Monthly Archives: August 2012

Firsts

For those of you with whom I am Facebook friends, it will come as no shock that I made it to Prague as my current city has been updated, but for those of you who aren’t, I made it!

Somehow, by some miraculous miracle, I managed to get my self, 2 huge suitcases, a duffel bag, and my incredibly heavy backpack onto the Heathrow Express train, into the airport, and to the check out counter (I was about 3 1/2 hours early for my flight because I am super neurotic) where I was promptly told that the man would not accept my suitcases until two hours before my flight. So after giving him a mean look I planted myself on the bench right next to his counter. Take that. And at exactly 2 hours before my flight, I marched right up to him, gave him my most charming smile and said, “Hi, I’d like to check my bags please.” Obviously he was unaware of who he was dealing with!

After getting my bags at baggage claim, I went out to find Petr, the director of CHP, waiting with a sign. There was another girl on my flight, so he took the two of us back to Jerome House where I will be living for the next 4 months. We filled out a bunch of forms and then picked room numbers out of a bowl (this way, if you don’t like your room, it’s your fault because you picked it). Petr helped us bring out bags upstairs and to our rooms. He then shook my hand, said, “welcome to Prague” and then left. Just like that I was all alone. My room is great though. It is pretty big with a bed (a new mattress as of this afternoon – thanks, Jerome House!), a desk, a huge closet, a drawer, a desk, and another cabinet with a mirror and shelves. While most of the rooms have their own bathroom, I am in a suite which shares a bathroom. Although I would be lying to say that I didn’t want a private bathroom, I think it’s actually a good thing because I am the only Haverford student so it will force me to be more social and see people (not that I wouldn’t be social on my own…)

Last night, Jenna and I went to Tesco which is sort of like Wal-Mart, CVS, Target, and the grocery store all rolled into one, but only picked up a few things. Today, we went back with a larger group (I think that 7 kids got in today from their various flights), so we went and got all of the things that we needed, plus cell phones. But Tesco. Wow. You can literally buy anything there. Cell phones, TVs, children’s clothing, and school supplies? Oh, floor 3. Bedding, alarm clocks, and kitchen ware? Ah, floor 4. Hand soap, makeup, and other trinkets? Floor 1. It’s amazing. There are also little cafes and patisseries sprinkled in there too. It was pretty overwhelming to shop there, especially because no one speaks English and I speak no Czech. Trying to determine what the prices of the towels were and whether the sale applied to all of the towels or just some and if the discount had already been taken was the most frustrating and difficult conversation that I have ever had. (For those of you wondering, the sale price was what was written on the tag and all of the towels had different prices. Super confusing.)

For dinner, we all went to a really yummy place around the corner from Jerome House. For dinner, I had a beer and gnocci, which cost me 126 crowns. Hope you’re sitting down because this amounts to a whopping $6.35. Unreal.

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A Smattering of Pictures

ImageThe Burren

ImageThe Cliffs of Moher

(It took every single ounce of my self control not to post all 222 pictures that I took here)

ImageConnemara

(Any white dot that you see in this picture is a sheep!)

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Kylemore Abbey

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Croke Park, Dublin

(Look how crowded the stadium is! Yellow and Green are the Donegal fans, Red is Cork)

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The Peace Wall, Belfast

ImagePicasso’s El Guernica, International Wall, Belfast

ImageThe Titanic Museum, Belfast

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Real Fast – Belfast

Belfast was by far the most interesting city that we visited. Belfast is a UK city located in the country of Ireland, which is a bit tricky, and it is up in the north. Up until about 40 years ago, Belfast was constantly bombed and the two groups of people living there, the Protestants and the Catholics, were actively working to kill each other. The Protestants were fighting for their British identity, in fact, if you live in Belfast, you have a UK passport, not an Irish passport, while the Catholics were fighting for a united Ireland. Most Catholics hold 2 passports, a UK passport and an Irish passport though. Although the bombings have stopped, there is still an enormous divide, and there are entire neighborhoods that are just Protestants or just Catholics.

Because Phil and I went to the Gaelic Football game, we didn’t get to Belfast until about 9 pm, so we didn’t get to see much of Belfast the first night. The next morning, we took a Black Taxi Tour, which is a black taxi that picked us up and drove us around Belfast to look at the murals which are painted all over the city. Our tour guide was phenomenal – it was really interesting to hear what happened and continues to happen in Belfast from someone who was a native of the city, and because we were one-on-one with him (or I guess two-on-one), I felt like he was giving us the most honest depiction possible. Being with a tour guide meant that he drove us into places in town that we wouldn’t have gone to on our own, so that made the tour even more interesting. The Catholics live within an enormous wall with a 10 meter fence on top of it, called the Peace Wall. We even got to stop and write on the wall, so Phil and I have written on a piece of history. The Catholic neighborhood was heart-wrenching. The houses are small and not all that nice, but even more heart-wrenching is that they have cages attached to the back of the houses so that if something manages to get thrown over the wall, it won’t hit their houses. Can you imagine living in a place where you feel like you have to literally barricade your house to keep your family safe? We also drove along a wall called the International Wall, which has murals for all different countries and they change about every 6 months. The mural that I found the most powerful was an imitation of Picasso’s El Guernica. While I think it is an interesting work of art, the reason I found it so powerful was that it was painted by two artists – a Protestant and a Catholic.

We had the taxi driver drop us off at the Titanic Museum afterwards. The center just opened in March, so it was neat to be some of the first to get to see the building (which we thought it looked like an iceberg). We went on a walking tour of the grounds in the torrential downpour, but at least we learned a lot! Titanic was one of three “sisters” that were commissioned by the White Star Line – The Olympic, the Titanic, and the Britannic. We got to see the drawing offices of the company who built them, Harland and Wolff, as well as the dry dock where they finished building her. We also learned that Captain Smith, who was the captain of the Titanic was chosen not because he was a good captain, in fact he was a terrible captain – the few times that Titanic’s sister, the Olympic, had any accidents were all while Captain Smith was at the helm! – but because the White Star Line knew that when people saw that he was the captain, they would be more likely to buy tickets as he was known to wine and dine the passengers! But perhaps the most interesting fact that we learned was that had Captain Smith done anything else other than turn the boat after he hit the iceberg, the Titanic wouldn’t have gone down so quickly.

We spent our last afternoon and night in Dublin before heading to the airport yesterday morning. Phil is safely home in Delaware while I am back in London anxiously awaiting my 3:50 flight to Prague!

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Corgaigh v. Dun Na nGall

Phil and I decided to break up 5 hours on the bus yesterday with a stop in Dublin to take in a Gaelic football game. The game was between Corgaigh (Cork) and Dun Na nGall (Donegal) and was a championship semi-final game, so the excitement level was high. We weren’t quite sure who to root for, but when we got to our section which was made up of almost entirely Donegal fans, we figured we might as well join ’em!

So, how exactly does one play Gaelic football? Well it’s exactly like American soccer. Except that it is totally different. It is played on a field, like soccer, and there are 15 players on the field for each side. The game is comprised of 2 35-minute halves and a 15 minute half-time. The goals look like field-goals on top of soccer nets, both of which get you points – 1 point for over the field-goal portion and 3 points for getting it past the goalie and into the net. The score is recorded as in-the-goal goals – over-the-field-goal goals (total), so a score of 1-10 (13) translates to 1 in-the-net goal, 10 over-the-field-goal goals for a total of 13 points. Players wear basic uniforms, but no shinguards or padding.

In Gaelic football, both hands and feet are fair game. You can pass the ball to your teammates by either kicking it, just like a regular soccer pass, by drop-kicking it, or by bumping it like a volleyball. You cannot, however, just throw it to your teammates. To move up and down the field, you can run with the ball, but every 4 steps you must either bounce the ball off the the ground or bounce it off of your foot, knee, or other body part. Think you’re following? Not so fast! You can’t bounce the ball off of the ground more than one time in a row, but you can bounce it off of your foot twice in a row. Oh yeah, and this game is played at an incredible speed. The whole game, I felt like my neck was made out of rubber. To follow the ball, I had to keep whipping my head back and forth, plus, there was a jumbotron which showed the game on it and I couldn’t decide whether to watch the real people or the people on the screen!

My dad is an avid Yankee fan, so I have spent a fair amount of time at Yankee Stadium, but nothing comes close to the crowd at this game. Almost everyone in the crowd (minus Phil and myself) were wearing shirts for their team. Most people also had giant flags that they were waving or had bought giant braids in the colors of their team (red and white for Cork and green and yellow for Donegal). Also, because [we are pretty sure that] this league is an amateur league, people play for the city that they are from. Players don’t get traded, so you can be loyal to them forever. It also means that loving your team is more intimate than loving the Yankees (or whatever team you love) because these players are you neighbors, classmates, and friends. When Donegal won, with a score of 0-16 (16) to 1-11 (14)*, the feeling in the stadium was indescribable. But I’ll try. Everyone began to sing and cheer, flags were waved even higher, and everyone in a red jersey began to exit, leaving the stadium just a sea of yellow and green.

