Saturday, June 13, 2009

Final Days Across the Pond

Well, I apologize for entitling the last post "Cymru" (Wales) and then not writing about Wales. So here goes!

My last day in Dublin I woke up early and left the hostel around 7, then started walking to Dublin Port, which is actually a Long Way Away. (Just looked it up on google maps--4.9 km or 3 miles). I walked about 2 of those miles, then inquired about directions, was told it was quite far, and got a ride the rest of the way. The Irish are very helpful.

The ferry to Wales cost €30 and looked like a cruies ship. It was huge and glitzy and had food, electronic games, etc. The ship I went over on was called the Jonathan Swift, as it is the faster boat, hehe.

My reaction when I reached Holyhead was: "Ok, I'm in Wales. Now what?" I walked into Holyhead, searching for a tourist office, then learned that it was back at the ferry port. So I got some pounds from an ATM and returned to the port, where I was given copious amounts of brochures about Northern Wales, as well as directions to the nearest Neolithic site. So, with my backpack and wheeled suitcase I trudged a really long way, getting lost only once, nourished by a pack of Roundtree gummies (which are in competition with Haribo goldbears for best gummies ever, and that's saying something). I got lost only once, and kept walking for a really long time. Saw a couple of used cars for sale and wanted to buy one, just so I could try driving on the left side of the road.

I finally found a standing stone in a field in the middle of an industrial/nothing area, and got really excited, but then realized I wasn't looking for a standing stone, I was looking for a tomb! I almost turned around there, but decided to keep going. I finally found the tomb, which was cool to look at, but more exciting just because I had finally found it. Stayed a couple minutes, took pictures, then walked to the bus stop and waited for 40 minutes to catch a bus to Bangor. I decided that I was a good example of Tolkien's "Not all who wander are lost." That morning was a good 3.5 hours of wandering (though I could have done without the suitcase). Google maps says it's only 2 miles from the ferry port to the tomb... well, it felt longer!

I promptly fell asleep on the bus to Bangor, then woke up, got off and had a sandwich at Subway (the gummies weren't the most nutritious lunch). To keep up with the theme of the day, I wandered around Bangor, looking for a Youth Hostel I'd found in a brochure. Finally found it, but a sign on the door said "no vacancies." I wondered at that, North Wales doesn't seem to be a place to sell out its hostels. To bad, because it was a beautiful victorian house with a nice yard!

Bangor was pretty big compared to some of the other towns around North Wales, but it has less than 30,000 inhabitants, counting the 10,000 university students. I would have liked to go to the University and the old church there, but I was too exhausted from my wanderings. Found a B&B and stayed in for the rest of the night.

After the "now what?" phase came the "dang, there's nothing to do in North Wales!" phase. That's a bit of an exaggeration, but there isn't really that much to do in terms of touristy-things. Tourism does try hard, though, and there is plenty to see if you look for it.

Wales is poorer than England, and although it is definitely not impoverished, there were a large number of "bargain" stores and "rubbish stores," as a police officer described to me. "How Green Was My Valley," a movie that shows Wales to be a poor mining country, didn't help tourism at all.

Third realization: "It's hard to see North Wales without a car." There are a lot of castles and good neolithic sites, and most would be easily accessible by car. Bus tickets are not cheap, but that's how I made my way around.

The next morning I took a bus to Caernarfon, known in tourist-land for a castle, jail, and Roman fort--not enough to take upa day, so I went to the tourist office, who told me that Llanberis would be fun. (pronounced fhlanberis... put your tongue on the roof of your mouth and blow out... that's Welsh for you!).

In Llanberis, I took a train ride around a lake, then went to the National Slate Museum, where I learned all about Slate Mining; more interesting than I thought it would be. They even had a slate-splitting demonstration there, and I was called up to split slate! My new career, I think. Headed back to Caernarfon to see the castle.

Caernarfon castle is beautiful, quite castle-like (pardon the descriptions), and full of pigeons. It overlooks the water, and is the place Prince Charles was crowned Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester. There was a small exhibit about Welsh princes and a video of the ceremony. I love Brits and their royal ceremonies, just for fun.

There's a war memorial in the main square in Caernarfon, and I went to take a closer look. It appears that everyone's last name in Wales is either Owen, Roberts, or Williams. There were about 20 of each. I even saw a Robert Roberts!

