Friday, 30 March 2012

March Madness

More than any other time before when updating my blog I am realizing I have hit that point of negligence. For the first time ever though it is a negligence that has positive connotations because it means I have been ENJOYING myself so much here that I forget I've even made the promise to keep in touch with everyone at home via this blog. It's been almost an entire month now since the last post which means you guys are in for the mother load of pictures, stories, and reflections, etc! If you know me at all, you know I love to reflect :) Or rather to analyze, which comes at a benefit of appreciating things more, but also at the cost of ruining a moment that only needs (and should) be looked at at face value. I'll try my best to condense the thoughts and lessen the chit chat to just what's necessary for you to be caught up. I last left you with memories of my weekend in the Alps and the wonderful times had there. This blog contains pictures of the weeks following which were loaded with adventure. A weekend in Belfast with my European friends, an Archaeology field trip to Rock of Cashel, a Sunday afternoon in Fountainstown, a visit from brother #3, AND a visit from Mr. Gage. Whoa! The thoughts are beginning to overwhelm's in this moment that I let the pictures guide me...

One week before the commencement of the journey, I got asked to fill the last spot in a car full of two Germans, one Finish girl,  and an Austrian headed to Belfast in Northern Ireland. Delighted to add a little American flare, I accepted the offer and off I went- on a road trip up through Dublin and along the coast into Northern Ireland. A good sign that I am thoroughly enjoying a trip is the sudden decrease in the total amount of pictures. I am more caught up in the moment and rely on facebook tags and old ticket stubs to recall the memory for me at a later date. Those modes of remembering are of no use when updating a blog however, but where there are not pictures, I will try to fill in the blanks. 
Our FIRST stop on the trip (excluding pull offs to the side for pictures and bathroom breaks of course) was in County Meath at Newgrange Monument. Newgrange is the largest of the still existing portal tombs that dates back to 5000 years ago! It was truly an incredible sight to see and even more amazing to walk into. The structure is still solid and in tact, with the help of modest renovations during the excavation. No pictures were allowed to be taken inside, but here is one of the sign at the start...

  ...and one of Nina and I just outside the entrance into the tomb. A cold, rainy day, but a fun visit      nonetheless!

That night in Belfast we went out for a drink and some music at Fiber Magees! I tried a new drink that was aesthetically pleasing, but I'll be honest- to taste it was too sweet! A strawberry and pear cider by the name of Brothers. Boys- that picture was for you. :)

 The next day we did what's known as a Black Taxi Tour. A local from the city takes you around to the parts of the city that hold historical significance- most prominently in regards to the conflict between the Protestants and Catholics, but also including the political turmoil that has long since been an issue in Northern Ireland. Our driver was a local man who prided himself in being quoted in Rick Steve's travel books and various cooking magazines as giving suggestions of good places to eat in Belfast. Haha, he was a character that liked to hum tunes in the moments of silence. Often ones that I knew the words to so we got along well. It opened my eyes though to the incredibly intense history that is imbedded in this land. People still live with the ghosts of those hard times, but they are on the up and up- not forgetting the history but attempting to learn from it and create a better future. This picture below is a wall of murals that was created depicting different social justice protests around the world, in Ireland, as well as just significant works of art or acts of defiance.
 The Belfast version of the Berlin Wall- the separation between Protestant territory and Catholic territory is not needed quite as intensely as it once was, but passage through it is only accessible at certain hours in the day. They've tried to make it more pleasing to the eye by allowing local artists to express themselves on sections of the wall, and they let people come and sign the wall- writing messages of encouragement or of peace.

This picture below is simply a beach we stopped at along the way. I thought it was a nice picture...

Okay, now is where the pictures get jumbled- an inevitable occurrence when trying to cooperate with the internet connections that are available. So fast forward to the weekend following and then we'll return to the rest of Belfast...

Chrissy, Julian, Alex, and Me enjoying the sun that finally decided to come out one day on campus. I don't know that I made it to all my classes that day. I may have been a little distracted with the nice weather...

