Merry Christmas!

Hi everyone!

Well, I’m back in the states and finally (mostly) recovered from jet lag. The last couple of weeks flew by in a blur of studying, test-taking, and saying goodbye to all my new friends. It’s really nice to be home, but I do miss Ireland a lot already. I know I’ll be back someday, I just wish I knew when…

Hope you enjoyed reading about my adventures overseas. Happy holidays!!
~Kathryn

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Germany!

The rest of Leigh’s trip went well, and then two days after she left, I left myself to visit my friend Amber in Germany. I’ve been here since Tuesday, and I leave tomorrow morning. It’s been amazing! Germany during Christmas is the most magical place on earth. There are Christmas markets everywhere and everyone goes out to enjoy the shopping and delicious food. Amber’s school is in Bremen, so I spent most of my time there, but she had an exam on Wednesday, so I took a day trip to Hamburg. I explored the city and stopped by every Christmas market I stumbled upon (according to the map that the tourist information booth gave me there are twelve in Hamburg during December, and I found about four or five).

Last night Amber and her roommate took me to the local Bremen Christmas markets and we spent a few hours exploring and sampling lots of Christmas goodies.

Amber and her roommate, Hannah, in front of our first food booth, where we split a toasted tomato and mozarella baguette

Today we went to the school’s Christmas choir performance, which was wonderful! Once again, I have an early morning flight (cheaper that way), so I’m off to bed in hopes of being somewhat awake when we get up at 4 am.

Happy Holidays from Germany!
~Kathryn

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A Month and a Half in Summary:

Okay, okay… I know. I did it again. Sorry I haven’t posted forever. Things have been crazy here. I’ve written five papers in the last five weeks, which didn’t leave much time for blog writing, but fortunately, I’m finally done with all of my papers, so hopefully I’ll be able to keep you updated on my last 4 weeks over here. First though, we have a bit of catching up to do:

The weekend after Belfast I went on an outdoor pursuits club trip to Donegal and Derry. As is typical for the OPC, they chose the highest point around for our hike, which in this case happened to be Mt. Errigal (749 m). There was no class on Monday, as it was a bank holiday, so we left bright and early Saturday morning and spent the majority of the day making the long 6 hour drive to the North West corner of Ireland. After a brief stop by the tallest ocean cliffs in Europe…

…we continued on to our hostel, right at the base of Mt. Errigal. The OPC’s famous for its parties, and we spent the night living it up in the hostel we had taken over and in the pub up the road.

Staying up late didn’t stop us from waking up at the crack of dawn on Sunday to begin our hike up the mountain. Our fearless leaders decided that hiking trails were boring, so we just set our sights on the top and blazed a trail straight up the side. After trekking through bogs and crawling up vertical slopes clinging to shrubs for dear life, we made it to the top, and the view was more than worth the effort.

Caesar, the dog from the hostel is quite the little mountaineer! We were a bit worried about him when he first started following us from the hostel, but he was a trooper and got up the mountain with more energy than any of us did!

After another fun night in the hostel, we left for Derry on Monday. We visited a museum and took a couple of walking tours, learning all about the city’s rich political history. Being in Northern Ireland, Derry has been the site of many recent and violent conflicts, and having our museum tour given by a man whose brother was shot and killed on the street right outside was one of the most powerful experiences of my life.

Like Belfast, Derry has many murals documenting its history.

On to Halloween…

Halloween weekend I stayed around campus, got caught up on some schoolwork, and went to a couple costume parties. On Saturday, Arcadia took us on a day trip to the Cliffs of Moher and Bunratty Castle. Ireland has sea cliffs everywhere, but the Cliffs of Moher are the most famous, and the view certainly was spectacular:

Bunratty Castle dates back to 1425, and in 1954 it was restored and furnished with authentic 15th and 16th century pieces. Surrounding the castle they built a “folk park” designed to simulate life in 19th century Ireland.

The Earl's Throne

Traditional home in the folk park

Dad!

