Friday, March 28, 2008


--UCC's spring break is from March 20-April 20. My plan to travel around until mid April is now up and running. SB part 1 was a 3 day tour around Ireland over Easter and then a trip up to Belfast with my friend Sam. Part 2 starts tomorrow at 8 am, where we are flying to Vienna and then to Prague. Part 3 is a week trip to Manchester to visit one of my friends--

SB part 1A: Paddywagon tour

I had no idea what exactly I'd be getting into exactly on this tour. All I knew was that Sam told me it was a 3 day tour around Ireland and that one of the stops was the Guinness brewery. So when we showed up in Dublin at 8 am on the 21st I was bracing myself for a tour around Ireland with a handful of wealthy geriatrics on some version of a midlife crisis. With the exception of Martin (an elderly German man who ended up being really cool despite the fact he was probably expecting my former vision), our tour consisted of really fun 26ish year olds, mostly from Australia, who were taking off a week of work to hang out in Ireland. Sam and I were on the smaller bus out of the two that were running the same tour- ours had maybe 20 or so people on it (compared to the other giant one with who knows how many) so we got to know everyone on our bus really well. Our tour guide's name was Joe and he was this 26 year old Irish guy who rambled for 3 days straight with funny jokes, stories, and histories of the places we drove past. I have no idea how much of the information I learned on the trip is true or not, seeing as how some of the stories he was telling were completely out there, but I had a really good time.

The first place we stopped at for a photo break was the Papal Cross (left), where the pope apparently had something to do with Mass at some point. I don't really remember because I was kind of distracted by the fact that it was really sunny and beautiful outside and I wasn't used to that. Clonmacnoise (right) was our next stop which had some of Ireland's Golden Age celtic crosses inside on display, as well as a whole field of more modern ones. More beautiful weather. An hour or two more driving and we arrived in Galway. I'd already been earlier, but had only spent about 2 hours there and this time we were there for the evening and night. Sam and I wandered around the city for a while and spent some time at the Galway Bay (left). The hostel that we stayed at was whoa hippy. I think a requirement to work there was for guys to have long, stringy hair and act strung out. Despite that though, the hostel was really fun. Sam and I got thrifty and went to a nearby grocery store and bought pasta for a cheap dinner. That night, we had a party over at the hostel with both tour buses. Joe brought his guitar and we just hung out there since it was the Friday before Easter and all the pubs were closed.

The next day we started our drive down the West Coast. We saw some castle (left) and then drove to the ocean. Once again, the weather was beautiful. Having lived in Ireland now for a few months, Sam and I were fully aware of the fact that nice weather is often short lived, and rain was always just around the corner. So with every hour or so, one of us would poke the other and point at the blue sky- amazed that the weather was holding out so long. We then made a stop at the Black Head (on the right- you can make out the eyes and nose on the upper left hand side of the picture). According to Joe, drinking from this spring would give you healthy children or something like that. Despite my current plan to move to Africa and own a large wildebeest herd for the rest of my days, I went along with the crowd and tried it. We got back on the bus and headed to the Cliffs of Moher (second time for me). Not to let my previous run to these cliffs be outdone, I proceeded to take just as many pictures as I did the last time. So now I have something like 14 identical shots of the cliffs, both in rainy and sunshine conditions. What was different this time, though, was that Sam and I decided to jump the fence that separated tourists from cooler pictures, also known as the edge of the cliff. We had about a 15 minute photo shoot on the edge of the Cliffs of Moher before this guy in a green vest came over and made us leave. But I'm not going to lie- the pictures we took were a lot more interesting than the ones I took the last time I came. Plus we got to incorporate a run-in with the law. Or the mall-cop version of the law that patrols the tourists at the cliffs. Same thing.
After the cliffs, we stopped off at a pub called the Singing Dog (apparently back in the day there used to be a dog there that would bark on cue) and had a pint. I actually had about a half a pint because it was something like 2 pm and way too early for Guinness. Our final stop of the day was to the beach in order to watch a sunset. About half the things on our itinerary were not originally there, and were just spontaneous ideas of Joe, but since I didn't really know what I was doing when I got on the bus for the first time, I had no idea what was planned and what was not. But what I do know, though, was that the sunset beach thing was not planned. I'm glad we did it though because it was amazing. Those of us who were willing to risk our lives climbed down these huge boulders to the bottom of a cliff in order to walk in the sand, touch the water, etc. Ok maybe not risking lives seeing as how even Martin did it, but it was a bit of a climb down. As the sun was setting, the clouds came in and the reflection of them over the thin layer of waves on the sand was beautiful. I wished we had stayed for the full sunset, but since we had to climb back up the rocks before it turned dark I missed the last few minutes of it. That night we ended up at some town which consisted of a street. Actually one side of a street. A street with maybe 9 buildings on it, including houses and our hostel. It was a good night though- we hung out, ate, and listened to music at a small restaurant until about midnight and then crashed back at our room.

