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a southern yankee abroad

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Germany, Part 1: Munich

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Munich Residenz
It’s been a while since my last blog post, and that’s because I’ve taken some time this week to slow down a bit and pace myself as I’ve traveled through Germany (Deutschland!) Initially, my plans were to spend a little over a week solely in Berlin, taking the time to enjoy the unique art scene and soak in as much history as possible. However, as has often happened this summer, my plans changed along the way. On the advice of a few friends who have visited before and swore I would love it, I decided to include a few days in Munich (München) during my time in Germany.

They were right, to an extent. I arrived in Munich Monday morning after a smooth overnight bus ride from Amsterdam (I am quickly becoming a huge fan of Flixbus! It is ridiculously cheap and both trips with them have been comfortable). After checking in to my hostel, I struck out to explore the city. Munich was once the capital of Bavaria, a separate state in the south of Germany that joined Prussia and other states to create what we know as modern Germany back in 1871. Therefore, Bavarian culture is quite unique compared to other parts of Germany (i.e. lederhosen and Oktoberfest!)

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Casual shopping in Munich!
Over two days in Munich, here are my highlights:

-The chiming of the glockenspiel at Marienplatz. Nothing screams “Bavaria” like a giant music box in a church tower! I stumbled upon this by accident right at 11am, as the bells were chiming and the glockenspiel, which contains 32 life-size figures that move about, started going. This was definitely a unique surprise during my visit to Munich.IMG_1738[1]

-Munchen Residenz and Hofgarten. The Residenz is the former palace of the Bavarian kings and dates back to the 14th century. Much of it was destroyed during WW2 but has since been restored. I walked through the complex, not going inside, and spent most of my time in the Hofgarten, or the courtyard garden of the palace. Here, I stopped for about 30 minutes to listen to an amazing celloist playing both classical and modern music (like U2!) in the rotunda for free. I relished this moment, as I remembered how just 6 months ago I would never have had the time or patience in my daily life to stop and listen to free and beautiful music. I hope I always find the time to do so for the rest of my life!IMG_1750[1]

-Englischer Garten. By far, this was my favorite part of Munich! I spent the afternoon wandering through this beautiful garden, laying in the grass and reading, and dipping my feet in the cold water of the surfing river that flows through. I immediately planned to forego all museums and spend my second and final day sunbathing here (unfortunately, it was cold and rainy so I did museums anyway!) I also met some nice Germans sitting nearby who gave me some good advice for the rest of my week in Germany. I finished the visit by finding a hidden beer garden tucked away near the river, where I enjoyed my first true Bavarian weiss beer!IMG_1766[1]

-Deutsches Museum. My last day in Munich was chilly and rainy, so I decided to geek out at the Deutsches Museum as I could not go back to the Englischer Garten. The Deutches Museum is a giant science and technology museum located on the bank of the Isar River. The exhibits range from physics to astronomy to modern energy production to aeronautics to cartography and geology to cryptography and mathematics to everything in between! I learned a lot about how windmills are used in Germany for energy (the process of selecting the correct sight and implementing the necessary public policies is much more complex than I realized). I also enjoyed seeing the Enigma coding machine, used by Germany to send encrypted messages during WW2. The code was ultimately broken by British mathematician Alan Turing and was crucial to ending the war (for more info watch Imitation Game…an amazing movie!)IMG_1803[1]

I only spent 2 days in Munich, but I found it was enough time to get a feel for the city. If the weather had been nicer, I could have spent a few more days just enjoying the Englischer Garten! As it was, I found myself ready to move on to what I knew would be a highlight of the trip–Berlin.

A Weekend in Amsterdam

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The Singel Bridge at the Paleisstraat by Breitner, Rijksmuseum

If Paris was frenzied and beautiful, Amsterdam has been calming and quaint. I think Amsterdam’s reputation in the USA as a wild party city, given its red light district and “coffee shops,” is undeserved. Amsterdam is extremely chill, and I think these things exist here because people are so tolerant because they are so chill. I instantly felt more relaxed given the slower pace and cheaper prices (30-50 percent lower than Paris already!) here. Also, my dad reminded me we have some Dutch heritage, so I was excited to see another place my ancestors are from!

