Sunday, May 16, 2010
I am one of the lucky few study abroad students whose final schedule ended a week before traversing the ocean to reach home sweet home. (Alas, two of my American housemates have a final tomorrow-poor souls.) In celebration and the desire to get away from a campus where too much studying occurred, I decided to go to Edinburgh in Scotland, or pronounced by the locals as Edinbra.
Edinburgh has an extremely colorful history, and I would definitely recommend taking the free walking tour to learn all about it. The tour lasts about three hours, but they are well worth it. I was taken to the cathedral where Sean Connery was knighted. Coincidentally, this is also only one of two places with a statue of an angel playing the bagpipes. I learned of such characters as Maggie Dickson, who was hanged once for concealing her pregnancy, and then miraculously survived. She could not be hanged again, because it would have been considered double jeopardy. She bought a house right outside of the gallows.
The city has a lot of literary ties. The book Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was based on an Edinburgh citizen who built the gallows and made the keys for all of the houses of Edinburgh by day. By night, he would use said keys to steal from the rich. He was eventually caught and hung at the gallows he built. J.K. Rowling based the Harry Potter castle on one of the schools in Edinburgh. Facing the school was a grave of a McGonagall, one of the worst poets in Scottish history. Joseph Bell, another citizen, was the first to solve a murder case forensically, and his assistant was the world famous Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes.
The ghost tour was also well worth the eight pounds fee. We learned of cursed bridges (biggest rate of suicide jumpers in Edinburgh), horrendous murders, graverobbing (a popular, albeit frowned upon profession), witch burning, faeries who will burrow in your stomach and eat you from the inside out, pagan rituals still practiced today, and a very recent vampire story. Afterwards, the tour treats you to a pint of beer on the Royal Mile. The guides are normally performing arts students who really get into the stories and ad a bit of humor along the way.
Edinburgh castle is definitely an amazing sight as well. The view from the castle is breathtaking. The castle itself has a heartrenching war memorial that lists the names of all the soldiers who died in both World Wars. It contains the museum of the Scottish Cavaliers and the quarters used by one of the kings of Scotland. The military prison is still intact, and contains wax dummies of soldiers who spent time there. Alas, some of the rooms reminded me of student housing, but perhaps it was simply my post-final frame of mind. The hounors and a museum dedicated to them are also located in the castle. These include a scepter, sword, crown, and the Stone of Destiny. The Stone of Destiny was stolen by the English, and has its own adventurous tale. Suffice it to say that it was only returned recently. When it was brought back into Edinburgh Castle, it was escorted in with the Mission Impossible theme song playing on the bagpipes. Scotland, you are AWESOME!
Thursday, April 22, 2010
We rented bikes and decided to go around what I thought was a hilly trail of about ten miles. Granted, I haven't been on a bike for about two years, but I thought it wouldn't be that bad.
What they don't tell you is that the path ascends from about twenty feet to about eight hundred feet, and you get to bike up that. That "hill" kicked my butt. Badly. Another interesting discovery was the fact that the trail isn't really clearly marked by signs. So you can go about three miles out of your way to turn around again.
Another fun fact was about seven hours into the biking trip is another hill. Only this hill has a windy path to the top. At this time I firmly decided I was a much better walker than a biker and walked my bike up the hill. While going down the hill was a hoot, the experience was slightly marred by the flat tire at the end. It's not like we were still ten miles away from town or anything. Oh wait, we were. Luckily, we were able to call a cab back into town, but we were too late to make the bus back to Limerick. We had to catch the morning bus back, and I had to run to make it to my noon Accounting class.
Still, the experience wasn't all bad. Killarney is beautiful, and the town is very cute. Because we biked twenty miles, we figured we deserved some delicious Chinese food and ice cream. The hostel we stayed at was run by two delightful Australians who let us stay the extra night for free in our own room. And the taxi driver showed us that famous Irish friendliness. And I learned that I am at heart a walker, not a bike person.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
This week alone I have an essay worth 40 percent due in one class, a huge group project due in another, an essay due last week worth 40 percent, scholarship applications due, and exams to start studying for. The long-felt freedom is over.
You know it's getting serious when the Irish students actually start attending class. In one of my tutorials (smaller classes taught by grad students), we went from an attendance of three to an attendance of forty within two weeks. Time to face the music.
Some tips for future students: If you need to use the computer lab in the library, be ready to queue (fancy word for wait in line). Also, have some choice words ready for the computer, because the UL computers are comparatively slow and usually one program will fail. You can't save anything on the network itself, so make sure to email it to yourself. Otherwise, tears will be shed.
Still, it isn't all bad. The UL has a great program, Cite it Right, which is pretty much Harvard Referencing for Dummies. Greatly utilized by yours truly. The professors are always quick to reply to email. And if you need studying food, an ice cream truck, music and all, comes rolling around your village. And really, what isn't improved with ice cream?