That night (after going to the library where I got my £1 per 1/2 hour internet access) I stayed in the nicest hostel I've ever been to (I've only been to four)--a huge, modern house with a 16th-century basement and nutella for breakfast, if you'd like a quick summary.

Both full days in Wales were pretty rainy, unfortunately. The next morning I dragged my suitcase back through Caernarfon in the drizzle and found the old jail (gaol, anywhere except for America), now a museum. Learned a lot about gaols and decided I'd like to not go to one anytime soon. On my way out I thanked the man selling tickets with "diolch"--thanks in Welsh. Welsh is still spoken a lot in Wales--more than Irish--and I heard a good amount. Old ladies, families, shopkeepers. All the signs are in Welsh as well!

Then it was time to see another castle--Beaumaris! I took two buses to get there, then saw the castle... with my suitcase. The ticketing people weren't allowed to take it because of some government thing, so I took it with me into the castle and was told that the "rooms were all full." Haha. I left it at the bottom of each tower I explored, then collected it and trudged to the next.

Beaumaris is said to be the most "technically perfect" castle in Britain, even though it was unfinished. It was quite nice, and full of birds as well, including swans and nesting seagulls!

Then a long journey back to Ireland. Two buses to Holyhead (one a double-decker, how exciting!). I arrived in Holyhead around 6 or so, then had to wait until my ferry back at 2:40 AM. So, I know some parts of Holyhead pretty well now! (For anyone for whom the name rings a bell, the Holyhead Harpies are an all-female quidditch team in Harry Potter... unfortunately, I didn't see any quidditch!)

I went to a pizza/burger place for dinner and had fish and chips and fanta to celebrate my last night in Britain. The girls working there kindly took my suitcase (yay!), and I commenced my wandering again. Decided maybe a movie would be a good way to kill time, but the only one showing was Terminator at 8 o'clock, so I decided to skip it. I did have a nice walk down by the ocean, saw the walls of a Roman fort, then went back to the ferry port when it got dark (around 10!) to wait and feel a cold coming on.

The ferry that night (the Ulysses, of course, from James Joyce's novel) was even more like a cruise-ship than the swift, so I walked two laps around, then fell asleep for the rest of the ride. We arrived in Dublin at about 6 AM, chilly and sleepy. I took two buses (I went to far out of town on the first one), then discovered that no one eats breakfast in Dublin. Well, there were no caf├ęs open. I finally found one at 7:30, had a scone and tea, then walked to the bus station where I caught a bus to Limerick, then Shannon. Arrived at my hotel at Shannon airport and collapsed for the rest of the afternoon, alternately sleeping and watching either American tween shows or British kids shows. I even saw a teen show in Irish (english subtitles).

Then back to the US; uneventful flights, lots of customs--not as exciting as on the way over here!
I'm back and sad to be back, but glad to be able to see my friends again. I do think a return trip is scheduled for sometime in my future!

More adventures to come, I hope.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Cymru

Hello hello again, this time from Caernarfon, Wales.

Dublin was fabulous, besides being cold and rainy. I got a fine youth hostel for 17.50 euros a night, yay. The first night I walked around a bit, had a crepe for dinner, and picked up info about Dublin. That night around 2:30 a couple of my roomates came in drunk and noisy, but that's what one expects at a hostel. Otherwise, it was fine.

In the morning I headed out to Trinity College, founded by Elizabeth I in the 1500s. I had a guided tour and learned about some funny college traditions (during exam time, if you come dressed exactly right (with a cloak and dagger, etc.), the provost of the college has to brin you wine during your exam. If he doesn't for some reason, you can skip the exams). Also saw the book of Kells and a couple other old, beautiful books, as well as the Trinity library, which is huge and where the books are organized by SIZE. How cool is that?

Next I walked (through the wind and rain) to the national museum, which had a lot of great archeological exhibits, including one on the bogs. There were preserved bog bodies in the exhibit, as well as other objects, though the bodies were the coolest part. A bit gruesome, because many of them were murdered, but still cool. I also saw an exhibit about Ireland during the viking invasions--British Isles and Scandinavia combined, I love it!

Next to a cafe where I had lunch and let my soaked pants dry out a bit. My, it was wet. Then to Christchurch cathedral, built about 1000 years ago, which was like many other Cathedrals, but nice all the same. And, the St. Olaf College choir was performing there that night! Though it cost 15 euros so I decided not to go.

Busy day--next I saw Dublin castle, which is more like a palace. Learned a lot about Ireland's history, especially its relation with England/Britain, which is really interesting.

