All of us might wish at times that we lived in a more tranquil world, but we don't. And if our times are difficult and perplexing, so are they challenging and filled with opportunity.

Robert Kennedy

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Leg #5 - Killarney

Well, my time here in Ireland has come to a close. It's hard to believe I've been here for 3 weeks. I love this country, these 2 countries and I am super glad I chose to spend my post service here.

So, for my last leg, I went a little bit south to Killarney. I didn't have the best start to my day. I don't know why but my iPod mysteriously emptied so when I got on the bus, I had nothing to listen to. Argh, alone with my thoughts. I was cranky and hungry and bored. Wah.
We stopped in Limerick at the halfway point and I got a coffee and a scone and I felt better. I grabbed my Kindle out of my backpack and climbed on bus #2 and read. The bus driver's ring tone was Guns-n-Roses and that made me giggle and lightened my mood. 
Killarney was a cute little town and I found the hostel with ease. It was family run so everyone was really friendly. I was so hungry that I was almost shaking. I wandered into town and found a place where I could get a hamburger. I spent some time back at the hostel relaxing but then again it was overrun by French kids again. Why can't I get away from these group trips? Ugh!
I dropped my stuff off in my room and then went out for dinner. All the pubs were really crowded already so I found this out of the way Indian place that was pretty empty. The food was DELICIOUS and the atmosphere was so delightfully peaceful. I ate a lot, it was super spicy, and I was very happy. It was an early night. I curled up in bed and watched the movie "Mud." (FANTASTIC movie, highly recommend.)
I slept really well and when I woke up, the other 6 people in my room had checked out.
Found a cute coffee place across the street and finished the book I started on the bus the day before. Dropped my stuff off at the hostel and asked the lady at the front desk for recommendations. She pulled out a map and showed me a pretty but simple walk around one of the nearby lakes at the top of the Ring of Kerry. I asked her how long of a walk it was and she said "about an hour." Cool, I can handle that. 
I walked down and the lake was super beautiful so I started to walk on the trail. When it broke off into the woods, I was a little confused as I didn't remember her mentioning it was an 'off-road' trail, but whatever. It was a 'one-way' trail which meant once you started, you couldn't turn back. It rained on and off. So...about 2 hours in, I started wondering if I was a super slow walker or what. So I asked a passer by and she pointed out the trail next to the one the girl at the hostel had pointed out. I said "oh...well, how long is this one?" She said "Um...maybe 18 kilometers?" (11 miles) I started laughing, almost maniacally. There was nothing I could do. I think she was scared a little and told me to head for the cottage. So I kept that in my head, the cottage, the cottage, I can make it to the cottage. Finally, I saw the cottage. They had coffee and sandwiches and water (most importantly) and I rested. Sigh. I had done it. I was very proud of myself. So I asked the lady who worked there what was the best way to get back into town and she looked at me strangely... 'You know this is the halfway point, right?" I think the color drained from my face. I was literally stuck and I had 10 more kilometers to walk. It was pouring rain at that point and I just had a hooded sweatshirt. So now, it was raining, but hot so I was still sweating and I had 10K to walk. The last "spot" i wanted to see on the walk was the Torc Waterfall. I finally made it to the Waterfall and took a photo. Only 3K to go. The last hour of my walk I was delirious, like those runners at the end of a marathon. I was walking in patterns to entertain myself, singing show tunes like a lunatic, talking to cows along the way, it really was quite ridiculous. During this delirium, I realized , this was the perfect metaphor for my Peace Corps service. Slowly, very slowly, I started to see civilization. And I made it back into town. I laughed at the ridiculousness of my day. I sat down at an Italian restaurant and ate a good hearty meal. Afterwards, it took me nearly 10 minutes to be able to stand up. My muscles were giving me a giant middle finger. By the grace of God, for some unknown reason, no one else checked into my hostel room that night. I took a long, hot shower and went to sleep. It was 7:30pm...
Here are some of the photos from my marathon walk...oh and the ONE photo I took of Torc Waterfall? Effing blurry...
Murphy's Sea Salt Ice Cream. DELICIOUS!

Two roads diverged...I took the one less traveled by...effing Robert Frost...

We had a lengthy conversation. Turns out, we're both Broadway fans.