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
The Cinque Terre Region: These five little towns were probably the highlight of my vacation. I would definitely recommend going.
- The six and a half mile hike from one town to the other is gorgeous and worth the fatigue. But be prepared for stairs. Lots of stairs.
- These towns are infested with every type of cat you can imagine.
- Always stamp your train ticket. The fines are a major boo-boo to your wallet.
- Gelato is good. Real good.
Florence: I saw more art than I could possibly imagine in this city, and every corner has it's own little statue.
- Spontaneous, drenching rainshowers don't just occur in Ireland. One should dress accordingly.
- David is definitely worth seeing, and it is far more stunning in real life than in any picture.
- The Uffizi cafe contains the best pasta that I have ever encountered.
- Wine tastes just as gross in Italy as it does in America.
- Even for a practical accounting major who has never taken an art class, some art can truly move you to tears.
- Gelato is good. Real good.
Rome: Rome is also an amazing city. But what Florence is to art, Rome is to ruins.
- The Colosseum is amazing, but be prepared to wait in line for an hour to see it.
- Christians did not live in the catacombs during the persecution, but they did worship there.
- The metro is a very efficient way to travel.
- You can lose someone very easily even in St. Peter's Basilica, which is really only a circle.
- Gelato is good. Real good.
Italy is a truly amazing place, but coming back to the green, quaint country of Ireland with no imposing statues in sight was definitely a relief. Coming home to homework is not.
Sunday, March 21, 2010
The reality: St. Patrick's Day is a national holiday in Ireland, and lots of parades are held. The biggest is in Dublin. Everyone seems to wear some type of green, including children dressed up as little dragons. I saw everything from green viking hats to green cowboy hats to green Indian headdresses. People lined the streets and climbed on top of every conceivable object to get a good view of the parade, which started off with a stiletto heels race. I cheered for the man in drag in stilettos. He pulled them off rather well.
The parade had little to do with Ireland and a lot to do with colors of every sort. It had a circus, at least four marching bands (including one from North Carolina), giant bugs that snorted smoke, African drummers, dancers of all ages, an Indian prince, an African queen, and every type of facepaint imaginable.
After the parade, I decided to head into McDonald's for a shamrock shake. You know it's bad when McDonald's has to have security. The top two floors were guarded-only customers with food could enter. There were about three hundred people crammed into a one hundred people floor waiting for their food. Good times.
To complete the day, we took a tour of the Guinness factory. I learned everything I could possibly want to know about the brewing process, and discovered there are no samples of Guinness that I actually like. Although, Guinness beer bread is tasty. Real tasty. Made me miss the beer brats from home.
Friday, March 19, 2010
Belfast even feels like a different world from the rest of Ireland. You move from the rolling hills and greenery to a mini-London, complete with a leaning clocktower named after a king and dozens of double-decker buses. Victorian architecture pervades the entire city.
Belfast is where many of issues between the nationalists and loyalists took root. Political murals are all over the city, as are monuments to those who lost their lives in the "troubles." Americans get to see the familiar face of Frederick Douglass on one of the main nationalist walls. The peace wall still exists in Belfast as well. This divided those with the Irish viewpoint from those with the British. It is a fittingly ugly wall that is apparently taller in some places than the Berlin wall was.
On one side of the wall you will see the Irish flag flying, while the other has the Union Jack. Our tourguide was quick to assure us that the "troubles" were long over and it was not about Catholicism or Lutheranism, but about the predujiced treatment in terms of employment and housing. One of the hotels in Belfast has been bombed 42 times because of the "troubles" and WWII.
Belfast was also home to one of my favorite authors, C.S. Lewis. It has a very cool monument to him standing next to a wardrobe. That was one of the highlights of my trip.
Now that I've bored you with a history lesson, this is what I learned: I am completely ignorant when it comes to European history, and it is way more effective to learn it while you are in the cities where such things take place. Second lesson: I am so thankful to live in a country where different viewpoints are for the most part respected, and the chance of being bombed by your neighbor is low.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
The Burren is also where many died from the potato famine, because they were too poor to imigrate. Our tour guide informed us that there was actually enough food in Ireland to feed everyone during the Famine, but the English refused to distribute food into the poverty stricken areas like the Burren, so thousands died.
Although the region does not have the happiest history, it has its own beauty. Walking can be treacherous, and I cannot imagine trying to farm, but during the summer months flowers bloom all over. The area is actually protected by the government so floral shops do not come in and steal all of the flowers.
While farming is difficult, raising cattle is still popular in the region. Being a Wisconsinite, I have seen my fair share of cows, but those on the burren are the shaggiest I have ever seen, and wary of strangers.
The Burren affords one of the most beautiful views of the ocean, and the waves crashing up in the sunlight made a huge rainbow. It was a picturesque trip.