I don’t think that Phil and I realized how dedicated people were to their team until we got to the bus station to go to Belfast. The bus station was filled with people in the Donegal clothing, people who had sat on a bus for 2 1/2 hours to come and watch their team play.

So, a correction from yesterday, Go Donegal!

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A Little Irish Countryside

Just a heads up, this will be a post on the longer side, so if you’re about the run out the door and are hoping for a quick read, save me until you get back!

Phil and I arrived in rainy Galway on Wednesday. We dropped our stuff off at the hostel and then decided to walk around and see what was there. We asked the guy at the front desk for a few dinner suggestions and a few pub suggestions for after dinner. After he scribbled illegibly all over the map and talked really quickly about a lot of places with gibberish-sounding names, we were off. We ate at a restaurant near the Spanish Arch, cleverly titled, The Spanish Arch, and then decided to go walk to this place called The Crane. The Crane is a bar that this guy said was so great and has lots of locals and live music. The Crane was located on the edge of our map, but Galway isn’t that big, so we decided to check it out anyways. When we got there, there are about 12 people there, all over the age of 45. Immediately un-sold on this idea, we decided to try somewhere else. Somehow, we ended up on backroads, in the dark, off our map, and totally and completely lost. Since we had been in Galway for all of about 4 hours, we really had no idea what was close to our hostel or what constituted the center of town, so I of course began to panic. After a lot of sleuthing (i.e. using the direction of the taxis to ensure that we were headed to the center of town), we managed to make it back, alive, and in much need of beer. Lots of beer. 

We spent all of Thursday on a guided tour of the countryside of Ireland and at the Cliffs of Moher. We wound our way through the west coast, stopping at old monasteries and beautiful sites along the way. The bus also stopped at the location of a medieval fortified residence (Phil and I are struggling to come up with the proper description of this place!) in the middle of the forest. The trees surrounding it had grown in a circle, helping to disguise the trench in the middle. While we were there, this super bizarre couple had a “moment” in the middle of the circle, where they just stood there hugging each other in silence for a solid 10 minutes. We then drove up into a mountainous region called Burren. The mountains are covered in stripes of rocks with grass and flowers peeking through. (I will have pictures soon, but feel free to google it as they were stunning). We stopped at a stonehenge-esque rock formation and got to walk around before we continued on through a funny village called Lisdoonvarna, which has a gigantic match-making festival! After a quick lunch, we made our way up to the Cliffs of Moher (after asking many different people how to pronounce this, we have settled on Mo-Her as the correct way). If you are going to google anything that I have written about thus far, these cliffs are the thing to type in. The cliffs overlook the Atlantic Ocean and you can see for miles. To the front of you, you can see the water and the Aran Islands, and to your right and your left, you can see more green than you thought possible and cows – everywhere! We climbed up O’Brien’s Watchtower so that we could see further, and everything was green and lush and breathtaking. Walking along the cliffs was amazing. To our right was a straight drop down with nothing between us an the edge of the cliffs, and to our left were cows taking their afternoon nap. As we walked, we could see the striations in the cliffs which made them look even more beautiful. If you ever make it to Ireland, I don’t think I could recommend anything more. 

Because we loved the bus tour so much the first day, we decided to hop on a bus the next day again, this time to Connemara. Our bus driver was a man named Michael Rooney, and he was wonderful. He told jokes and sang to us all day. If you are an aspiring stand-up comedian, become a tour bus guide – you’ve got 50 people stuck with you as you have a microphone at your disposal for 9 hours. At least most of his jokes were funny! Connemara is a national park and is simply amazing. We stopped in Cong, a town built around a monastery, and is the town where the movie The Quiet Man was filmed. I had never heard of this movie, but you would think that it was the greatest movie. Ever. Within Cong, which has 185 people living there, there is a Quiet Man walking tour of the locations used for filiming, there is a Quite Man museum, and you can buy your very own Quiet Man calendar! Oh, and in case you’re wondering, most of the scenes were filmed in Hollywood. From our bus window, we were able to see the farms left behind from the potato famine, which I thought was one of the coolest things, if not one of the saddest things we have seen. When one prepares the ground to plant potatoes, the ground is striped, creating a fertile bed for the potatoes. Years and years later, grass has now grown over the beds, but the ground now retains a striped look. Did you know that during the time of the potato famine, not a single person needed to die? There was enough food for the entire country on the east coast, but the government was more focused on exporting goods to England so that the cost of their goods wouldn’t change in England. Horrible. 