I woke up in the same position I fell asleep in at 10:00 the next morning. A mere 14.5 hours later and I was all right. I was still pretty sore but functioning. So I took it easy. Walked around town briefly, did some souvenir shopping and ate...a few times. 
When I got back to the hostel, 3 huge Germans (only 1 was a dude) checked into the room. I didn't care, I was still sore. I fell asleep. During the night, I heard security banging on the door across the hall and he wound up kicking out 4 people. That was interesting. 
On my last day, I took a bus trip to the Dingle Peninsula (heh). It was a beautiful coastline drive. 
Inch Beach...on the Dingle Peninsula...yeah, I laughed too. TOO pretty though.

Downtown Dingle

We got back around 5 and I found dinner at a cute family restaurant. There were more people in my room now but I was still able to get to bed early. 
I woke up this morning with the intent on grabbing the 9:30am train to Dublin. It was pouring rain which made for a long walk. When I got to the train station they said it was double the price, the online discount wasn't applicable. What is this world coming to? Giving you discounts for not talking to people...ugh.
So I got a bus at 10, but it was NOT an express and it took nearly 6 hours to get here. I was happy listening to an audiobook until my iPod died at a crucial moment in the story. I found my hostel. It is already SO much better than the last time I was here. I really wish I had stayed here my first time in Dublin, maybe I would like this city more. I was able to meet up with another PCV, Tom, for dinner. He just arrived in Ireland and I'm just leaving. That's the way it goes. 
So, Ireland, it's been real. I've learned a lot and I've fallen more in love with this part of the world than I thought possible. Tomorrow, I fly to Iceland. That should be idea what to expect. 
More to come...

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Leg #4 - Western Ireland

Western Ireland was maybe one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. I know I only saw a small taste of it, but what I saw was unforgettable.
So if you recall the camera story from the previous blog, that hostel turned out to be just as wonderful as I had hoped. The staff was so super friendly and the facility was a refurbished hotel. It was beautiful. I met up with Drew and we went out and had lunch and I had possibly the best Cajun Chicken sandwich of my life. During our lunch, the downpour began. We shouldn't have sat outside. There was an awning but it didn't help much. We had to dash back to the hostel in the pouring rain. Both of us had coats and umbrellas which we had both conveniently left in our rooms. As we dashed to our respective rooms, I realized afterwards that I didn't really have a way to get in touch with him. Oh well. I found a secluded TV lounge and relaxed for a few hours. When I got back to my room, it was filled with people and they were great. There was a guy from Australia, Fu, a kid from the Netherlands, Dan, 2 girls from Arkansas and an Asian girl. Fu offered to cook dinner for everyone, I don't know why I refused, I really don't. Instead I went downstairs and ran into Drew, luckily, and we wandered around the town. Galway was super cool and much more compressed than Dublin. We found an Irish pub (shocker) and decided to have a real Irish meal. It was great.

Drew's Shepard's Pie

My Irish Guinness Stew

Downtown Galway

Eyre Square with the crests of the original families of Galway.

Big fans of JFK here. Memorial to him in the park.
My second day in Galway was designated as a rest day and the weather gods listened because it stormed all day. I woke up early and dropped my laundry off at the front desk, a service the hostel provided for 5 Euros. I gave them all my clothes so I had a makeshift outfit on of jeans and a zipped up hoodie. Such a hippie. But it was worth it for clean clothes. I lounged around the hostel all day and it was glorious. A well-needed break. (Cue the sympathy for Jenn being tired from traveling through Ireland...)
My 'roommates' invited me out for a drink but I declined as I didn't feel right going out in basically pajamas. 
The next day I took a bus tour to the coast to see the glorious wonder that is the Cliffs of Moher. We made a bunch of stops along the way and it was like everything I dreamed Ireland to be.
The tour guide was hilarious. My stepdad, Leroy, truly missed his calling. The whole time on the bus listening to this guy chatter about history and tell stories and crack jokes I kept thinking "Jeez, this is Leroy's dream job." We left at 10am and didn't return until 7:00pm. It was exhausting but glorious. Wound up on the tour with the 2 girls from Arkansas so we hung out all day.

The entrance to Cathermore Fort

Poulnabrone Tomb. 5800 years old.

THE CLIFFS OF INSANITY aka the Cliffs of Moher.

I'm pretty damn cute.

Yeah, pretty scary.

We got back that night and I decided to do yet another tour the next day. Fu, our Aussie roommate decided to go with me. He revealed he was a gourmet chef in Australia. THAT would have been good information before he offered to cook dinner. Ugh.
So the next day we went to Connemara National Park, Kylemore Abbey and Southern County Mayo to the village of Cong. Cong is where the Movie "The Quiet Man" was filmed. This was my Dad's favorite movie so it was pretty cool to be there. I thought the day before was beautiful? This was some of the most natural beauty I have ever seen in nature.

Kylemore Abbey across the lake.

Kylemore Abbey

I sat here for quite a while.

Small Gothic Cathedral built next to the Abbey

Wandered down for a walk in the lake.

Killary Harbor, Ireland's only fjord.

Looking down into County Mayo

A typical stonewall on an Irish country road.

Never get tired of seeing that name.

Having a whiskey at the Quiet Man bar.

Ross Friary

We piled back on the bus and headed back. All of our roommates had checked out and Fu just wanted to eat some potatoes so I headed to get some fish and chips at a local pub. It was SO good. There was a band starting to play and the pub was filling up so I, naturally, left so I could go home, shower, pack and get to bed. (#old)
I loved Western Ireland so much. I am now in Killarney in the south for the final leg of the Ireland trip. Been raining since I got here so we'll see what this has to offer...

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Leg #3 - Dublin

I hate to say this...but I'm not a fan of Dublin. I've been hearing that word my entire life so maybe my expectations were a little high. I carved out 6 days of this trip to spend in this city and the verdict is: I don't like it. It was like a giant fraternity party and my hostel was smack dab in the middle of it. Needless to say, I am writing this without having slept through the night in about a week. #cranky
Still feeling a little under the weather, I arrived in Dublin and walked from the bus station to the area of the city called "Temple Bar." I think it should actually be called 'Sigma Pi' because it is a giant Fraternity House. I checked into the hostel and was in a room with 9 other people. I was happy to get a bottom bunk and it being by the window since the room was a bit stuffy and at least I could get some air. Threw all my stuff down and decided to head out into the city. I hadn't eaten all day so I just stopped at the nearest place I could find. 
Stopped by the info desk at the hostel...needless to say they weren't as 'warm' as the folks in Northern Ireland. The guy basically gave me a map and said "good luck." Strike one, Dublin.
Just kind of wandered around the city. Tried to go to sleep early but my room's window literally overlooked the most popular bar in Dublin. I felt like I was lying on the floor of a fraternity house. The bar closed at 4am...then a dump truck pulled up to pick up the trash and the smell made my eyes water, the truck idled for what felt like an eternity. I fell asleep around 6am. 
I woke up around 11 the next day. Still pretty cranky and the thought of sleeping here for 4 more nights was not pleasing. Honestly, if I didn't have friends meeting me, I probably would have ate the cost and checked out. 
So I decided to make the best of the day. I found a movie theatre as I wanted to see "The World's End" since it opened here and doesn't open in the U.S. until late August. The movie theatre was about a 30 minute walk along the River Liffey. I was like 2 hours early for the movie but I wasn't going to walk back so I just hung out and wandered around the river's edge. It was actually quite nice. 
The movie was great as I expected and I wandered back into the city. I located the tributes to Oscar Wilde. He's one of my biggest writing heroes. Last spring I saw his grave in Paris, so getting to see his birthplace and memorial in Dublin was a great full circle moment.

Memorial in park.
I got hungry for dinner and was wandering through the city. Every place seemed to be packed. And then I saw a Pizza Hut. Normally, I wouldn't care but it wasn't crowded, and a taste of home right about now sounded great. Plus? FREE REFILLS! I had almost forgotten.
I was super tired so I went back to the hostel by 10 and threw in my headphones and tried to fall asleep. 
Fortunately, I was successful. I know it was just as loud but the headphones definitely helped.
Walked around the city again and found Trinity College. It was a beautiful campus and very relaxing. 
Trinity College
Wandered further down the road and found St. Patrick's Cathedral. I was inexplicably moved by the interior. Not usually being affected by religious sites, it was just incredibly nice and peaceful inside.
St. Patrick's Cathedral

The tomb of Jonathan Swift.