After the 8 hour bus ride from Paris, I was excited to arrive at Sloterjdik station in Amsterdam. On the ride from Belgium to Amsterdam, I shared my seat with a belly dancer from Amsterdam currently living in Istanbul, and she graciously filled me in on the history and sites to see in the city. In addition to discovering the city, I would be spending the next few days with Sjors and Wendel, two friends I met in Africa back in December who live in Amsterdam! I was so excited to see Wendel at the bus stop, and we took the 15 minute train train ride together into the city to Sjors’ apartment.

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It was so good to see Wendel at the bus station!

Once we got off the train, our first task was to visit a bike rental shop. Everyone in Amsterdam gets around by bicycle, and there are more bikes than cars on the road it seems, so I would need this to get around for the weekend. We visited the shop, picked out a bike, and were shocked when the manager offered it to me for the weekend for free!! This saved me close to 25 euros! I was so excited and knew at that moment I would love Amsterdam and the people here.

We then walked to Sjors’ apartment with my bike, and then we continued on together to a nearby rooftop bar with a great view of the city. There were 3 of us and only 2 bikes, so I rode on the back of one while Wendel drove. Apparently, this is the real “Dutch way!”13619943_10207949812755699_6202679943874757891_n Here, we had Dutch beer and bitterballen, a Dutch delicacy. We then continued on to a nearby restaurant for dinner, and then to Rembrandt Square to watch France and Germany play in the Eurocup semifinals. Although the Netherlands were out, the atmosphere was still electric!! I cheered on France, one of my new favorite countries (allez les bleus!), and Wendel and I were excited when France won (Sjors was for Germany!)

The next morning, the three of us visited the Rijksmuseum, which is the national art museum of the Netherlands. I was very excited to see the Rembrandt collection here, but was also very impressed with their total collection of Dutch art, as well as the exhibits with ship models and instruments. I enjoyed learning about Jan Steen, a Dutch painter who often depicted everyday “peasant” life, including hilarious scenes (like a drunken couple or misbehaving children) in his work.

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The Milk Maid by Vermeer
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A self-portrait by Rembrandt
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A Jan Steen painting

13599813_10207949797755324_6924443745220603961_nAfter lunch (I had a traditional Dutch pancake!), Wendel left for her own trip to Milan, and Sjors and I rode our bikes to Oost Park, where we had a nice afternoon of reading, catching up, and napping. I am realizing how important it is to slow down during long-term traveling…it is so easy to burn out by trying to fit something into every minute.

The next morning, I visited the Van Gogh Museum, which houses the largest collection of Van Gogh art in the world, as well as hundreds of his personal letters. I was surprised to learn that he did the majority of his work in the last few years of his life, before he tragically committed suicide. Also, it seems that Van Gogh is often characterized as a crazy, emotional, reactionary artist who chopped off his own ear in a fit. While this did happen, I learned his approach to his art was actually very measured and calculated, and he was a diligent student of the craft. Sadly, his work was not recognized on a wide scale until 2 years after his 1890 suicide, and he is now one of the best loved artists of all times.

After my morning at the museum, I hopped on my bike with the intention of getting lost in Amsterdam, stopping at a few cafes along the way to write. I loved riding my bike around the city, and I really want to get one now when I move to Brooklyn in the fall! I then met up with Sjors to visit the Heineken Experience, which is a tour of the brewery complete with a full history of the company, demonstrations and tastings,video games and a Disneyworld-like ride where they “turn you into the beer” and brew you! Afterwards, we took a ferry across the North Sea channel to enjoy the skyline before biking home.13599910_10207949790635146_3658631312419820696_n

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13567380_10207945477407318_7632282861631892131_nThis morning, I ran a few errands and then struck out on my bike to explore the city a bit more. I enjoyed biking through the canals on my own instead of on an organized tour.13567498_10207949786835051_5640788401119301127_n I then headed back to Sjors’ place, where we watched the end of the Formula 1 race (I had no idea this sport really existed, but it’s huge here! I am learning new things everyday) I then packed my bags, had a nice homemade dinner with Sjors, and set off for the bus station to leave for Munich.

Amsterdam has been lovely, and my time here made me realize that people are what make traveling so special. I am so grateful to have friends like Wendel and Sjors, who met me at the bus station, took time to show me some of the amazing sites in their city, and made sure I made it to the bus station well-fed, well-rested, and on time. I can’t wait to show them the same hospitality when they visit NYC (or the southern USA for that matter, if I’m home!) Next stop…Munich!

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Trying to climb the “D” with Wendel’s help…it didn’t quite work out!

Museums, Cafes, and FNAC: More Reasons to Love Paris

As is evident I’m sure from my last few posts, my time in Paris was wonderful. On Tuesday morning, I woke up ready to knock out a few administrative tasks (laundry and finding a new computer charger and portable phone charger-which had also died) so I could then get back to enjoying the city. I found a laundromat near my hostel, and after figuring out how to work the machines (in French!), I enjoyed an espresso and a book at a cafe next door while waiting on my clothes to finish. It’s funny how I assumed I would be doing my own laundry in the sink throughout the trip when I started-I haven’t done that a single time! Instead, I’ve been able to find either cheap laundry services or easy do-it-yourself machines. I guess I’m not roughing it as much as I planned!

With that necessary task out of the way, I headed off to visit the Musee d’Orsay, one of the museums in Paris I was most looking forward to visiting. Musee d’Orsay is a converted train station and has several early and post-impressionist works, as well as a wide collection of sculptures from Rodin and Degas. IMG_1292[1]
This painting, Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe by Edouard Manet, is most famous for being one of the earliest works that sparked the impressionist movement. The woman dining stark naked on the grass with fully clothed companions and looking directly at the viewer was considered very controversial in the art world at that time.IMG_1295[1]
This painting, Starry Night over the Rhone by Vincent Van Gogh, is fairly well-known…I was excited to see it because I had a print of this in my dorm room and then my bedroom for a few years! IMG_1328[1].JPG

It was also neat to see other famous works by Claude Monet, Edward Degas, Paul Cezanne, and Gauguin.

The Musee d’Orsay also had an exhibition of the works of Henri Rousseau, including a display of his famous The Dream, which is on loan from MOMA in NYC. I have seen the painting before there a few times, so it was cool to see it again in Paris!

After the Musee D’Orsay, I decided it was time to find my replacement electronics. I found my way to what was soon to become my most-visited place in Paris, FNAC. FNAC is a great store and is like a combination of Best Buy and Barnes and Noble in the US. I quickly found a portable phone charger and a new book (they had a good selection of books in English on one wall), but the computer charger was another story-they didn’t have it. They sent me to a store that specializes in every type of battery imaginable. They, too, did not have one that would work. Disillusioned, I began the walk across the city back toward my hostel (like NYC, Paris is very walkable, and it takes no more than 45 minutes to really walk anywhere within the main city). I happened to come across a PC repair shop along the way, and decided to give it one last shot. It was closed, but the man saw me peering in the window and graciously let me in to try to help me. After a few minutes of looking through parts, he announced I was out of luck.

As I was tired of running errands, I decided to stop at a cafe and finish my book over a coffee. I highly recommend We Are Called to Rise by Laura McBride! It is her debut novel, and I was blown away. After shedding a few tears over the ending, I decided to walk another 45 minutes to visit the Arc De Triomphe. Of course, it reminded me so much of Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village NYC, home of the NYU Law campus. This, then, reminded me that law school starts next month. I feel like it’s been a long time coming, and I can’t believe the time is almost finally here to start this chapter of my life.IMG_1380[1]

From the Arc De Triomphe, I decided to visit the Bastille. Once I arrived, I was surprised to learn the Bastille actually doesn’t exist anymore! Instead, it’s just a city plaza with cafes and an operahouse. So, I read about what the Bastille was and its significance in the French Revolution while having a glass of wine outside a cafe.

