cocaine then throw it over a cliff. That stuff is supposed to be expensive, right?

In Doolan, we shared a lunch of roasted bacon with vegetables, potatoes, and a red beer called Dooliner that’s brewed in the town. It was all delicious. Sometimes nothing hits the spot like a cold, frothy beer and a salty slab of bacon laced in fat. We didn’t have much time to explore the town, but it looked very sweet and relaxing and is nestled in the gorgeous green landscape.

Before I talk about Dunguaire castle, let me talk about the landscape that we observed from our bus. We got a really good glimpse of rural Ireland and all agreed that it’d be a great place for a little writing cottage. Stone walls called “penny walls” zigzag across the hills and valleys. They were built years ago when the British, who still controlled Ireland, offered to pay a penny a day to any man who built the walls. There were countless sheep, cows, and horses grazing besides abandoned houses in the open fields. We saw the traditional cottages with thatched roofing (which is apparently quite expensive now), more abandoned towers, and a crumbling old church and cemetery. Everything was so picturesque. We were trying our best to snap some photos from the moving bus. Thankfully, Daren stopped the bus a couple times at some extra nice spots to let people take photos.

One place we stopped was a perfect example of the Burren region. There are rocks everywhere, I think left there by the glaciers. We got out by a flat area that led down to the coast, and Emylee and I quickly began running across the rocks and trying to dodge the crevices. I was so proud that we didn’t slip.

Our final stop was Dunguaire castle. As Katie pointed out, it could be a cousin of Blarney Castle. They are extremely similar structurally. Dunguaire is just smaller and overlooks a little bay. We only had fifteen minutes there, plus the sun was setting, but it was enough time to walk around.

We got a dinner of fish and chips when we got back to Galway. Some Irishmen sat at our table (it was a place where you sit wherever you find room) and talked with us as we all ate. It’s fun conversing with the locals here. They’re very friendly, but I sometimes find them a bit hard to understand. Some of them have pretty thick accents!

I’m relaxing in our bedroom now with Katie and Emylee. Thankfully, the shower didn’t flood tonight. We need to get up early tomorrow to head to the Aran Islands. It’s about a half hour ferry ride to get there, so I’ll definitely be taking Dramamine. I haven’t gotten motion sickness yet this trip. Fingers crossed that will not change! If it does, I’ll be sure to share every delightful detail with you tomorrow.

Until then… Good night, and Happy Halloween!

Days 7 and 8: Aran Island Beauty and Shopping in Galway

Today, we had a pretty chill day of shopping. We’ll have a busy day traveling to Edinburgh tomorrow, so it was nice to have a day to just stroll around, spend money, enjoy a pint, and eat some good food. Not much to report for today.

As for yesterday…

We took a ferry to Inis Mór, the larger of the three Aran Islands. I was so nervous that’d I’d get seasick (I had a bad experience on a lobster boat, so now I’m always nervous getting on a ship), but, thankfully, I was fine. We docked in a little harbor and decided to rent bikes to ride around the island.

Inis Mór is breathtaking. Remember the stone walls I talked about before? There are miles and miles worth of them on the island. They crisscross the land and make it look like a gigantic puzzle. There are cozy cottages, the ruins of houses abandoned during the famine, sprawling coastlines, and numerous ruins. We spent five hours there but only got to see a handful of the sites since we spent so much time taking pictures of the scenery! I could easily spend a week there, just riding around and exploring. I think I’ll add that to my bucket list.

One of the ruins we got to see was a prehistoric fort called Dun Aengus. It sits atop a high hill and overlooks the countryside and Atlantic Ocean. All that remains of the fort are the semicircular outer walls. The walls end at a shear cliff, so a 100 meter drop straight down to the Atlantic would have protected that side of the fortress. 100 meters. That’s over 300 feet. I got pretty close to the edge, close enough so I could look down but not close enough to slip and perform my first and last epic swan dive. The three of us took a bunch of pictures and some pretty terrifying selfies by the ledge.

While we were up there, we saw a dog that we’d seen strolling about the island. I’m not sure if he belongs to anyone. He didn’t have a collar. That dog has a pretty sweet life, wandering around the island, getting free food, and making friends all day.

After our time at Dun Aengus, we were pretty exhausted. Being up that high was really intimidating, so it took a lot out of me. We we’re all hungry too. I was bordering on hangry. (Hangry= angry + hungry)

Gradually, we made it back to the pier (there were a lot more hills on the way back). We returned our bikes and had some time to spare, so we picked up some snacks at a convenience store. There was a beautiful horse in a pen not far from the ferry, so, on our way to board, we paid him a visit. He really was beautiful, with a slick mane and black and white hair.

The dog we’d seen before made another appearance on the beach as we boarded. The sun was setting over the horizon, nestling between two sloping hills. It was all very poetic, but I’m not in the mood to try to translate prose into verse. If you want to, knock yourself out.

Oh! I almost forgot… One notable thing from today is that we ate at The King’s Head Pub, a place bestowed to a man named Gunning in 1649. Gunning was a Galway soldier who, along with a man named Dean, volunteered to head to England to decapitate King Charles I. Yes, they volunteered to chop off a guy’s head. Apparently, the English people wanted Charles killed because he started two civil wars but didn’t want to do the deed themselves. The pub was a sort of thank you gift, so to speak. On a more appetizing topic, the food there was great.

As I said, we head to Edinburgh tomorrow. I’m really excited about Scotland. I don’t really know what to expect there, but that’s part of the fun. I’ve seen Braveheart. That’s about the extent of my Scottish knowledge. However, I’m looking forward to learning more about the country and experiencing it’s culture.

Until next time, guid nicht. (That’s “good night” in Scots Gaelic.)

October 1, 2017…

It’s been almost a year, and I realize that I never finished posting about the trip. Honestly, I got tired of posting and time got away from me. And I procrastinate like it’s my job.

I made a friend in Scotland–Robert Kilmurry. He’s a musician and has a CD out and some songs on Spotify. (*hint hint*)

Scotland was actually my favorite place in general. I just felt like I belonged there. I don’t know how else to describe it. Just thinking about it makes me feel at home. I think that’s part of the reason I didn’t post…I didn’t want to miss a moment of it! I definitely need to go back!!

That’s all I’m going to say…at least for now. Plus, I doubt anyone is even reading this. If you are, then let me reward you…

potato-013

Here’s a potato.

 

On to more adventures!

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