St. Patrick

The organ. Yes, I am my mother.
I headed back to the hostel as I anxiously awaited the arrival of my friend, Thomas. I sat in the kitchen for a few hours people watching (always fascinating) and then he walked in. Man, I love traveling alone but sometimes the site of a familiar face is SO awesome. I mean it had only been 10 days since we said goodbye in Moldova but still. It was great to see him. We walked around and found a burrito bar for dinner, yes only recent volunteers would search out a Mexican place in Ireland. But it was pretty good. We were both pretty tired so we just wandered around and found a small pub and had a Guinness, my first one. Not gonna lie, I didn't hate it.
We agreed to meet in the kitchen again the next morning. Thomas's best friend from back home, Drew, would be meeting us too. After an on again/off again night of sleep (sigh), I met the boys in the kitchen around 9. Drew was pretty jet lagged and the hostel breakfast of well, bread, wasn't very desirable so we ventured out and found a nearby cafe. The three of us decided to go to the Guinness Storehouse to take that tour.
I honestly wasn't all that impressed. The Bushmills tour had been so informative and interesting and seeing things in production was really cool. But Guinness, as impressive as the building was, was more like a museum and you watched videos on how things were made instead of watching things be made. 

Thomas and I posing in an old ad campaign.

Me learning how to correctly pour a Guinness.

I mean, that's a pretty damn good pour, no?
Learning to pour Guinness was actually pretty cool. Not worth the price of the tour, but still.
From there we walked through the Viking section of the city where we got to see the Christchurch Cathedral. It was where Handel's Messiah originally premiered. Yes, I am my mother's daughter.

From there we found the oldest pub in Ireland, circa 1198!!! Had a fantastic Irish lunch as we wandered around. I found a lot of things exciting that the boys didn't but they indulged me.

Drew and Thomas at the Brazen Head

Me and James Joyce

Everyone was really wiped out so we all made it an early night. 
The next morning everyone was a little bit more refreshed. Although the noise level wasn't as bad as it had been previously, someone in my room had closed the windows which made it unbearably hot. Just can't win in this place.
We decided to venture out and have brunch. (Their idea). Found a famous Irish cafe and had a lovely brunch overlooking the city. 
I found another landmark that the boys couldn't care less about.

After a few hours walking through the city, we located the one place I had heard about beforehand and was dying to go to. Jo Burger. I was very happy. And it was without a doubt, one of the best burgers I have ever had. 

Everyone still tired we went back to the hostel to get a nap. Midday was actually the best time to sleep. So I did get in a few hours nap. We wandered around, still pretty full from those burgers just found a quick snack for dinner.
We again found a pub and listened to some Irish music and enjoyed our last night in Dublin together. They boys both had one more day in Dublin and I tried to convince them to go west with me to Galway. Thomas was actually pretty tired of traveling at that point so he decided to stay but Drew decided to come with me. He booked a room at my hostel.
One last miserable night in the hostel and we woke up the next morning for breakfast. Had to say goodbye to Thomas. A little bit harder than the last time as I didn't know when I'd see him again. He and his girlfriend (another PCV) live in Kansas City so I do hope I'll be able to visit them at some point.
Drew and I got on a bus to Galway. And here we are. (Relax, he has a girlfriend too...)
So yeah, Dublin, not my favorite on the trip this far, but Galway so far? Unbelievable.
Quick story. In my tired state, I left my point and shoot camera on the bus. 
Got to the hostel and it is amazing. Everyone's nice, it's big and spacious and clean and airy and just great. So while checking in, the guy at the hostel asks me how I am and I say "well, I just left my camera on the bus from Dublin so not great..."
That's ALL I said. 
I took my stuff to my room and Drew and I went and grabbed lunch. There was a thunderstorm so we were trapped in the cafe for a while. Afterwards, Drew took off on a tour and I headed back to the hostel. I walked in and the guy said "Oh, Jennifer? Is this your camera?" I stared at him in disbelief. It was.
He said he made a few calls, found which buses came in from Dublin, they found a camera, someone ran it over to the hostel and said if it wasn't mine to just return it to the bus station lost and found. I just stared at him. 
"What?" he said. 
"I just can't believe you did this."
His response?
"Why wouldn't I?"
Point one, Galway.

(P.S. Thank you, Juli Jones for this little travel diary. It has been a godsend)