The second week of November my dad came to visit!

On Saturday we went to Cork, making a quick stop at Blarney Castle to kiss the famous Blarney stone on the way.

My Dad in front of Blarney Castle

Sunday we toured Lough Gur, a lake near Limerick surrounded by ruins ranging from 3000 BC tombs to a 15th century castle.

Ancient Stone Circle

On Monday I brought him to the horse barn with me for class so that he could meet my teacher and see me jump.

Tuesday I had a busy day of classes, so he traveled around on his own, but Wednesday we met up again to go to a medieval banquet at Bunratty Castle! The atmosphere was wonderful, the feast was delicious, and all the other guests at our table were very friendly. Before and after the feast, we were entertained by the castle’s talented musicians and singers, and the whole experience really did feel like we traveled back in time.

Thursday was our last day together, and we celebrated that evening by going to our favorite pub in Limerick: Dolans. Between being right up the street from Dad’s hotel, having traditional Irish music every night, and serving delicious food, Dolans had quickly become our favorite, and we felt it was appropriate to finish up the week there, as we’d frequented it at least half of our nights together.

England: November 12-14

Friday morning my friend Arianna and I woke up REALLY early, and my dad came to pick us up at 4:30 am to take us to the airport where we caught our 6:30 flight to London. When we arrived, we had to catch a bus into the city itself, as the airport we flew into was about an hour and a half outside the city. We spent most of the day walking around London, taking in the sites like Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, and Big Ben. We also stopped at the National Gallery for a while to admire their collection of paintings.

Buckingham Palace

After figuring out the London transportation system (underground and trains), we stopped by our hotel, quickly got changed, and returned to the heart of the city to watch Phantom of the Opera in Her Majesty’s Theatre. The show was absolutely incredible. It’s truly magical what they can do with a stage.

Saturday I was supposed to go to Stonehenge in the afternoon, but that time slot got cancelled, so my tour was rescheduled for 8:30, which meant waking up at the crack of dawn to catch the train into London in time to make my tour bus to Stonehenge. Even though I was exhausted from all of the traveling, it was more than worth getting up for. So much mystery surrounds that place… How did they build it? Why did they build it? Despite no one having the answers, it’s easy to content yourself with wondering as you stand back and take in the magnificence of the site.

When I returned to the city, I went to Kensington Gardens, which was beautiful! It’s amazing how you can go from being on a busy city street one moment into a completely peaceful, natural park setting the next. If I lived in London, I would probably visit the park every day.

Peter Pan Statue in Kensington Gardens

After the gardens, I met up with Arianna again, and we found a spot by the river to watch a fireworks show. Apparently we chose the perfect weekend to go to London, as the new Lord Mayor had just been elected and there was a festival to celebrate!

That night we went to a couple pubs and made friends with some of the locals. Sunday, we stopped by the British Museum before catching our plane back to Limerick.

Last Week

Last week was pretty laid back, and this past weekend I stayed around campus, relaxed, and celebrated finally being done with all of my papers. Really, it was the first truly relaxing weekend that I’ve had since August, so it was quite nice to just spend some time lazing around the house. I did get out on Sunday for a bit though and went to a Christmas market in Limerick city with my friend Conrad, and then since it was a beautiful sunny day we walked back to campus along the river (about an hour or so walk).

Finally caught up!

Well, now you know what I’ve been up to for the last month. This week is the last week of classes, which is crazy! The semester went by so fast! The week’s going very well so far. All of my assignments are done and handed in, so I finally feel caught up. Monday I rode at the barn for class for the last time, and despite falling off, I had a great ride. Yesterday, one of my best friends from home arrived, and she’s staying until Sunday. To welcome her to Ireland I took her to Dolans, the pub that my dad and I discovered, and we had some great craic, listening to some traditional music and chatting with a few of my friends that I brought along. Tonight I have an end-of-semester performance for the dance class that I took, and I get to watch performances for all of the other music and dance groups in the class. Should be fun!