Then back to the youth hostel to dry off (my umbrella had died by this point), and out for the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl! That was great fun--two actors performed bits of certain famous Irish books and plays, and told us about the authors. The Irish are very proud of James Joyce and Yeats... my favorite was a bit they did from Waiting for Godot. After each performance (somewhere on the street or so) we would head to a pub for a bit. Pubs are great, and so Irish. It was fun chatting with the others on the tour, because I'd been by myself all day. On the one hand, traveling alone is fun because of the feeling of independence, but it can also be lonely!


The next morning I took a bus to Glendalough a park in Wicklow. Glendalough has a lot of beautiful walks, so I bought a map and chose a walk. It was still cold and windy, but luckily not raining. I also paid a euro and went to the museum there, which tells the story of St. Kevin and the monastic settlement at Glendalough (valley of two rivers, in Irish)--there are some fantastic old buildings still there that I explored!

Then back to Dublin, where I had dinner in a little tea shop and walked around Temple Bar, the restaurant/walking district. Then to bed for an early morning the next day!

And darn, my 1/2 hour (for a pound... eek! That's about $1.60) is almost up, so I'll have to save the past few days for another entry!

TTFN!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Ireland!

Ireland is awesome!

I've been here about 9 days and regret not blogging sooner, because it's hard to remember everything! I'll go quickly, though, because I'm paying a lot for this internet access :-/.

The adventure started when I arrived at Logan, sat on the runway for 1.5 hours, and then was told that my flight to Philadelphia was cancelled (I was supposed to fly Boston-Philadelphia-Shannon). Instead, I hopped on a flight to Heathrow (London) and then to Dublin! Watched Ferris Bueller's Day Off on the plane, which was fabulous. I was extensively interrogated at customs in London, then spent a while hanging around trying to see if I could recognize a part of the terminal where they filmed Love Actually and regretting that I didn't have any pounds. I had to take a shuttle from the arrivals terminal to departures, and got freaked out when the bus drove on the left side of the road! It's really hard to get used to. Flew to Dublin, and then ended my journey by taking a bus to Galway, where I met my aunt at our B&B.

It was raining in London, cloudly in Dublin, and raining in Galway. Since then it has brightened up and become beautiful! I think it was my aunt Posie who did it; she left today and now it's getting cloudy and cold, hehe.

The first night in Galway we went out for dinner--Irish lamb pie! It was delicious. Next day we explored Galway, spending most of our time on the pedestrian streets in the center of town. We saw the original Claddagh ring shop (the rings with a heart, crown, and hands), then spent a long time trying to find the University. It turned out we couldn't park inside, but we got to see a little bit. Then headed up to Connemara, where we managed to get really lost, a lot. The roads in Ireland are really narrow and the signage is definitely not adequate. Connemara is beautiful--lots of rock and hills, along with a beautiful coastline and peat bogs (the ones people fall into and then their bodies are found preserved hundreds of years later). We stayed the night in Oughterard, then headed down to Costelloe, where we met up with Posie's friend Bob Quinn, a writer and movie maker who knows a lot about the ancient people of Ireland. Then headed along the coast (admiring scenery all the way--can't wait to show you pictures!) until we came to Roundstone, a town famous for musical instruments. There we saw someone making bodhrans, the traditional irish drums, and I bought a book of traditional Irish tunes to try playing when I get home.

After Connemara, we headed down to the Burren, also famous for its natural beauty. We stayed in Ballyvaughn in a B&B with beautiful views of the mountains and lots of wind! I was exhausted, so I went to bed extra early.

Our visit to the Burren was great--we saw a dolmen, which is a very old stone tomb (I think about 4-5000 years old). That was quite cool. I also went to a stone ring fort from the 6th century or so. The Irish have a tradition of building with stones, but without mortar--amazing architecture.

Next we headed to the cliffs of Moher, one of Ireland's most popular tourist attractions. It's basically huge, beautiful cliffs; look up Ireland tourism and you'll probably get a picture of them, haha.

Then down through county Clare, on a car ferry, all the way to Castlegregory on the Dingle peninsula, where we met up with our relatives for dinner! Posie had been keeping in touch with Maureen, my grandfather's cousin, whose house we went to for dinner. Afterwards, we saw the end of a game of gaelic football, which is a bit like soccer-handball with a volley ball--it was pretty cool. We met Maureen's husband, sisters, kids, and grandkids (some of whom Posie had met before, I believe). Stayed up talking; it was great to meet my Irish relatives! I figured that all the grandchildren are my third cousins.

