Friday, April 16, 2010

West of Ireland Trip

Our second big group trip was this past weekend. I can’t believe the semester is almost over. It went by so fast but when I think of all of the things I’ve done here, it makes sense that its over. I’ve written more papers this semester than any other, which is quite the challenge with all the distractions of Dublin.

The trip to the west of Ireland felt much less rushed and more relaxed than the Northern Ireland trip. We had a lot of time to just explore by ourselves rather than scheduled tourist attractions to go see. Our first stop was Galway, which is a college town a little bit bigger than Burlington. It was really nice to go see what a college town in Ireland looked like. We were free for the night in Galway and ended up going to an American bar called “Coyotes” that had karaoke, mechanical bull riding, and table dancers. So this must be what the Irish think of America. Some people in our group did karaoke and rode the bull (it was free for Americans only) but in general the place was not very fun, so we left and found a band playing at another bar.

The next day we stopped at many places on the way to the quaint town of Doolin. The most memorable place we stopped at was the Cliffs of Moher. These are a main tourist attraction in Ireland and we saw a lot of Americans there. The cliffs are 600 feet high and have a wall along the edge so that you don’t fall. Many people pass over this wall to have a look straight down to ocean but it seemed extremely dangerous to do so. The cliffs were the most picturesque attraction in Ireland; it seemed impossible to take a bad photo.

That afternoon we arrived in Doolin and checked into our homey hostel. A bunch of us decided to go to the rocky beach down the road since Doolin was a coastal town. There wasn’t much to Doolin (a lot of farms, a few pubs, some hills) but it was my favorite place I had visited in Ireland. It felt so untouched by tourists and untouched by any sort of globalization. We sat on a grassy cliff next to the ocean and watched the waves crash against the rocks. I’m going to try to convince my family to move here =).

Friday, April 2, 2010

Marble Arch Caves and Hurling Match

This past weekend was extremely busy. Some people had fieldtrips four days in a row. I had one to the Marble Arch Caves in Northern Ireland on Friday for our Environmental Earth Science class and one to the Hurling match between Dublin and Cork on Sunday.

The Marble Arch Caves were amazing. We got to walk along a path inside them while stalactites were dripping on us and all we could hear was the rushing water of the river running through the cave. It was very dark inside the cave, which made it very difficult to get any good pictures. We had about and hour-long tour through the cave where we were informed of how each aspect of the cave was formed. It felt as if I was on a different planet. I had never seen anything like it. When you see pictures of caves you think you can imagine being inside them, but it was a completely new experience.

On Sunday, we were taken to a Hurling match just outside Dublin. None of us even knew what hurling was or how it was played before we went to the game. It was fairly easy to catch on to the rules while watching it though. I have hated sports my entire life but hurling was the most interesting sport I’ve ever seen. It was like a mix of field hockey, soccer, baseball, and lacrosse. I have no doubt that any of the players could excel in any of these sports. They had to be extremely talented to play hurling. You should definitely look up some youtube videos of hurling matches online if you have never seen it before. It’s extremely fast paced and looks really dangerous. A bunch of guys holding wooden sticks all trying to swing at the same ball.

It was also quite the experience to hear all these irish guys screaming from the stands at the players. One of the really odd things I found about the game was that during halftime, all of the children in the stands would run out onto the field and get to play some hurling and talk to the players. I really hope that we can go see another match before we have to leave. Only 33 days left before I leave =( I’m going to miss Ireland so much.

Rhodes, GREECE!!!!! Part Two: Old Town, Rhodes Town and Lyndos

On one of the last few days in Rhodes we took a bus to the beautiful town of Lyndos. Lyndos is one of the major tourist locations on the Island of Rhodes, but since we went during the off-season time, there were very few tourists there with us, and no one was at the beach. Being used to Vermont weather allowed us to be able to sunbathe on the beach when it was only about 60 degrees out. There were so many huge resort hotels around that were closed, which made me very happy that we were not visiting when these places were full of tourists. It made Greece the most relaxing vacation I’ve ever had. Below are a few pictures of the small, breathtaking beach we had all to ourselves in Lyndos.

We ate lunch on a rooftop traditional Greek restaurant. I can’t even explain how good all of the food was in Greece. It’s worth visiting just for that. After going to the beach and eating, we explored Lyndos some more and went into the little shops and got lost in all the small side roads. It was like being in a labyrinth. I bought far too many delicious banana, sugar and cinnamon crepes and went back to Trianta on the two hour-long bus ride very full.

Almost every day in Rhodes we would take the bus to Old Town and Rhodes town, which were right next to each other. Old Town existed inside of castle walls. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen; an entire town inside a castle. It looked very much like Lyndos in that there were many shops and alleyways to get lost in. Old Town would normally be packed in the summer, but again, we were the only ones there. On the outside of the castle was Rhodes Town, which was much more modern with fancy clothing stores and nice restaurants.