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La Bastille today
The next morning, I set off for the Louvre. I had booked a timed entry ticket online a few days earlier (only 15 euro directly through the museum), so I was able to skip the massive queues (i.e. lines) and walk right in! Like the Met in NYC, the Louvre has an extensive collection of ancient artifacts as well as medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque art. Of course, I saw La Gioconda (the Mona Lisa). She draws some serious crowds!IMG_1402[1]

I also saw works by Botticelli, Raphael, and Titian. I think my favorite painting I saw was Lady Liberty Leading the People by Eugene Delacroix, painted to commemorate the French Revolution.IMG_1425[1]

I also saw this work, The Death of Marat by Jacques-Louis David. Marat was a revolutionary journalist who was assassinated during the French Revolution. He is painted to resemble a Christian martyr in the baroque style, symbolizing the spiritual significance of the revolution.IMG_1445[1]

I also enjoyed seeing the African, Greek, and Egyptian exhibits in the museum, as well as learning that the Louvre was originally a fortress built to protect Paris that was later turned into a palace and then a museum.
After several hours at the museum, I walked south of the Seine and had lunch at a sidewalk cafe with my new book (The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera) before heading to the Luxembourg Gardens to take a nap in the grass. The nap turned into a journaling session (with pen and paper in a real notebook!), and this made me realize how much I missed writing. I knew what I had to do–I went back to FNAC to buy a new tablet (I can use this in law school, so a justified purchase?!) This FNAC told me I had to go to the other FNAC on Champs d’Elysses, so I set off for there. I also learned that Champs Elysses is pronounced “shawn-sell-ee-say” rather than “chomps-da-lease.” I am so appreciative to the endearing French gentleman who taught me this–I am used to being (lovingly) teased for my southern USA accent back in NYC, but he taught me in the least condescending way possible– another testament to the genuine hospitality of the French I have experienced! Vive la France!

Once at the other FNAC, I invested in my little French tablet. I could not understand a single word once I opened it and started using it, which I quickly realized would be a problem. To fix this issue, the FNAC worker spent an hour converting it to an “English” computer by “downloading the English language.” Even though my computer is now in English, it still greets me with “bienvenue!” which I love! It also has an AZERTY keyboard instead of a QWERTY keyboard– here’s to being multi-cultural!

I slept just 4 hours that night before waking up early to catch a bus to Amsterdam. I had researched trains, planes, and buses, and the bus would take 8 hours but only cost 20 euro. Easy decision for me! The bus ride was actually quite nice…after spending so many hours on my feet the last few days, it was great to sit still in one place for a few hours. We stopped in Gent and Antwerp in Belgium along the way, and arrived in Amsterdam on time!

Until next time, Paris!!

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Paris: The City of Light

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“But Paris was a very old city and we were young and nothing was simple there, not even poverty, nor sudden money, nor the moonlight, nor right and wrong nor the breathing of someone who lay beside you in the moonlight.” -Ernest Hemingway

Paris has surprised in me the best way possible. Before arriving here, I had several American friends warn me that the French were rude and generally do not like Americans. However, I have found this to be far from the truth! In fact, one nice man helped me with my backpack on the subway and another lady has walked me to a subway stop I was having trouble finding. Everyone I have met has been extremely friendly and welcoming. This is simply an added bonus, as I was already so excited to finally visit Paris and experience all it has to offer. I am loving Paris, the City of Light! I have already booked an extra night here (but just one night as the city is so expensive…even more expensive than NYC, if that’s even believable! SO far, I have paid the equivalent of $11 for a beer and $9 for a plain coffee here…yikes!)

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Sacre Cour… It was 6 euro to climb to the top but at least it was free to enter!

I arrived Saturday night at the airport in Beauvais (which I learned is like the Newark airport of Paris! haha) The airport transfer required a 1 hour bus ride into Paris. My phone had died by this point (as well as my portable charger…ugh!), but fortunately I had written down directions via the subway to my hostel in my notebook based on the maps Nat had sent me (thanks again, Nat!) I drifted off to sleep on the bus, but randomly woke up just in time to see the lights of the Eiffel Tower over the horizon on the highway as we came into the city. I felt the same thing I felt the first time I saw the skyline of Manhattan from an airplane…sheer excitement!

The subways were easy to navigate, and I found my way into the city from Porte Maillot. After accidentally wandering into an abandoned building I thought was my hostel (oops!), I found my way into my hostel and settled into the smallest room I have rented so far. Despite the tight space, I was happy to find my bed on the top bunk has a beautiful skylight right over it. So, I drifted off looking at the few stars that I could see from here.

I woke up early the next morning to meet my good friend Jess from NYC at the Palace of Versailles, which is about an hour subway ride outside of Paris. Jess is one of my closest friends in NYC and happened to be traveling through Paris at the same time I was. I was so excited to see her and catch up on everything that has happened in both of our lives since I left the city 2 months ago. We planned to meet at our guided tour at Versailles, but by a stroke of serendipity, we ran into each other at a random subway station underground!! After a lot of shrieking, hugging, and catching up, we were on our way to Versailles, along with her brother and his girlfriend with whom she is traveling.image

Visiting Versailles was truly a childhood dream come true for me. When I was 9, my mom took me to an exhibit of Versailles artifacts that happened to be traveling through Jackson, Mississippi.image Ever since then, I have wanted to see this place in person, and it happened on Sunday! We booked a general admission ticket for 25 euro, as well as a guided tour in English of the King’s private chambers for 7 euro. This was money well spent, as we saw and learned so much during the day!

imageWhenever I think of Versailles, I always think of the Tolkein quote, “All that is gold does not glitter.” I think this quote applies to just about everything except Versailles, where everything is in fact gold, and it glitters! Versailles became the center of the French kingdom in the late 17th century, when Louis XIV moved the royal court there. Louis XIV was known has the “Sun King” and ruled France for 72 years until 1715. He was the ultimate monarch, and everything in Versailles (and France for that matter) revolved around him and his wishes. On the tour, I learned he even had a ceremony everyday when he got out of bed, called the lever. His ornate bedroom in Versailles faced the rising sun, and he woke up with great fanfare to a crowd of attendants each day. He gives a new meaning to Beyonce’s expression, “I woke up like this!” He also had a crowd that watched every meal he ate in the dining room…I find this to be quite awkward, but he was really into himself so it worked for him!

Versailles was inherited by Louis XV and then Louis XVI, who was married to the famous Marie Antoinette. Marie Antoinette built her own estate within Versailles, which we explored along with the rest of the gardens. This place is the size of the small town, and Jess’s FitBit reported we walked over 8 miles during the day!image

One of my favorite things we saw was the table and room where Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin negotiated the terms of American sovereignty with the British and French following the American Revolution.image.jpeg

After a busy day at Versailles, we grabbed dinner (I had a crepe, a cheese plate, and wine…very French!) and watched France defeat Iceland in the Eurocup semi-finals at bar. The atmosphere was electric!image

This morning, I woke up early once again to meet up with Jess and the crew to visit the Eiffel Tower. I got some good views of the tower, but decided the line was too long today to visit the top as I had plans to meet another friend at the Louvre. After saying goodbye to Jess, I met up with my friend Chris (also from NYC and visiting Paris for the day!) at the Louvre. imageChris and I had a nice, relaxing day wandering around the city, eating amazing food, enjoying good wine, and catching up on all of our news in life!

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A delicious Parisian lunch!

We ultimately wandered upon the Sacre Cour in Montemartre, where we decided to climb the 300 steps to the top of the dome. There was an amazing view of Paris from here!image

As Chris had to catch a train back to London, I said goodbye and explored Montemartre a bit more before heading back toward my hostel. There is so much of Paris I want to see and too little time. One thing about long-term traveling is you have to find time to do mundane things like laundry and buying a new computer charger, so I am going to try to tackle this tomorrow while seeing more of the city. I also booked a ticket to the Louvre on Wednesday and plan to spend the entire day there…stay tuned!

Ireland, Part 3: Who’s Seen the Leprechaun, Say Yeah!!!

My last few days in Ireland have taken me through Dingle, Slea Head, Killarney, Blarney, Cashel, and back to Dublin–and maybe past a few leprechauns! We left Ennis Thursday morning bound for Dingle, after a quick stop in the quaint town of Adare. I was able to walk through the town’s park and grab a coffee before driving on to Dingle.

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I arrived in Dingle, a small fishing village on the westernmost peninsula in Ireland, with a sad yet hilarious story in mind. My friend Michael had visited on a school trip back when he was in elementary school, and was traumatized by the experience. While his teachers sat in the pub drinking, he and his classmates wondered around the town, lost in the rain and left to fend for themselves. No storekeepers or pub owners would give them shelter. Apparently, Michael claimed he never wanted to visit Dingle again after this experience!

 

Ironically, I too found myself wandering around Dingle in the rain–searching for a working ATM, wifi, and a bathroom. It took some time, but I found all 3 eventually! This exercise in travel survival was the highlight of my time in Dingle.

 

After leaving Dingle, we took a drive along Slea Head. We first stopped at some “bee hives” built thousands of years ago. These first served as pagan monasteries, and were then converted to Christian monasteries in later centuries.IMG_0797

 

Further down the peninsula, we stopped at the westernmost point in Ireland, which has been called “the most beautiful place in the universe” by National Geographic. It was extremely beautiful!IMG_0832

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Famine walls along the Dingle Peninsula

 

We then continued along Slea Head to see the island where they filmed the last scene from the most recent Star Wars, as well as some rock formations meant to be a “fertility circle” and vampire graves (I was so confused at this point I forgot to ask more questions). While we walked along, a cold uniquely Irish rainstorm slowly moved in and we all got wet! The archaeological history of the Dingle Peninsula is truly rich and fascinating, and the time we spent here was very special.

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The island behind me is where they filmed the last scene of the most recent Star Wars!

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We then drove on to Killarney as we dried off from the rain. I was very excited to visit Killarney, as this Christmas song from my childhood always comes to mind when I hear the name! Once here, I did a bit of shopping and wandering. We then had a delicious dinner at the Danny Mann pub, which also had amazing live Irish music, and then we continued on to a pub down the street with a great 80s-90s cover band!! Killarney was a lot of craic! 🙂

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Killarney…the most patriotic town in Ireland 🙂

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An Irish Donald Trump impersonator…so much craic!

The next morning, we left for the village of Blarney in County Cork, which is home to the famous Blarney Castle. Of course, my main priority was to kiss the Blarney Stone, but I was blown away by the beauty of the gardens on the grounds of the castle. There were several kept gardens as well as an Irish garden (with all indigenous plants to Ireland) as well as a poison garden! There was also a fern walking path through the woods, and I came across some caves and this beautiful waterfall.IMG_0923.JPG

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IMG_0909Kissing the Blarney Stone was something I’ll remember the rest of my life! Legend holds that kissing the stone will give the kisser the “gift of gab” for 7 years! Back when Queen Elizabeth I of England tried to impose her rule over Ireland in the 16th century (does this seem like a common theme yet?! Geez Britain!), the Lord of Blarney would reply simply with over-the-top flattery instead of a response of submission. Queen Elizabeth then supposedly said, “This is all Blarney, he never means what he says and never does what he promises.” So “blarney” now means excessive flattery!

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Approaching the Blarney Stone!

The stone is located at the top of the castle, and the climb took us through a narrow, winding staircase. Once it was my turn at the top, I laid on my back and leaned off the side of the roof. There is an employee there whose sole job was to hold onto me and others to ensure we didn’t fall! I then grabbed the bars and puckered up for a big kiss!