Rock of Cashel guessed it!- Cashel! Our final archaeology trip of the semester.

Ivo, one of my friends from Germany who's also in Archaeology. 

That was Saturday...Sunday I decided "Oh I will sleep in a little today! I haven't let myself sleep in in so long, this will be great!" Well 9:30am rolled around and I began to open my eyes again, coming to terms with the real world, when I heard my name being called. "Wake up, Laura. Wake up", I kept thinking. But no, this was a real voice and it was coming from outside my window! "Laura!? Laura, are you up there?". I got out of bed and peeked out onto the sidewalk to find Nadine calling my name from below! She'd come to "collect" me before getting onto the bus to Fountainstown for the day. She said we had 30 minutes before the next bus, not to worry about my papers that needed writing, and to just get dressed, pack a lunch and come. That's exactly what I did and I have not regretted putting my paper aside since (They DID get turned in should anyone really be worried...). After a look at these pictures, you'll see how regret was impossible...

We stopped for a cup of tea at a small cafe in a nearby village.

Sand+Water = socks are off and my toes are in the water! Even if it IS the FREEZING Atlantic!!

NOW we're back to Belfast. After spending a day in the city we kept driving further North up to the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge and Giant's Causeway. The two highlights of my trip for sure!
This is on the small hike over to the rope bridge.

There it is!

Below me! My heart's pounding and I'm praying I don't drop my phone/camera! (Thank you Lois Wetzel for the idea of pictures where your feet are standing).

Me on the bridge!

GIANT'S CAUSEWAY! This place is seriously a world wonder AND is actually Ireland's first World Heritage site (declared by UNESCO in 1986). It is a natural rock formation that geologists suggest happened 50-60million years ago after repetitive outpourings of volcanic basalt. Peter Wetzel will be mad that I'm ranting about the incredibility of this place because he wanted to badly to make it up there, but I can't not say how truly amazing this place was.

The other car that met us up in Northern Ireland was driven by Kaisa, (black jeans and tan jacket) accompanied by her Finish visitors Tinna and Kirsten. Nina is on my left. We're havin' a blast!

A short hike away from the hexagonal stones is what's known as "The Organ" because it took the shape of long, vertical structures resembling a pipe organ!

After dinner at a pub on the way home from the Causeway, we headed back into Belfast for the night. The next morning Nina and I took a stroll and found ourselves enjoying a continental breakfast in The Europa- notoriously known for being the most bombed hotel in Europe! This morning we were safe from any actual bombs, but we certainly BOMBarded our stomachs with tasty breads, fresh fruit, and hot breakfast foods!

Nina and I at breakfast in the Europa! She and I were in HEAVEN!

Overlooking Belfast from the main shopping complex in the City Center.

AND WE'RE MOVING Peter and Sam's adventure in Ireland. For those of you who didn't know, my 3rd eldest brother, Peter (or as we so fondly call Pedro), came for a visit with our dear friend Samuel Stepp. Peter arrived on a 10am flight, we rented a car, headed down to Kinsale for lunch and then drove back to pick up Sam from the airport. Lunch in such a quaint cafe ("Mother Hubbards") was the calm before the storm. We had some terrain to cover in the week ahead and we were PUMPED to do it! The excitement was intensified when Sam arrived. We toasted to whatever was ahead of us at a local Irish pub and restaurant and then had a nice night of sleep in the hotel before embarking on the journey. Our first stop- BLARNEY CASTLE...

Sam and Peter looking out the window of what I think is known as the "Maiden's Room". 

This is me kissing the Blarney Stone! I now have the gift of gab! (Although if you've read my blogs before you'll know that I'm already pretty great at gab-gab-gabbing...)

Promise I didn't have drinks before this...I think I'm in mid laugh- but this is the top of Blarney Castle! Right after kissing the stone! I'm probably still a little dizzy from being upside down!