The next day we drove across Connor Pass, a beautiful road through the mountains, and drove around Slea Head drive, which circles the western part of the Dingle Peninsula. Saw another stone fort, 1500-year-old stone "beehive huts," the 1200-year-old Gallarus Oratory (still in beautiful condition--made out of stones without mortar), and Kilmalkaedar church, an old stone church with a very old (and new) cemetery and an old stone sundial. Both Gallarus and Kilmaldaedar had Ogham stones outside--standing stones from the 4th century with ancient writing on them. Also went to a museum that contains the largest mammoth skull in the world and is run by a guy from Connecticut. We climbed up Slea head, the (beautiful) westernmost point of Ireland. That night we ate at Ned's Pub in Castlegregory, where they had live music. Irish pubs are great--most of them are just like one would imagine (without the pub brawls).

Monday we spent with Maureen, Jack (her husband), Peig (sister), Noirin (sister), and Noel (Noirin's husband). First we saw a beautiful forest (after not seeing forest for a while, it was a nice surprise), then headed to Cloghane, where we saw the house my great-grandmother Mary grew up in, as well as a graveyard with tombs of my ancestors and a 5th century church ruin! Then a bit more of a drive to see the scenery, and we headed down to Dingle to meet more relatives! These were Ann, Elizabeth, Paedr and Jack, related to my great-grandfather Tim. We had a drink and talked about family history; I admired two of my distant cousins, who were adorable. I think there must be a rule here that all Irish children have to be extra cute!


The next day we visited Dingle, a cute town that grows in the summer because there are great beaches around there! We visited some shops on the cute shopping streets and saw a couple places called "Brosnan's _______." Cool. I bought a cheap tin whistle that I look forward to playing.
Met up with Ann again, and went to see Jack's house, which is next to the stone house in which my great grandfather was born. It was a farm back then, and still is. That was very cool.

The south-west of Ireland is highly Irish-speaking; all the signs are in Irish and english (some exclusively in Irish), and though most people speak english, I think I did hear some speaking Irish. It's very cool how the Irish keep their language alive.

Then off to Inch beach, a cute beach where we ate lunch, then down to Killorglin, another cute town on the peninsula below Dingle. We went for dinner at the Climber's Inn, an Inn/restaurant in the middle of the mountains where Posie had stopped in the middle of a storm 12 years before. All the mountain drives (well, all the drives) are beautiful, and so full of sheep! There are sheep everywhere! And they're dyed blue and red to identify them.

Then a new day and off to the Skellig Islands, which were simply amazing. Full of gannets, gulls, and the most adorable puffins. We climbed 600 stone steps or so to an old monastery at the top (the same dry-stone construction). The island was beautiful and the views were amazing! The puffins were also extremely cute, and all over the place! On the boat trip back, we passed the smaller Skellig, where we saw a few seals, as well as tons of birds.

Then along the south coast where we stopped to see some gardens and yet another ogham stone. My favorite was seeing the stone circle in Kenmare. Stone circles are so simple, but I loved it. Maybe I'll become a stone circle hunter.

We spent the night in Killarney, where again we went to pubs to hear music. Most of the music is played with guitars, banjos, and maybe fiddles/mandolins. Killarney was another nice town, though it's bigger--more of a city.

The next morning we saw Muckross Abbey, a ruined Abbey next to a victorian mansion (Muckross House), in Killarney National Park. Then we actually did go stone-circle hunting, but without luck. I think the one we were looking for was on private property. Oh well, it was still a bit of an adventure.

Then the long(ish) drive to Limerick, stopping in the cute town of Adare for lunch. We ended up in Bunratty, where we had a quick peek at the castle and got to see the folk park, a reconstructed 19th-century village. Bunratty was unfortunately quite touristy, but still interesting. That night we went again for pub music, and ended up staying out until 11 or so, the time it gets dark here. It's so funny! I don't think I've ever been awake when it's dark outside.

This morning Posie left from Shannon airport to go home, and I grabbed a bus to Dublin, where I am now. I plan to visit the city tomorrow; it's dinner time now so I'll head out for a bite to eat. Hope you've enjoyed reading about Ireland! I'll update again soon--I'm hoping to head over to Wales for a bit this week.

Hugs from Ireland!