The third and final day on the Paddywagon tour was Easter Sunday. And the weather was beautiful. Again. We started off the day with running out of gas right as we pulled up to a gas station. Joe had joked about how Paddywagon was really RyanAir on the ground, and he wasn't kidding. So all of us got out of the bus and the guys pushed it to a pump while the girls took pictures. Once refilled, we drove back to Cork and stopped at the Blarney Castle, where I kissed it yet again. Apparently when you kiss it you not only get the 'gift of gab' but Joe said it is accompanied with 7 years of good luck. So as of today I now have a solid 14 years of good luck ahead and extremely eloquent speech to look forward to. I am slightly worried that kissing it the second time just negates the first but I'm going to assume I'm in the clear. I of course took more pictures of the Castle, as well as another one of me kissing the stone, but no need to post more identical castle pictures. While in Cork, Joe told us all about the Titanic and how one of the stops was Cork and how every major ships that leaves the Cork Harbor sinks. Seeing as how this was the one and only fact he told about Cork, it was kind of annoying since it was my home and all but whatev. Apparently the White Star is commissioning an exact replica of the Titanic and it is set to sail in 2012. It will be called Titanic 2 or something and it is identical down to the very same menu and decorations. Only this time there will be lifeboats and a GPS navigational system. Joe said it's already all sold out, even though it won't even begin building until 2009 and tickets are in the upper thousands. Insane. Yet, this could be one of those stories that are not true and I'm pretty sure that he told quite a few of them but this one sounds plausible. You couldn't pay me to sail on a Titanic 2.

For lunch we stopped at the Rock of Cashel, where I was able to get inside for free because Sam had a leftover pass from an old archaeological field trip. It was beautiful. After being in Europe for a while, castles, bridges, and churches all start to look similar and lose their appeal but this Castle was different. It was completely huge and completely stunning. The land surrounding the castle was what I expected Ireland to be like when I first arrived. Green, rolling hills as far as I could see. I saw a complete rainbow and clearly saw where it ended, and it wasn't far away. I'll admit it- I did a double take on the spot where it hit the ground, hoping for a second that I'd see a pot of gold, but then I remembered that Santa wasn't real either and moved on. Below I'm putting a picture of the landscape around the castle. You can't really tell how green or pretty the sky was because the color is a bit off, but both the green grass and the blue sky were really vivid:

And then began our drive back to Dublin. We passed by the 'battlegrounds' where the movie Braveheart was filmed, and we learned a ton of random trivia about the movie. For example, the extras used in the movie was the Irish army- since Ireland never is wars with anyone, soldiers have some free time on their hands. Also, the movie was filmed at like 430 am so that no cars would drive by on the road right outside where it was filmed but apparently there is this one scene where a bakery truck or something drives past Mel Gibson's left shoulder. Why a white bakery truck was driving around Ireland at 430 am or why the director didn't take it out, I have no idea.

Our tour concluded at the Guinness storehouse. I don't even love Guinness that much and I thought the brewery was unbelievable. We saw how it was made and what all went inside it. Not to mention the very obvious subliminal advertising that was on every square inch of the huge, huge building. In the tasting lab, we all got to taste a fresh batch of Guinness which had just been brewed. It was so light and smooth. I have no idea what happens between Ireland and America, but what I tasted in the tasting lab was nothing like what you could get at the Hibernian back in Raleigh. We then all got a free pint of Guinness in the Gravity Bar, or however they called it, which was just the top floor of this gigantic storehouse with an incredible 360 view of Dublin. We then hopped back on the bus and that was the end of the tour. Which is now the end of the longest post ever.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

patrick the saint

So one of the things that has always been on my to-do list was to celebrate St. Patrick's Day in Ireland. Others on this list include: win the lotto, buy a chocolate lab that will play Frisbee with me at the park, get a tan that is not mistaken for a deep burn, visit every continent, live in Africa, etc. So, check one.

Turns out, though, that St. Patrick's Day was pretty much code for 'international day' and Irish people don't even really care that much about it (aside from a day off classes and a day in the pub). Whatever. I was in my picture taking prime at the parade, completely happy that I could be as touristic as I wanted. My friend, Katie, came up to visit me from England and we spent the weekend hanging out and doing Irish things. Like going to pubs. We went out to a bar/pub called Sober Lane on Friday night which was really fun- a live band was there playing cover songs which included old school stuff as well as Justin Timberlake. Sweet. Then on Saturday we had a chill night and made chocolate chip cookies from scratch and watched the cycle 10 season of America's Next Top Model- all 4 hours of it so far.

Monday was St. Patrick's Day. We woke up super early (like 11) and got ready for Cork's parade that was held, as it should have been, on St. Patrick's Street. There were a million vendors selling food and drinks which were all freshly made and smelt amazing. Only it was one of those scenes where it was so crowded you had to shove small children and old people out of the way in order to make your way down the street with food. The parade itself was pretty normal when it comes to parades, but I really enjoyed it. There was this really amazingly cute kid on the other side of the street, so when the parade got to a slow part I would just watch her hitting her brother in the face with her Irish flag. There were also a million very excited parade attendees who were whoa dressed up, so I was pretty entertained looking at everyone. When I got home and looked at my pictures, I realized I had more pictures of the parade-goers than the actual parade.

After the parade, Katie Kym Johnny and I went to a really fun pub called Slainte. We hawked this little table near the back, which ended up being the best spot because in then came a million trad players. The place got packed and I think we stayed like 4 hours or something just listening to the music and conversing with this really friendly drunk old man sitting next to Katie who was supposed to be playing the flute but was distracted by becoming best friends with us. That night we went home, made dinner, and then Katie and I went back out to celebrate St. Patrick's Night. I think this was definitely one of my most favorite weekends in Cork. When I was at the pub, I was looking around at everyone and listening to the music and I realized that I did NOT want to go home. I look forward to seeing my friends and family, but I will miss Ireland and its really chill pub scene immensely.

Yet another video clip: