Thursday, April 29, 2010
Guinness und die Rothaarige: Die Gruene Insel (Guinness and Redheads: The Emerald Isle)
I know, I know; you thought I had dropped off the face of the earth, never to be heard from again. Mach dir keine mehr Sorgen! I am still alive and well and ready to blog again!
I feel like I begin every blog post with an apology for how long it’s been since the last time I updated. This post is no different; I am very sorry that it’s been more than a month since my last post. I especially want to apologize to my G-Little Stephanie Drymon begin_of_the_skype_highlighting end_of_the_skype_highlighting, who has been reminding/chastising me for the last several weeks for my lack of updates. And so, G, this one is for you. :)
Yes, it’s been over a month since I have written, but I definitely have a valid excuse this time. I was on Easter break—and not the American Easter-break variety, with Good Friday or Easter Monday off (or maybe both, if you’re really, really lucky). No, this was the Austrian variety, which meant that our “long weekend” was 23 days long. Fantastic. Thank you, Austria. :) So what’s an American to do when she is in Europe and has no responsibilities for almost a month straight? Travel, of course! And that is exactly what I did.
On Friday March 26th, I left Graz and took a train to Vienna, where I took another train to Bratislava (the capitol of Slovakia), where I took my first-ever Ryanair flight to Dublin, Ireland.
I don’t know if I have ever told you this before, so let me confess it once and for all: I am kind of obsessed with Ireland, and I have been for as long as I can remember. Back during my tap-dancing days as a child, I tried to take traditional Irish dancing classes, only to learn that you had to have Irish ancestry to participate. I was crushed. I can’t think of a specific, concrete reason for my love for the Emerald Isle, but I have always felt this way. Thus, naturally, it has been my dream to visit Ireland, so the nine days I spent exploring the land of rainbows, Guinness, and leprechauns nothing short of a dream come true.
Dublin was awesome! I came to appreciate Dublin and Ireland’s history during a fascinating 3-hour walking tour; I attended a Palm Sunday church service at Christ Church Cathedral; I toured the Guinness Storehouse, where I “poured ( and enjoyed) the perfect pint” and received a certificate to prove it, and experienced the city’s nightlife in the Temple Bar district via a pub crawl. Dublin was a blast.
My Canadian friend Jodie met me in Dublin; on Monday, we headed to Galway, which is on the west coast of Ireland. A university town, Galway is known for its pubs and student culture. Unfortunately, it’s also known for its rain. It poured the entire time we were there, so we didn’t get to experience it fully. But that’s okay; we didn’t actually end up spending that much time in Galway anyway; instead, we went on two bus tours. Unlike that of many European countries, Ireland’s image isn’t associated with cities and history; instead, much of its fame is tied to its beautiful scenery. And let me tell you, they don’t call it “The Emerald Isle” for nothing; all that rain definitely pays off. As a tourist, the best way to experience this landscape is via bus tours, so Jodie and I went on two in Galway. The first one was to Connemara, the classic rolling green hills; it was so beautiful! Unbelievably so. The second tour was to the Cliffs of Moher and the Burren Region, which is a rockier coastal area. The Cliffs of Moher were insane! (I guess that’s why they are known as “the Cliffs of Insanity” in the movie The Princess Bride). But seriously, they were HUGE! I’ll attach some pictures, so you can sort of appreciate them. While many people went past the “do not pass” barrier to enjoy the full beauty and danger of the Cliffs, I, like the true Kansan I am, stayed safely behind the chest-high concrete wall. But even from my relatively safe position, I couldn’t help being in awe and fear of the sheer majesty and power of the Cliffs, especially when the wind picked up. At one point, the wind was so strong that I couldn’t stand still; the wind was pushing me, whether I wanted to move or not. Luckily, it didn’t start to snow until after we had taken refuge in the comfort of our bus.
After the Cliffs, Jodie and I had a little adventure… Initially, we were going to take a public transport bus from Galway to Doolin, our next stop on our tour-de-Ireland. Then we discovered that the Cliffs of Moher bus tour was scheduled to stop in Doolin along the way. The tour cost 10 euros; the bus without the tour cost 12. So of course we took the bus tour. We had brought our bags with us and had asked the driver, and he said it would be no problem. After getting on the bus at the Cliffs, we reminded him to drop us off in Doolin, which was on the way to the next photo opportunity. But, of course, just our luck, wouldn’t you know, he forgot to drop us off. We got to the next break—a miniature version of the Cliffs of Moher a little farther up the coast—when he realized his mistake.
He felt awful, but he didn't have time to take us back, so he told us it was only "an hour and a bit" to walk back to town. Apparently “a bit” is a standard Irish unit of measurement meaning “an hour and a half” because the walk was really 2.5 hours. But we didn’t know that, and we really didn’t have any choice, so, of course, we started walking…. And walking… and walking. We walked for about 25 minutes on this road in the middle of nowhere Ireland, with a car passing us every five minutes or so. We looked looking super homeless, carrying our bags and holding our thumbs out. Cars kept passing us. It was getting kind of late, going on 4:45 or so, and we didn’t seem to be getting any closer to our destination. I thought the Irish were supposed to be notoriously friendly, but they seemed to be falling way short of that stereotype. Our feet hurt, we were feeling kind of discouraged, and I started to pray…
Then finally, all of a sudden, a silver sedan slowed down and pulled over. Inside were a young Irish couple who owned a restaurant in the town next to Doolin. They took pity on us and drove us to the crossroads that would take us to Doolin. In 10 minutes of driving, we covered what would have taken us at least an hour and a half by foot. They dropped us off—after we thanked them profusely—and then pointed us the way to go. And so we started walking again….
