10 November 2007


5 November 2007

I think that’s about all I can say. I’ve learned some lessons about travel, and the way I prefer it: 1. Don’t leave as soon as possible Friday morning and return 11 days later just before classes start. It’s exhausting. 2. While walking a city for eight hours does constitute ‘seeing it,’ it doesn’t necessarily equal ‘enjoying it.’ Plus, it’s exhausting. 3. It is difficult to eat well while traveling on a budget, especially if you’re not settled long enough in one place to cook for yourself. Eat well anyway. Otherwise you will be too exhausted. 4. Enjoy hospitality wherever you find it, and when you return home, give it freely. Hospitality is a good cure for any diagnosed exhaustic disorder.

As you may notice, I’m back-dating this posting as well. I was just too exhausted to write before!

Bon Voyage: Dublin

Dublin is a spectacular city, and if your travels ever take you there be sure to see the Book of Kells at Trinity College, spend an afternoon at the park St. Stephen’s Green, and eat at The Boxty House in the Temple Bar district. Firstly, the Book of Kells is a very old manuscript containing the four Gospels in Latin, copied around the year 800 and kept during the medieval period at the Abbey of Kells in Ireland. What makes the book so extraordinary is the calligraphy and decoration: the beginning letters of chapters are so ornate and colorful. Considering the materials used to give the color (the semi-precious stone lapis lazuli used for blue, and a crushed Mediterranean insect used for red, if I remember correctly), which had to be imported from all over Europe, I couldn’t help but be amazed. I saw the Book of Kells! My favorite part of its story is that, in 1009, the book was stolen from the monastery, then found by a farmer a few months later, in a canvas bag, minus its jeweled cover, buried at the bottom of a field. What luck!

I’ve also come to appreciate parks, green oases in big cities. It’s not ‘nature’ by any means, it’s not solitude, and it’s not adventurous, but it’s not bad either. I like to go to parks like St. Stephen’s Green because it is at parks that you see the city take a breath, relax, and enjoy itself.

The city also enjoys itself in the Temple Bar district, but in a different way. This is where Dublin gives birth to life—night life, that is. I only had one night to explore it, and ‘lively’ is a very appropriate adjective. It is there you will find The Boxty House, a boxty being a sort of large thick crepe folded around whatever filling you choose. I chose chili, because I miss chunky stews and because it came with cheddar cheese, which I also miss (despite all the wonderful cheese France can boast, there’s nothing quite like cheddar).

Another highlight of Dublin: I met up with my friend Danica, who is from my hometown in Michigan and is studying abroad at Royal Holloway near London this semester. I actually went to visit her later, and it was purely coincidental we were in Dublin the same weekend. Good thing she told me! Imagine how awkward it would’ve been to run into a friend from the States that I was planning to see a few days later…in another country. As it worked out, when I was walking toward her hostel to find her, I missed the street and soon came face to face with her walking back! What luck! It was good to see a familiar face at the beginning of the travels.

Practical advice for Dublin:

Don’t try walking out to the coast. It is farther than it seems.

Pay attention to the arrows on the streets: they tell opposite-side-of-the-road-driving pedestrians which way to look for cars. Very useful.

Bon Voyage: Galway (Gallimh in Irish, rooted in Gaelic, the country's language along with English)

Holy hedgerows! I took the bus Saturday afternoon from Dublin to Galway, and I’ve never seen a countryside so divided. I have a feeling the property lines marked by the hedgerows have existed for many many years. In fact, the most average things in Ireland have generally existed for many many years. Take the dolmen in this photo:

It is a thousands-year-old burial site located in the middle of the Burren, which looks like this:

It is very rocky.

I found the Burren on my day trip by bus tour around Galway Bay to the Cliffs of Mohrer. It was amazing—what else can I say? The Cliffs look like this:

The ocean is breathtaking, much like Lake Michigan, which made me miss home more than I expected. I looked out over the sea and thought of all of you on the other side. The distance doesn’t seem real, nor does the fact that I’m here in Europe. Sometimes I just forget and life continues normally; sometimes I realize where I am and what I’m doing and it seems quite surreal.

Galway is another BCA site, and so while I was there I stayed with two other BCA students. They’re only staying the semester, and my visit marked the half-way point, and they were very excited to think about heading home. I can’t imagine preparing to leave right now. I just got here, didn’t I? Am I fully here, even?

Ireland seems given to reflection.

Practical advice for Galway:

It is always windy. I have no advice for how to deal with wind.

Carry an umbrella, because the weather can change very quickly, and it always rains. No, instead carry a really good rain jacket, because umbrellas usually become casualties of the wind, and then people just drop them on the sidewalk, leaving a trail of crippled umbrellas. I call them roadkill.

Take a day tour on a bus! You will get to see much more than you could otherwise and get an earful of the lovely Irish accent from your tour guide.

In Galway, you don’t say it’s raining. You say the sky is soft.