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Busy Week – Part 2

THURSDAY:
We woke up early to catch our morning ferry and went downstairs for breakfast in the hostel. If you ever happen to travel to Inis Mor, make sure you stay for at least a night in Kilronan hostel. It was wonderful! We booked our own room (two bunk beds) for only 20 euros a night, the staff was very friendly, and the kitchen is great! There’s a whole cabinet full of free food for anyone staying there; there’s tea, milk, and sugar that you can use anytime; and breakfast was delicious! The woman running the hostel was French, and she made us AMAZING crepes. All in all, our visit to the islands was perfect.

When we got back to Galway, we spent a couple hours shopping so Wayne could pick up souveniers for everyone back home. It was at this point that I finally stumbled upon my tea set. I decided a while ago that one of my big souveniers for this trip would be a tea set because tea is very important here… It’s almost a ritual that if anyone comes over, you offer them tea, and if they stay long enough, you’ll offer tea again. If you stay with an Irish family for any length of time, you realize that “tea time” is something that occurs many times throughout the day. I plan on continuing this tradition when I go home and making a point to offer tea to anyone who comes over to visit, so I thought I would get myself an Irish tea set that I’ll be able to use.

After our shopping, we went back to Limerick and dropped off our purchases at my apartment. Then I took Wayne to King John’s Castle (the one in Limerick that I visited my first week here). He really enjoyed it, and we had a great time.

All in all, the week was wonderful, and I consider it a success because he went back to America saying “grand” and buying tea to satisfy his new addiction 🙂

BELFAST:
After Wayne left early Friday morning, I met up with the rest of the UL Arcadia students and we were bussed to Belfast in Northern Ireland for the weekend.

Highlights of the trip:
1) Giant’s Causeway: As our tour guide explained, the strange rock formations making up the Giant’s Causeway can be explained in two ways. Either they were formed by slow-cooling lava in a river bed, or they were sculpted by the giant Finn MacCool when he built a causeway to Scotland in order to fight a giant there. Personally, I find Finn MacCool’s story much more interesting.

2) Dunlace Castle: On our way back to Belfast from the Causeway, we made a brief stop at Dunlace Castle. We didn’t go inside, but we walked around and took some pictures. Underneath the castle there’s a cave that runs all the way through the rock it stands on to the ocean on the other side. That was fun to explore!

3) Murals: Belfast has a very political history with a lot of conflict between those who are loyal to the Queen of England and those who want to separate from England and be part of a unified Ireland. There’s also a rich mural tradition in Belfast, and consequently much of the conflict has been represented on murals. We had a professor from Ulster University talk to us about the murals of Belfast and what they represent and then we took a bus tour to look at some of them.

Commemorates Bobby Sands, who led Irish Republican prisoners in a hunger strike in 1981.

King William's victory at the Battle of the Boyne was a turning point for Protestant control in Ireland.

4) Peace Wall: Nationalist/Republican and Loyalist/Unionist settlements in Belfast are literally a “stone’s throw” away from one another. For years, stones have quite literally been thrown by each group at the others’ homes. Gates still close between the two housing areas every night to keep people from crossing over. Also, a “peace wall” has been erected, dividing the two sides, to prevent stones, bombs, or anything else from being thrown into anyone’s homes. The peace wall is decorated with graffiti, and people have written messages of peace all over it (we made our own contributions while we were there).

Well, now you’re pretty much caught up. So far this week, I’ve been going to classes and trying to get ahead on schoolwork. I have 4 papers to write!

Until next time,
~Kathryn

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Busy Week

Hi Everyone!
Sorry it’s been so long since my last post. I’ve been very busy, as you’re about to find out. Last week my boyfriend, Wayne, came to visit me from home. He flew in on Friday the 8th, so I went to pick him up at the bus station after class. Friday night I let him relax and get over jet lag, but I had a lot planned for us for the rest of the week. Saturday we went to Cashel, which known mainly for the “Rock of Cashel”, a huge cathedral complex on top of a hill overlooking the surrounding countryside.