 

“You’re kissing the wrong stone!” I heard. Shocked, I pushed myself back up and asked for clarification as to which stone was actually the Blarney Stone! “All the way at the bottom,” the man instructed me. I then leaned back down for a second try, dangling even further off the side, and successfully got the Blarney Stone on the second try!IMG_0898

 

On the way back to Dublin, we stopped at the Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary. Sadly, this was the site of a brutal massacre by British forces in 1647. We were unfortunately unable to see the outside of the structure as it was covered by scaffolding.

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Tonight is my last night in Dublin, and tomorrow I say goodbye to Ireland and fly to France for the next leg of my Europe travels!
So, for the burning question–what exactly are leprechauns? Screenshot 2016-07-01 at 8.56.39 PM.png

I learned from my awesome tour guide that leprechauns are creatures that have been shunned from both the fairy and human worlds (I discussed the fairies a bit in the last post–apparently they are not like Tinkerbell and are quite mean and unattractive!) Leprechauns serve as bankers for the fairies, which is why they know where the gold is! My tour guide speculated that the legend of the leprechaun most likely started centuries ago when a village banker must have been short and ugly–meaning he must be a leprechaun! I am so relieved I now truly understand what leprechauns are…it is one added bonus to my fantastic trip to Ireland! 🙂

 

Ireland, Part 2: Castles, Countryside, Craic, and Crying (because Irish history is so sad…)

After a weekend full of excitement and festivities, Michael and I slowed the pace down a bit on Monday. Fortunately for me, he and his boyfriend Joe both had the day off from work, so the 3 of us spent a leisurely day around Dublin. After I slept in (still catching up on rest!), we went to Malahide Castle for the afternoon.IMG_0593

Malahide Castle was built in the 12th century and was the family home of the Talbots. The family lived there for 800 years, with the exception of a small period of time after the Battle of the Boyne. The Battle of the Boyne was fought against British invaders led by Oliver Cromwell in 1690, with the British winning and ultimately ruling Ireland until the rebellion in 1916. Sadly, of the 15 Talbot men who had breakfast at Malahide the morning of the battle, only 1 returned to Malahide that evening. The family eventually moved back in and lived here until the 1970s, when they then donated it to the state and the state turned it into a museum.

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The Battle of the Boyne, by Jan Wyck

Michael, Joe, and I had a delicious lunch outdoors in the sunshine, and then walked through the gardens and greenhouses together. I also took an amazing nap in the lush green grass behind the castle! 13522851_10207854936063841_3171298636223746545_o

We then went on a guided tour of the house. My two favorite facts from the tour are the following:

1- This carving of the Virgin Mary mysteriously disappeared once the family left the house following the British invasion, yet reappeared once they took their rightful home back. Some say they simply removed it and took it with them so that Cromwell’s army would not destroy it, but others say it reappeared by magic!IMG_0598

 

2- This tiny door was used by Puck (yes, like A Midsummer Night’s Dream!), the family jester who would entertain parties in the dining hall. One legend says he died of a broken heart after an unrequited love interest in a Talbot lady, and another legend says he hung himself after the family lost the castle following the Battle of the Boyne as he hated the new British tenants so much.IMG_0610

 

After exploring Malahide, we drove down to the fishing village of Howth to pick up some freshly caught fish for dinner. We also grabbed some delicious coffee and desserts while here. It was such a cute part of Dublin and I think I’d want to live here if I ever moved here! IMG_0622On the way back in, we also stopped by Michael’s childhood home just outside of Dublin and the locally-owned grocery store where his brother works…it was so nice to meet more of his family!

The next day, I took a bus into the city center on my own, as Michael was flying to Madrid for work for the rest of the week. The city was not the same without him!! 😦 I am so grateful for his amazing generosity as a host (and for Joe’s hospitality as well…he made me dinner! 🙂 ) I spent the day reading a book (We Are Called to Rise by Laura McBride) and exploring coffee shops and pubs, and went to bed very early.