(Click on the picture below to make it larger!!! I made a panorama)

Inside of Old Town, we found one of the only restaurants open and became very friendly with the owners. The family that owned the restaurant lived right above it and had three boys. We found out that in the summer the youngest boy, who looked about eight, would play some sort of Greek instrument for all the tourists. Their father would come out and join us at our table, bringing shot glasses and a few bottles of who knows what kind of traditional Greek alcohol. He would stay and chat with us and make us take shots with him. It was an experience that you just couldn’t get in America, where everything is so strict and rushed. We would stay at this restaurant for hours just sitting at our table in the sun.

The best memory I have from this vacation is at this same restaurant. Our waitress, who only spoke very few words in English, offered to read our coffee grains. Greek coffee is a lot like espresso and when you drink it the coffee grains remain at the bottom. In order to have them read, you flip the cup over and turn it clockwise three times and let the grain drain down the sides of the cup to form patterns and images. Our waitress brought over one of the sons to translate for her, and she would read each of our cups. These were not like fortune cookie fortunes; she would elaborate for about five minutes on each one. Telling us things that would happen, all good things too. Tom told us that Greek fortunes are always good. I took videos of some of these fortunes. You could tell the woman loved reading into our futures.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Rhodes, GREECE!!! Part 1

Tom’s godparents picked us up from the airport and brought us to the apartment we were staying in. We took a long nap and then were driven to his Godparents’ house for a home cooked Greek meal. It was amazing. I felt so immersed into the Greek culture it was unreal. One of their sons, who is about 12, played us songs on the traditional Greek instrument that looked like a cross between a guitar and a violin. After the meal they did not have enough dessert for all of us so we all walked to their parents house where we ate the most delicious and unusual apple pie.

You can immediately sense a great family foundation and huge culture shock in Rhodes. Everyone we met was overly kind and funny. Nothing was rushed; it is a very relaxing place. We often asked aloud to each other, “Is this real? Is this actually happening right now?” We made our best attempt to get the most out of every minute.

Fun fact about Rhodes is that they receive 325 days of sun a year. Every day there were bright blue skies with no clouds in sight and a nice breeze. Rhodes is a big tourist area in the summer but since we went there off-season, we were the only tourists there. This meant that all those beautiful beaches you see when you do a google image search for Rhodes were empty. Every beach we went to we had all to ourselves.

The town we stayed in was called Trianta. It was a very small, adorable town full of locals. None of us knew any Greek except for Tom who was our savior for the entire trip. There were only about two bars that were open this time of year and only a few restaurants. We walked to the beach on the second day there and saw the bright blue clear water. I had never seen anything like it. I’ve been to the Caribbean and seen beautiful beaches before in St. Thomas and St. Martin, but they don’t even compare to the water in Greece. When we looked out into the ocean we could see Turkey, clear as day. It looked like you could almost swim to it.

At night we would hang out at one of the only bars that was open this time of year called “Debbie’s”. We met Debbie and her daughter, Maria, who was the bartender. It was a sports bar, which meant it was mainly occupied by old men. We could tell that Maria was thrilled to have all eight of us young girls talking to her. She found us all hilarious and entertaining.

London is GIGANTIC

Before I begin recalling my vacation in London, I feel I should explain the large amount of travel planning issues I came across. Three of my friends and I booked flights from Dublin to London to Athens to Rhodes. The plan was to stay in Rhodes for the first seven days, then stay in London for two days on the way back to Dublin. Everything seems fine until the day before we leave for Greece.

I get to class at 9:30am and find out that the Athens’ Airport is having a strike the next day and all flights have been cancelled. This meant that I would either have to cancel my flight to London or stay in London for ten days, which I had no desire to do. We didn’t even know if we were going to get our money back for the flights to and from Greece. Everyone was very stressed and pretty much threw away the entire idea that we would be going to Greece during break.

One of my friends going with me, Tom, had family in Greece that he was going to visit and he was determined to get us to Greece. Tom called three airlines and the hostel we booked in London; five hours of waiting and arguing with people on the phone trying to change plane tickets and booking dates. By 3:00pm our flights were successfully changed so that we would be now staying in London for the first two days and Rhodes for the last seven, which was basically our original plan but flipped around. This meant that we needed to book another hostel for the new days we would be in London. I’m not sure if you’ve ever tried, but trying to find availability in a Hotel or Hostel in London a day before you arrive is not the easiest thing. I searched for hours trying to find a decent place that had room for us. Finally, after trying to figure out our spring break for ten hours, it was done. Everything was planned and we could finally calm down and just hope that anything else wouldn’t go wrong.

The next day we left for the airport for our afternoon flight to London. The flight from Dublin to London is very short, only about an hour, almost too short in my opinion. We found our Hostel fairly easily and checked in to our room. The hostel looked… sketchy and dirty, but we had our own bedroom and were not worried about anyone breaking in. They gave us clean sheets and that was enough to keep us happy.

The next morning we buy tickets for the Big Bus Tour that brings you all around London to all the major tourist attractions like the London Bridge, the London Eye, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, etc. We sat on the top of the double decker bus so that we got the best views. We ended up missing the bus that brought us back to our Hostel and had to take the tube, which is their version of the Subway. Although London is such a huge city, it seemed very easy to get anywhere you wanted fairly quickly and easily using the tube.