Don’t try walking out to the coast. It is farther than it seems.

Bon Voyage: Cork

I can’t make a faire judgment of Cork, seeing as an hour after I arrived in the city, I left it to visit Blarney Castle, and then twenty hours after I arrived, I left on a plane for London. Of course I recommend the visit to Blarney Castle, and not just to kiss the Blarney Stone (which I did, obviously, given my prolific writing as of late…). The highlight of Blarney Castle was the Garden Close, a fairyland of overgrown paths around Druid ruins, rushing waterfalls, and ancient trees. In Ireland the fairy mythology is still current and strong, and the evidence is in the land: If you see a lone (bothersome) tree right in the middle of a field, it’s because a fairy lives there a the farmer won’t touch it; If you take the new road from Shannon Airport to Galway, you’ll notice that it goes quite out of its way in spots, avoiding fairy forts. Garden Close at Blarney is full of fairies—I saw them.

The pubs of Blarney (there are two in the village, which couldn’t be more quaint), however, are full of good solid Irishmen. It was there that I spent my last evening in Ireland, chatting with a few locals and trying my first Guinness (which was…bearable). I couldn’t have chosen better.

Bon Voyage: London

London was a blur. I came in Wednesday, celebrated Halloween that night at my friend Danica’s university, then spent a quick afternoon exploring the city the next day. We spent a good deal of time at Westminster Abbey, which is a place you pay to enter so you can say, ‘Wow…I’m standing near/next to/opposite of/on top of suchandsuch famous person’s body!’ It was overwhelming to think of how many important people have passed through or been buried in the Abbey, and visiting ‘Poet’s Corner,’ where many famous writers are buried, is especially astonishing. Charles Dickens, T.S. Elliot, Handel, Elizabeth I, Darwin, Newton, Chaucer, Samuel Johnson, Thomas Hardy…an impressive collection of corpses!

Of course we walked along the Thames river, saw the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben (which is actually the bell, not the tower or the clock), Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, Tower Bridge and London Bridge (which was not actually falling down, at least when I saw it). Visiting London was a time of great silliness and fun—It was a nice break to have a travel buddy. I learned on this trip that I can travel alone: the comfort of having the other person is, in case something goes wrong, you’re not completely on your own; but having the other person doesn’t necessarily prevent things from going wrong; and if both of you are equally lost when something does go wrong…

But for awhile, it was good to have a travel buddy.

Practical advice for London:

Avoid the pound whenever possible. The exchange rate from the dollar to the euro is bad enough.

Watch for Tube rats, the friendly little creatures that show up along the rails of the underground subway and also carry the Black Plague. Sorry, Europe, rats, I can’t think otherwise.

Visit Westminster Abbey!

I hear Brick Lane has the best Indian food. We wanted to try, but ran out of time. It is certain I will come back to this city, even if it is ridiculously (3 pounds—6 or 7 dollars—for a bagel sandwich), ludicrously expensive.

Bon Voyage: Paris

Did I mention I never have good luck in Paris? Well, during the days leading up to my return to France, I started to worry that maybe I would have forgotten my French. But it was trial by fire when we arrived and, though I’d reserved and confirmed, the hotel had no room for us. Finding out why, negotiating a new room at another hotel we were moved to, differentiating the very chic Hotel Magenta Paris at 38 Boulevard de Magenta from the ancient but acceptable Hotel Paris Magenta at 48 Boulevard de Magenta…I quickly regained by French skills.

And the first thing I did upon arrival? Buy a baguette, of course!

Then I proceeded to walk around Paris for eight hours. Here’s the route for any of you who know the city and can appreciate the distance: Gare de l’Est to Notre Dame Cathedral, past the Centre Pompidou and the Hôtel de Ville; along the Seine River past the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, and the Jardin de Tuleries (park); up the Champs Elysées to the Arc de Triomphe (which you have to pay to stand under!); finishing up at the Eiffel Tower (which sparkles on the hour every evening); and all the way back. It was a good trek, and the city is incredibly beautiful at night. Paris is redeemed, I’d say.

Don't ask me what it took to get this picture of the Champs Elysees.

The next morning before catching the train back to Strasbourg (home! Finally!), we visited the Moulin Rouge. Now, for those of you who know Danica and me, this is about the culmination of our shared lives. We are ardent fans of the film (you have no idea…), and to stand there together in front of the Moulin Rouge, in Paris, in France, in Europe, together…Well, it was surreal. And incredibly exciting. And what do we do when things are surreal and exciting? We take pictures!

When I saw the tower of the Strasbourg cathedral…

I was very relieved to be home. Simple as that.

I know, it was long. But I told you: I kissed the Blarney stone!


Katherine said...

That's great that you ran into Danica. And I can only imagine the craziness and outbursts of song that happened at the Moulin Rouge :)

michmark said...

That sounds so exciting Colleen You're so brave.