 

Rock of Cashel: This picture REALLY doesn't do it justice but it's the best I have

 

On the way to Cashel, our bus stopped for an hour in Cahir, and upon discovering that there was a castle right next to the bus stop, we decided to explore that as well.

 

Cahir Castle

Room inside Cahir Castle - Great hall I believe

At Cashel, we joined a tour group, and we learned a lot from our guide! He told us about the history and architecture of the building. A couple of the things that I found most interesting were: 1) The architects and stone workers who carved the pillars, tombs, archways, etc of the cathedrals (and other buildings of the time) would often carve their own face into the stone as a signature.

It's hard to tell in this picture, but over the archway, all of those ovals are the faces of the stone carvers who built this chapel. I pointed a few out at the top.

2) Many of the features of gothic cathedrals during the 13th century were purposefully tilted off-center. The cross in the rose window at the top of the wall below hasn’t shifted over time or anything like that. It was built exactly as it sits now. They would also slightly tilt the peaks of archways over doors and windows as well. Why? This is meant to symbolize the position of Christ’s head as it fell to the side when he died on the cross.

After the Rock of Cashel, we went to Hore Abbey, which is situated in a field just below the Rock. There are no tours through the Abbey ruins, but it’s open for people to explore.

Hore Abbey

Wayne and Me

After our touring, we had a bit of confusion catching our bus, so we sat in a pub for a while watching rugby while we waited for the next one to come.

SUNDAY OCTOBER 10th:
We toured the Hunt Museum in Limerick with my friends Kelsey and Arianna. Overall, we weren’t very impressed with the museum, but they have free admission on Sundays, so we couldn’t complain too much. Though they had a number of interesting artifacts, we felt that everything was poorly labeled (or not labeled at all), which took a lot away from the museum experience.

MONDAY THE 11th:
I we nt to the barn all day for classes, so Wayne hung out with my friend Fearghal, who had been looking forward to meeting him. Then, the three of us met up that evening for a gaming society meeting. We played some card games, had a bit of craic, and headed home to get ready for our trip…

TUESDAY:
Tuesday morning we woke up early and caught a bus to Galway. We found a wonderful pub for lunch and had some of the best soup, sausages, chicken, and chips of our lives, and then explored some shops in Galway for a couple of hours. Around 5, we caught a bus to our ferry that took us to the Aran Islands. The Aran Islands are located off the west coast of Ireland, so in many ways traditional Irish culture has been preserved there more than it has in most other places (because English influence came from the east, and because being islands keeps them relatively isolated). There are three islands, and we stayed on the largest: Inis Mor. We didn’t do too much Tuesday night, just got settled into our hostel and had dinner.

WEDNESDAY
We rented bicycles and biked around the island, stopping at the main tourist attractions. The islands are famous for their wool sweaters and other wool crafts, so there were many craft shops focused on wool clothing. A couple hours into our bike trip we came upon a small village center with three thatched roof shops and a group of local women sitting in a circle at picnic tables singing Irish songs. It was exactly what I was hoping the islands would be like and made my day!

After a brief stop in the shops, we continued on to Dun Aonghasa, a Celtic fort from 2000 BC that is situated atop spectacular ocean cliffs. We stopped for a picnic on the cliffs and explored the fort.

Then we finished our ring around this island and returned to the hostel tired and sore after a day of biking.

And what do you do in Ireland when you’re tired after a long day?? …Go to the pub!

Following the advice of the woman running the hostel, we went to Ti Joe Watty’s for the evening. We lucked out because it was ballad night, and a man was playing a guitar and lute and singing Irish ballads. We sat on our own for a while listening, and then I decided that we should migrate over to a table nearer to the singer, where a few other men were sitting, talking, and singing along. They were quite friendly and greeted us warmly when we came over. They tried to get me to sing a solo, which didn’t work (hadn’t had quite enough Guinness for that…), but it was fun to enjoy some craic with the native islanders. I also met an older gentleman from Galway who I talked to for a while, and he offered me a job on his horse farm. I doubt he remembered me when he woke up the next day… but nonetheless it was a lot of fun.