That night we met up with two fellow classmates who arrived in London that day and went to check out the bar scene. We went into the center of the city and asked someone where a good bar was and they gave us directions to one. Once we walk up to the door we immediately recognize that it is an Irish Pub… in London. It’s funny that we can’t get away from them. We felt right at home and went inside for a few drinks.

The next day we take a walk through Hyde Park, which was right across from our Hostel. It is a huge green park with restaurants and playgrounds and lakes and DOGS. There were so many dogs running around and playing; I could walk around in there all day and never get bored. One particular dog followed us for a short while, with its owners about 20 feet behind us. It was adorable and very well behaved. When it came time that the owners wanted the dog turn off to another path all the did from way behind him was say “turn here” and the dog just knew and went off onto the other path.

Once we reached the end of Hyde Park we went to the Science Museum. We went on a simulation ride where you feel like you are flying to the moon on a spaceship, which was pretty cool. Other than that it does not compare to the Museum of Science in Boston. We spent most of our time in the souvenir shop, which was full of all those really awesome toys we used to play with when we were younger. Our flight to Rhodes left that afternoon and arrived in Rhodes at 7:00am. Basically, it was a long night, but definitely worth it.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

My first time horseback riding

Each week in Ireland seems to become more and more exciting. Last Monday I decided to be brave and perform a couple songs at a local pub’s open mic. Everyone there was extremely nice and even cheered my name when I screwed up a song. I believe that Champlain College Dublin is booking a pub for a night so that everyone in the program can come and play music or read poetry or any other talent they wish to display.

The most exciting part of this week was definitely our trip to Glendalough where I got to ride a horse for the first time in my life. Before Friday, I had never even touched a horse and now am so glad that I finally tried horseback riding. The man who worked at the barn lead out four people at a time on an hour trek though windy, muddy, beautiful trails through the woods and hills of Glendalough. My horse’s name was Pluto and was a giant white beast. The feeling you get from riding such a huge, powerful animal is wonderfully exciting. I loved every minute of it.
We all got on our horses and without any instruction of general riding commands, the four of us and our horses started walking single file behind our trek leader. The first few minutes I was terrified and felt that I had absolutely no control over this animal and hoped that he wouldn’t throw me off his back. But after a few instructions on how to direct him and stop him I felt a little better. The trek was beautiful and at times we could overlook large hilly fields and mountains off in the distance lit by the perfectly sunny day.

Without much warning, our trek leader told us we were going to trot and to hold on, and I soon realized why holding on was so important. While trotting down a hill, I got about ten times the amount of adrenaline I usually get from a roller coaster. It was so much fun. At many times we were walking two feet from the edges of grassy cliffs. I remember just praying that Pluto wouldn’t slip or take a step too close to the edge and tumble.

When we got to the point in the trek where we were going through skinny paths in the woods, I saw numerous deer running around. Three deer in particular stood about ten feet away from us as we passed. I remember their faces just staring at us and not being afraid because they figured we were just other animals in the woods. All of us were silent in awe staring back at the deer, trying to soak in every second of this amazing experience. It was a great trip and probably one of the greatest experiences of my life. I’m definitely going to try to ride again once I return home this summer.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Northern Ireland Trip: Day Two

The next day was full of tourist attractions, basically natural environmental beauties that you have to pay to go see. We walked down a windy road from our hostel to Ballintoy Harbor. I was surprised to see a sand beach there surrounded by all these steep chalk cliffs. We all climbed up these grassy rocks that jutted into the ocean and once on top we had a beautiful view of the water and we could see Scotland off in the distance. I remember just being blown away by just how pretty the views were, it seemed too perfect to be real.

Once we were leaving Ballintoy, two of my classmates decided to run full speed toward a sheep field, hurdle the fence, and continued to sprint toward a large flock of sheep screaming “SHEEEEEEEEEP!” This obviously scared the crap out of the sheep and they ran away but it was probably the most amusing thing I witnessed this weekend.

Our next stop was Giant’s Causeway. This is a huge formation of rocks that are all shaped like hexagons or pentagons. It shoots out into the ocean like a jetty and is a lot easier to climb than it looks. The rocks act like stairs since they are all relatively flat on top. After spending an hour or so there we went to Dunluce Castle. We got to see the remnants of this large castle by the ocean. I specifically liked this tower that you could walk up some terrifying stairs to reach the top. I felt like we were in a playground.

The final stop of the trip, excluding dinner at McDonalds, was this rope bridge that was between two cliffs about a hundred feet above the water. It swung and bounced when you walked on it, I loved it. I love roller coasters and am not afraid of heights so I was excited to start hopping down the bridge, making it wobble up and down. You could tell about half of our group loved it and the other half was terrified of walking across it.

It has now been three days since the trip and my legs are still sore from all the walking/hiking but it was definitely worth it. It was definitely the best weekend I’ve had in Ireland since I’ve been here and now I can’t wait for the West Coast trip.