Sam peering down from what's known as "The Murder Hole"! From where Sam is standing, guards would surprise attack any unwanted visitors with arrows. I like to imagine it was with tar and feathers just for an image I can laugh about to myself...(oh dear- perhaps too much time on my own...)

                          Sam's been poisoned! Probably got a hold of the Cannabis-which actually has been removed from the garden by the Garda (Irish police) because too many people were trying to take it.

From Blarney we went west to KILLARNEY. A new part I hadn't yet seen- this is Muckross Abbey.

A beautiful church and peaceful cemetery. (I just imagined a non-peaceful cemetery, haha- Jesus is back!)

Killarney never ceases to amaze me with it's beauty...

BUNRATTY CASTLE- this is a funny story...the castle was closed to visitors by the time we reached it. Or so it would've appeared closed to any normal passing crowd. But Peter and Sam and I will willingly admit that we aren't the most normal and being that way- we snooped around a little. After not very much time we found a trap door that wasn't locked that led to the castle's inside. Long story short- we saw Bunratty Castle. Sam maybe a little more than the rest of us who chickened out, but I won't say I've never been inside. I also won't say I've never eaten at DURTY NELLY'S next door!  

Durty Nelly's claims to be the oldest pub in Ireland, and as far as most people are concerned- it is. And regardless of it's true age- it was a fun atmosphere to hang out in and to plot out what adventure was ahead.
 After a night in Ennis and a great breakfast in the morning at a local cafe we headed North up the coast toward the CLIFFS OF MOHER! This I think was the place Peter and I were most excited when "planning". If not for their apparent beauty, for their claim to fame as the home of the cave where Dumbledore begins to fade from this world (THAT world...). For those who refuse to ride the band wagon, you can also appreciate the Cliffs as the "Cliffs of Insanity" from Princess Bride! A favorite movie of mine, and thanks to Beau Atkinson- a favorite book as well. :)

I show this picture to help explain what happened next...On the right hand side of this picture you can see a ledge. A very, flat, stable, completely safe ledge, that nonetheless is fenced off for no GOOD reason...

Oh whaddya know- I'm standing on the ledge! Hmm...(Peter has more documentation of the escape to the ledge if you feel so inclined to inquire)

This is Sam.

Senior pictures!!! (haha, PLEASE know this picture really was a joke.)

There's that ledge again...

Onward we went- with a small stop in Ballyvaughn for lunch and some car snacks.

The bag reads "Pedro Kat"- with our own Pedro standing at the counter checking out.

TRIM CASTLE- the backdrop of the infamous "Braveheart" film that Peter based his trip to Ireland off of..

A church Sam spotted that we wandered into. We found a children's choir rehearsing and enjoyed listening for a little while to their innocent, Irish voices. 

Further past the castle was a "Trim Castle Walk". On that walk we came across a herd of sheep. Not a rare find in the open fields of Ireland.

I'm closer than you think to the sheep...(no pineapple upside down cake in front of me this time David)

From Trim we headed into Drogheda for the night which was a surprisingly enjoyable stop over. It included meeting the former mayor at a St. Patrick's Parade booth, going on a hunt for a hostel, finding what I like to think was the best one with an incredible staff member who helped us out so much, eating dinner at the local hot spot for homemade Italian style pizza, seeing St. Oliver Plunkett's shriveled up head in St. Peter's church (a famous relic in the Catholic church), and celebrating Sam's birthday morning in an extravagant but homey coffee shop where the owner shared his life story! Whew!- that's Drogheda in a nut shell...

St. Peter's church where the head of Oliver Plunkett sits in a glass display case. Unfortunately this is the only documentation I have that we were ever in Drogheda. Oh- Drogheda...also Ireland's top crime city! 