Well, unfortunately, I have to head off to class, but I’ll finish this up tonight. I promise. Sorry it’s been so long… I’m paying the price now with so much to write all at once!

 

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Dingle, Killarney, Mt. Brandon, and Letterfrack

Last Friday, I didn’t have any class, so I started the weekend early. My Aunt Madge and Uncle Joe happened to be traveling in Ireland and staying in a town only about a half hour from UL (Adare), so I met up with them for Friday and Saturday. On Friday we went to Dingle with the tour guide that they had been traveling with. The views on the way were AMAZING.

The ocean here is so blue, and I love the pastureland right next to the water.

We also stopped at some 4000 year old druid dwellings called “beehive huts”.

Dingle itself is a small port town. We stopped for lunch in a pub and spent some time exploring the shops. Then we headed back to Adare for the night.

Dingle

Saturday we drove down to Killarney, which is famous for its lakes. We toured Ross Castle and Muckross House, as well as making a brief stop at Torc waterfall.

Ross Castle

Muckross House

Torc Waterfall

Saturday night I came back to campus so that I could get up early to go on a hike with the outdoor pursuits club on Sunday. We hiked Mount Brandon, and though it was a very long and challenging hike, the views were amazing and completely worth the three hours that it took to climb.

This weekend, I went on another trip with the outdoor pursuits club. We left on Friday and spent the weekend in Letterfrack, a small town in Connemara. About 60 of us went on the trip, and we rented an entire hostel. We spent the weekend partying and staying up much later than we should have. On Saturday we went on a hike in Connemara. The weather was a bit miserable, and between hiking through a bog and being pelted by rain all day, we were all quite soaked by the end of it. However, once again, the landscape and the views were worth all the effort. Also, there’s something wonderful about pushing your body farther than you think it can go and making it to the top. I really need to hike more when I get home too.

Until next time!
~K

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WSU Prompt: A Cultural Difference

WSU is sending study abroad students a few prompts throughout the semester for our blogs, and their latest one asks about a cultural difference that we observe between the US and our host country. One thing that stands out to me as being very different from the US, at least in the university context, is that all of the students here go home on the weekends. Back home, students will go home every now and then for a weekend if they live within driving distance of their college, but it’s very rare that someone would go home every weekend. Here, on the other hand, the whole campus empties out, and it’s unusual for an Irish student to not go home on the weekend.

I think that one major factor leading to this difference is the country’s size. Many Americans go to college in another state that requires a plane trip to get home, while here, everywhere in the country is within a few hours drive. It could also be a reflection of family values and closeness, because I certainly know plenty of Americans who wouldn’t want to go home every weekend even if they could… but I don’t feel that I have enough of a perspective about how students here view the situation to pass a judgment. Of course, many American students feel very close to their families, and many Irish students probably only put up with going home every weekend in order to work and keep the jobs that they have back home. It’s hard to say.

The fact that everyone leaves on the weekends has a big impact on the social life on campus. At home, weekends are the primary time that people party and socialize, but here they have to get all of that in during the week. Consequently, Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday are the big party nights: Sunday because that’s when everyone gets back, Thursday because that’s the last night before everyone leaves, and Tuesday just because they needed another night somewhere in the middle as far as I can tell. It’s strange for me to go out during the week, but it’s something that I have to adjust to if I’m going to truly “embrace the culture”. Fortunately, I don’t have class until 3 in the afternoon on Fridays, so I’ve decided that Thursday will be my main party night.

At first I was disappointed to hear that everyone leaves on weekends, because I am used to that being the time that students socialize, and I felt that it would negatively impact my ability to get to know the Irish students. However, it has turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as I am able to travel during the weekends without missing out on any of the campus life.

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