Unfortunately, Doolin is a very tiny town, and its main road doesn’t get much traffic. We walked for about ten minutes without seeing any vehicles, until finally a large white delivery-esque van pulled up. Sketchy? Yes. Were we a little nervous? Yes. That is, until we saw the driver: a 20-something, red-headed, freckled, honest-to-goodness Irish dairy farmer with water-proof boots that went up to his knees. He stopped, asked us where we were going, and we told him. He got out, stuck our bags in the back—along with all the cow feed—and then drove us straight to the front door of our hostel. It was, in a word, precious. So sweet. And so very, very Irish. :) If you are going to hitchhike anywhere, Ireland is the place to do it; the Irish hospitality pulled through, and we couldn’t have been more grateful.
Doolin was absolutely adorable; I would estimate its population to be 500 people, if that. And they all hang out at the same three pubs, because the town only has three pubs. We went to O’Connors, which had been recommended by our dairy-farmer hero (aka my future husband. Ha ha); unfortunately, we didn’t see him there. :(
Just so you know, the stereotypes of Ireland are all true, as far as I could tell. The people are genuinely friendly (even to sketchy-looking hitchhikers), many of them have red hair, and they love to spend countless hours sitting in pubs, drinking Guinness (and Bulmers cider—my favorite!). In many areas, Gaelic is the official language; all signs are written in both Gaelic and English. And traditional Irish music is alive and well and as popular as ever. That was probably one of my very favorite parts of being in Ireland: sitting in pubs and enjoying traditional Irish impromptu jam sessions. It was so incredibly cool. I loved it. In Doolin, though, Jodie and I were in for a special treat. Normally, the music was only instrumental; a few guys would play together. But at O’Connors, a little boy whose family was sitting at the table next to ours, joined the men and began to sing the song “The Galway Girl.” The way he sang, the way everyone clapped along, the pure Irish beauty of the tune—it was so surreal and so beautiful. Everyone, including I, was transfixed by him; I couldn’t have taken my eyes off him if I had wanted to. Definitely one of the coolest experiences I have ever had, and I’ll never, ever forget it. Gosh, I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it.
After Doolin, we moved onto Killarney, which is farther down the west coast. Our hostel was called “Paddy’s Palace”—a very liberal use of the word “palace”, but if you stayed one night, you got one night free. When you’re backpacking, you can’t get much better than that. ;) Our first day, we rented bikes and rode through Killarney National Park, which, of course, was beautiful. A definite highlight was Torque Waterfall; unfortunately, it started to hail just as we got there. Only in Ireland can you experience sunshine, rain, and hail within the same hour. Haha. But it was very cool, and after spending so many days sitting on buses, riding a bike was a definite treat. The next day, we did the Ring of Kerry bus tour, which took us through more breathtaking sites in the Irish countryside. On the Saturday night before Easter, I headed back to Dublin, where I would catch my flight to Pisa, Italy, the next day.
Dublin on Easter was phenomenal. While I was wandering around that morning looking for a church, I discovered that O’Connell Street, one of the main central streets of Dublin, was blocked off. Curious, I asked why and was told that there would be a parade and a ceremony. With nothing else to do (the church service wasn’t until the afternoon), I decided to stay and watch. I went through a security checkpoint and found a place to stand directly opposite the General Post Office. There, a woman handed me a program for the ceremony. Then I realized that I had accidentally stumbled upon something very important. I’m assuming that you, like me, don’t know much about Irish history, so I will fill you in. Basically, Ireland didn’t like being under British control, so in 1916, while England was preoccupied with World War I, some Irish patriots decided to take action. On Easter Sunday (or maybe they actually did it on Easter Monday; I can’t remember), they armed themselves and took over the General Post Office and tried to take Dublin Castle (which, incidentally, isn’t an actual castle. Go figure.) But the Irish aren’t very good at strategizing, and it turns out that a handful of civilians don’t really stand a chance against the professional British military. In the end, the uprising was a failure; the Irish were forced to surrender, and all the participants were executed. However, these patriots didn’t die in vain; they had hoped that their sacrifice would stoke the flames of Irish nationalism and get their fellow citizens to take action for freedom. Several years later (in 1938, maybe?), their struggle paid off and their dreams were realized; Ireland was granted its independence.
Ever since then, the Irish commemorate the selfless sacrifice of these rebels by holding a ceremony on Easter Sunday at the General Post Office. It’s like their version of Independence Day, but without the bunting and the fireworks. And I, unwittingly, managed to get a front-row seat to the action. All divisions of the military had their bands play, the President and Prime Minister and all other important Irish people came in their individual motorcades, and then three fighter jets did a fly-over. It was awesome. And just like the little boy’s song in Doolin, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will never, ever forget.
The rest of my Easter break included a week in Italy (Pisa, Rome, Florence, and Venice) and then 5 days in the Czech Republic (Prague and elsewhere). But now I need to go work on homework, so I don’t have time to write about them in this post. However, I will do my best to make time to fill you in on the rest of my Easter adventures.
Having spent nine days in Ireland, I came to this conclusion: I HAVE TO GO BACK. Nine days was simply not enough; I LOVED it. Here’s an analogy to describe my feelings: The U.S.A. is my family, Germany is my ancestors, I’m currently in a long-term relationship with Austria (I think we are beyond the dating phase), but I have a HUGE country-crush on Ireland. Don’t tell Austria, though; he might get jealous. ;)
As they say in Ireland, “thanks a million” for reading to the end (I hope you enjoyed your study break, G-Little), and I will update you again soon. Have a wonderful day wherever you are! God bless! :)