We're nearing the end of the trip. At this point it's Friday and the boys leave Sunday morning. Friday afternoon Peter arranged for us to be let into the only roofed castle in Ireland, seen in the movie Braveheart (of course), and not open to the public. After making some calls to Public Works and exchanging a few emails- we got permission to see the castle. DUNSOUGHLY CASTLE is the name and TOMMY is the Public Works man who came to let us in. Little did we know, he was going to become a lot more than a door opener to us by the end of the day...
the roof of Dunsoughly

walking on the roof of Dunsoughly. On a wet, rainy day. Maybe not the safest thing I've ever done, but definitely a moment that reminds you you're alive. 

Here's the man of the day! Tommy! This is just the first of many doors he opened for us that day. Tommy was so pleased to hear of our interest in seeing the castle. He felt it a shame that more people within Ireland and outside of Ireland didn't show a greater interest in the history around them. The history that remains specifically in the old castles, buildings, and churches of the Dublin area. Tommy asked if we had any plans for the day, and seeing as we did not, he invited us to join him on a little tour of some of the oldest, most historical points in all of Dublin. 

St. Mary's Abbey I think this was called. It is hidden behind a door and down a flight of stairs in a side alley of Dublin city. 

An incredibly old and BEAUTIFUL organ- Mom, Tommy says he would have let you play it- that decorates the narthex of this old old church (St. Audoen's). 

 Inside the oldest church in Ireland (St. Audoen's) behind a locked door that sits off to the side of the museum displays. Were we in the church just seeing the museum that exists for the public, we would have never been let into this room, sat at that organ, or pretended to preach from that pulpit. Tommy continues to be the man!  
Behind two more locked doors was a flight of stairs. Not just any flight of stairs but a very narrow, windy, and dark set of stairs. A bit of a sketchy climb, but this is what we saw after climbing through the hole at the top. We were soon standing on the roof of St. Audoen's, overlooking the entire city of Dublin. INCREDIBLE!

Tommy pointing landmarks out to Peter.

The remains of the connecting courtyard.

Yes, Tommy parked on the sidewalk right next to the church to let us all in.

Dublin at night. Not just any night- but the night before St. Patrick's Day! Literally the most craziness I've ever seen. It was all too overwhelming for me, but luckily Tommy met up with us again later so we could buy him a thank you drink. He helped us to navigate out of the more touristy areas and into the local hub pubs. 

Temple Bar- thee MOST touristy area in Dublin. We were in and out of that square...

Ha'Penny bridge built in 1816! Though so crazy- Dublin was beautiful lit up at night.

Look what I found!! Gage this is for you- the biggest claw EVER!

Sam's birthday dinner! Live music and a little later- some company from Tommy and some men from Manchester! A fun night to wrap up our week of adventures. This only toasted the NEARING of the end though, for the next day was St. Patrick's Day and THAT is something to be celebrated in Ireland. 

Early lunch in The Half Door Cafe. The sun was shining, the streets were crowded, green was everywhere, and people were ready for a party! We filled up our bellies with soup and toasties and grabbed a spot on Patrick's Street (oh the irony), to watch the parade!

Snapshots from the parade. It's me- of course there's gonna be a few of little children...

Alex, Ivo, and Nina come by and say hello at the parade!

A family watching from the window of their upstairs apartment.

She quickly found out it wasn't a real beard :(

That night we watched the Ireland vs. England Rugby game and then went out for a pint or two with Ivo, Jake, and Alex. 

Peter doesn't know what he thinks about that Beamish...

The boys are grabbing a few hours of sleep before our 4am journey to the airport. I got maybe an hour of sleep on the couch after unpacking, starting laundry, and getting things together for another visitor- GAGE!! 

there he is! All the way from a 21 hour lay over in Amsterdam ladies and gentlemen. Good or bad planning? Only he can say. 

Gage's visit was an epic fail for pictures on my part. He had his camera so I let him do all the work while I just enjoyed his being near again. Our trip started with a bus ride to Dingle where we stayed the first night. We enjoyed dinner and some drinks at a pub that first night, as well as a lovely walk under a clear night sky back to our cozy hostel on a hill. The next morning we rented bikes and rode to the base of Mt. Branden where we hiked ALMOST to the top...half way? Don't judge. 