Our last stop was another one of my favorites this trip. Kylemore Abbey. Ok, I lied. You should probably google this one too… Kylemore Castle was built by Mitchell Henry for his wife, Margaret. The two were in Ireland shortly after their wedding and Margaret absolutely fell in love with Connemara and told her husband that there would be no happiness for them unless they lived there, so being the good husband that he was, Mitchell purchased 1000 acres and built an enormous castle for her. (Future husband, take note!) On the grounds, there is also a catholic church and a 6-acre walled garden. Unfortunately, on their travels, Margaret contracted a disease and died and Mitchell could not bear to be at Kylemore without her, so he sold it. It was sold to couple for a few years who then sold it to the Benedictine Nuns, who have been living there since (I believe) the mid-1800s. The castle is now called Kylemore Abbey. They run an all-girls boarding school there now, maintain the museum, and have restored the garden. Even in the rain, this place is stunning. The abbey sits overlooking a lake with expansive views of the green Irish mountains. 

Yesterday, we decided that we just could not sit on a bus for another day, so we decided to walk around Galway all day. We found a free walking tour of the city, which was pretty useless, but we did learn that the term “lynching” comes from Galway. There are 14 “big” families in Galway’s history, one of them being the Lynchs family. There is a long story involved, but in the end, one of the sons commits murder and gets hung out of a window, which is where we get the word lynch from. 

As I write this post, I am on a bus from Galway to Dublin, looking out at rolling hills, cows, horses, and a few sheep. This afternoon, Phil and I are going to a Gaelic football match between Cork and Donegal before we catch another bus from Dublin to Belfast. (Go Cork! (we think…))

(This post was written with lots of guest-blogging by one Philip Edward “Extreme Danger” Drexler)

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Dublin!

Phil and I have been super busy in Dublin!

On Monday, after making our way through immigration and locating one another, we picked up our bags and had an “oh shit” moment – how do we get to our hotel from the airport? We found a bus, but one of the bus company workers suggested that we take the regular bus, not the airport shuttle, as it was cheaper. So we did. Our hotel was on South Great George’s Street. What we didn’t know is that the bus doesn’t announce stop names, there are no street signs, and there are two Great George’s Streets! Since Phil doesn’t like questions, I got sent to go talk to the driver illegally as in Ireland it is illegal to talk to a driver while he is driving. Oops. He told us when to get off, so we listened. Oops again. He had sent us to North Great George’s Street. We turned around and decided that we would just walk to the right place, but miraculously, the bus was still there when we got back to the corner! So we hopped back on and ended up getting dropped off right outside of our hotel!

We dropped our bags off and then went to go walk around University of London, Trinity College. Our tour guide was really funny and included great stories for us, such as that one of the libraries on campus is organized not alphabetically or by any kind of series, but by size. So the huge books that you can’t lift are on the bottom and the teeny tiny books that you can’t reach are all the way at the top. Oh, and the room is the longest library, so there are millions of books organized like this! We also stopped in to see the Book of Kells,which is a beautiful, old illuminated manuscript.

After a much needed nap, Phil and I set out on a walk and in search of dinner. We ate at a great pub called the Hairy Lemon, where we had traditional Irish fare. After dinner, we walked around the Temple Bar neighborhood.

Day two was even busier! We bought tickets for the hop-on-hop-off bus. We took the bus all the way to the 16th stop, which was Kilmainham Gaol. Kilmainham was the worst jail in terms of punishment in all of Ireland. Our tour guide was this big burly guy named Shane who spoke in funny tenses but knew so much about Kilmainham. He was also full of some of the saddest stories. For example, Joseph Plunkett, who was one of the 16 of leaders of the 1916 rebellion, 14 of whom were executed at the jail, was allowed to marry his girlfriend, Grace Gifford, before the executed him. They were told that they would be allowed to have 10 minutes together after they were married before the guards shot him. Unfortunately, those 10 minutes were spent with two other guards who stood counting down the time. Shane was filled will all sorts of lovely tales such as this. Hence, Phil named the jail the saddest place ever.

We then hopped back on the bus and took it to the Jameson Whiskey Distillery where we took a tour and learned all about how to make whiskey. We even got a free drink at the end! Much cheered up from our dreary morning in jail, we hopped back on the bus and took it to the Guinness Storehouse. We were a little surprised to find that the Jameson Distillery was a better tour! But we did learn one fun fact, which is that the symbol of Ireland is the harp, which is also the symbol of Guinness. The major difference is that the Guinness harp has the rounded part to the right and the Ireland symbol has the rounded part to the left, as per an agreement between the two! That’s how integrated Guinness is into Irish culture!

Our last morning in Dublin, Phil and I took a quick tour of Dublin Castle. Unlike some of the other castles / palaces that I have visited, Dublin Castle doesn’t look like a castle. It has a super medieval base and was re-built with a more modern, brick top part. We got to see some super elaborate moldings and  decorations, though sadly, they have taken out the furniture as most of the building is used for official meetings these days. If you’re taking a trip to Ireland, it is definitely worth a quick stop!

We then found our way to the CityLink bus to get us to Galway, though that proved to be a bit tricky… But from the bus we got to see a lot of the Irish countryside, including a ton of sheep, cows, and horses!

 

I will post back when I have a chance to about our adventures in Galway!

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Well, I made it! Somehow, I managed to lug my two 50 pound suitcases, my equally heavy carry-on bag, and my incredibly weighty backpack from the car to the check-in counter (thanks for the help, family!), took myself through security, where naturally I was stopped for looking suspicious, and onwards to the gate. Once on the plane, I had the pleasure of sitting next to a young couple with a baby, who although silent throughout the flight, was shh’d from New York to London (or at least I am assuming that this is the case as they were shh-ing him/her when I went to sleep and were still at it when I woke up). It was only after my flight that the drama began!

Prior to leaving New York, I made plans with my mom’s friend, Lisa, with whom I am staying, to meet at the coffee shop in the lobby of the Paddington Hilton. After leaving baggage claim, I was supposed to call Lisa to let her know I was on my way. I have switched to an old BlackBerry World, which works internationally, for this week. When I turned on the phone on the plane and had no service, I just assumed that this was because I had just landed (and partially because it was 4 am for me!), and continued to assume as I made my way through customs and baggage that this was still the case. When I had retrieved my aforementioned heavy suitcases and still didn’t have service, I began to panic. I begged the woman at the British Airways luggage counter to call Lisa for me, and she spoke with Lisa, so I was now ready to go. At the Paddington Express, I began to panic because I couldn’t get my suitcases through the little gate fast enough and I was sure that the train was going to leave without me, but thankfully the conductor took pity on me and wheeled one of bags for me onto the train while I continued to panic about meeting up with Lisa. Arriving at Paddington proved just as stressful because everywhere I turned was another coffee shop. So now I cant feel my shoulders or my arms, I am sweating profusely, I am ready to cry, and I still can’t figure out which damn coffee shop is the right one. Why did I have to be so adventurous?? After a few not-so-calming mostly-deep breaths, I ask somewhere where the Hilton is. He sends me out of the station and up a huuuge hill. So glad that I am an olympic athlete… So I get into the lobby and one of the bell hops takes pity on me and “helps” to bring my bags to the coffee shop. He deposits me in the elevator which brings me right back to where I started. So I sit myself in one of the many coffee shops, proceed to panic, and then decide to go back to the Hilton. Thankfully, the concierge allowed me to call Lisa, and after a few tries, I managed to get a hold of her. He then allowed me to wait in the lobby until she could come and collect me. Seriously, my hero. (Oh, and in case you’re wondering, my phone does work – I just needed to change the network. Oops.)

After a delicious lunch, Lisa and her two children, Jordan and Ashley, and I all went to the Victoria & Albert, one of my favorite museums. We saw a fun exhibit about ballroom gowns from the 1950s to the present. We also saw a really neat exhibit about a design firm called Heatherwick Studios. Thomas Heatherwick is a designer, architect, engineer, and inventor all rolled into one. He had all of these really cool designs, such as a plank of wood into which  he put hinges so that it can be a bench or a chair or an end table. He also designs buildings and monuments. As well as furniture. Basically, this guy can do or make anything.

Tomorrow I am off to Ireland!

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August 19, 2012 · 5:19 pm