Looking down from maybe a 1/4 of the way to the top.

Gage treking ahead past trailhead #5.

We're pretty happy to be together again. :)

How's that bike workin' for ya Gager?


homemade pizza with ingredients from the market one night! YUM!

he's not very good at posing for pictures...

we ARE very good at documenting food we eat, if not us eating it or doing the things we do that earn us the right to eat it. This particular night we had wine and cheese (with apples and crackers). We gathered the cheese from a grocery store in Midleton after missing out train back from the Jameson Distillery. THAT was a fun trip! We got to be taste testers, earned official certificates that mark us as so, and now will never drink any whiskey other than Jameson (it was a loose promise...)!

Two of the days Gage was here I had tests so we spent a lot of time in Cork. However, that time was just as enjoyable. We made a small trip to Blarney Castle, enjoyed music around town, went on walks, and met friends of mine here. The highlight of my trip was maybe the bike and hike and Dingle and the night that we spent enjoying local music in a cozy wine bar. The venue was incredible and one that I actually got the chance to play in this past week! But that's another story. Gage and I had a great time- all of the details of which are impossible to recall and really wouldn't be that enjoyable for you all anyhow. We enjoyed ourselves just the way we would at home. Having Gage here was a refreshing break from the still slightly unfamiliar. I'm sad he had to go, but life must continue to go on. :)

Gage's steak and potato delicacy he made for our last dinner. Very delicious. A dish he picked up from his French roommates from Florida last summer.

Dinner, a drink out, and another 4am morning rolls around- another goodbye is said. Until July dear Gage! (Gage just got accepted to work in a lab after graduation in San Diego at UCSD! So congratulations to him! We'll get use to the distance one of these days- but along the way I'll enjoy the visits to San Diego for fun times again like we had here in Ireland!)

Life returns to normal here in Cork...Alex's birthday was a couple days after the two weeks of visitors came to an end, and it served as a distraction from the natural depression that follows such extreme highs. Kaisa (Alex's flat mate and a friend of mine) and I made cinnamon rolls to celebrate. The sun was shining down on Alex for his birthday and the 3 of us enjoyed a walk through the city, ice cream, and a sunny bench in the park. I was alone again just like in the beginning, but not feeling so lonely anymore as I could say goodbye to friends from home and return to friends I'd made here. A comforting feeling and one that made me realize I've really come to have a home here in Cork.

Alex's birthday dinner! A German pizza on baguette and Finish cinnamon rolls (compliments of me and Kaisa) for dessert. What a treat!

Within the next week there was this birthday party, essay writing, my first gig in Ireland, and packing for a month long trip through Europe! Already it's been a week since I said goodbye to Gage and already I'm going for my month of travel! I can't believe how fast the months are going by. Some days crawl at a snail's pace, and more of them run with the speed of a cheetah! I'm continuing to try so hard to not ever let a single day get the best of me. Even when I have moments of sadness, I go for a walk and I find again how great the world is and how much of it there is I want to see. Though there are people I love at home, I am learning to love others here, and most importantly learning to love myself. My wise aunt Barbara, as well as my incredible Mother, have told me many a time that in order to properly love and care for others, one must learn how to love themselves. So when I start to question why I am wasting any time in life away from those that I want to be with-  remember- this time is building me to be more for them. I am growing as an individual, but indirectly I am growing as a friend, a girlfriend (I hope Gage would agree with that :)), but most prominently as a human being- a small piece in this seemingly, but surprisingly small world. 

Alright- off I go to finish packing for the month ahead of me. Amsterdam, Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, and Italy are all on the list! You'll hear from me again someday I'm sure! 

Lastly, along with my love- here are a couple of links to two of the songs I played the other night. More will come when I'm not busy enjoying Europe!

You Can Close Your Eyes (James Taylor): 

Fly Away (Laura Wetzel):