The next morning, I embarked on a 3-day Shamrocker tour of the southern countryside of Ireland. The trip got off to an exciting start when our bus broke down!IMG_0668

After an hour, we were on our way again, and our first stop was in the town of Galway. It is Ireland’s third largest city with a population of 70,000! I enjoyed walking around and shopping, and I found a neat souvenir. My bracelets from Zimbabwe had finally broken a while back, so I replaced them with this one. IMG_0673This Celtic symbol is the Four Spirals, and it represents the “goddess” completing her path in life. The large spiral itself is the Goddess, and each of the smaller spirals are the Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone (I’m guessing this means old age!). The center disc is a cauldron where “divine knowledge and inspiration” are brewed. Maybe it is a bit cheesy, but I love what this represents and I feel this trip this summer is very relevant to me completing my own spiral of life. 🙂

After Galway, we made our way to the beautiful Cliffs of Moher, stopping along the way a few times to soak in the breathtaking scenery. The Irish countryside is every bit as stunning as I imagined it would be and more.IMG_0705

IMG_0708IMG_0765IMG_0688IMG_0690Along the way, our tour guide told us more about the history and culture of Ireland, ranging from the light-hearted to tragic. The funniest thing he told us about were “fairy trees.” Often, there is a lone tree in the middle of a field of cattle or sheep. The local farmers are too superstitious to cut the trees down, as the fairies supposedly live in these lone trees and to cut them down is to bring bad luck on yourself! He gave us a few true examples of what happens when you mess with the fairies…I think it’s safe to be cautious! Screenshot 2016-06-30 at 12.52.40 PM.png

 

The saddest thing I learned about had to do with the random walls lining the fields as we drove past. These are known as “famine walls” and were constructed for no reason other than to give starving Irish people a way to “earn” their food during the Potato Famine of the 1840s. People often died while struggling to build these extraneous walls, and the taskmasters forced their kin to bury them in shallow graves as they continued working on these meaningless walls. Screenshot 2016-06-30 at 12.53.46 PM.png

Perhaps the most shocking thing I learned was that the Potato Famine did not occur because of a lack of food. Although the potatoes were blighted, crops such as oats that continued to grow successfully were exported to Britain while the Irish people starved (keep in mind this occurred while Ireland was still occupied by Britain). The population of Ireland dropped 25% during this time, with 1 million Irish people dying from starvation and millions more from trying to immigrate to America, Canada, or Australia (if you left Ireland for Australia at this time, you had a 50-50 shot of surviving the boat trip).
Despite the deep sadness of Irish history, I continue to be impressed by how happy and spirited the people and culture are. Once we arrived in Ennis for the evening after visiting the Cliffs of Moher, our group had dinner together and then visited a pub that had amazing live traditional music! Over half of the group are from South Africa, and I’ve enjoyed re-learning some of the Afrikaans I’ve forgotten since my visit there in December 🙂  I’m looking forward to a few more days traveling around this green and rainy country, and getting into more craic (Gaelic for “fun”) along the way!IMG_0767

Ireland, Part 1: Brexit, Dublin Pride, and Irish Football

 

IMG_0520Even though I am across the Atlantic, I have felt perfectly at home in Baile Atha Cliath (“Dublin Town” in Gaelic). Perhaps it is due to coming away from a rough (but fun!) 3 weeks in South America, but I feel like I have had time to fully recover and enjoy myself here already. And I still have almost a week left here!

I arrived to the Dublin Airport from Madrid Thursday evening–cold, tired, and exhausted. Michael picked me up and immediately began nursing me back to health (he is such a great friend!) I took a long, warm shower (my first real one since Asia!), and Michael gave me an amazing lotion to help with my wind-chapped hands. I turned in to bed around 11pm, right as the sun was going down. In Ireland during the summer, the sun does not set until 11pm and it rises at 5am!

Brexit

The next morning, Michael woke me up with news of the Brexit. I had been watching the vote as I drifted to sleep, and at the time it appeared the UK would stay in the EU. Therefore, I was shocked at the news as I woke up. My initial reaction was fear of the implications for the US–if Britain could vote itself out of the EU at 51% largely due to opinions on immigration, does it mean it is possible for my country to elect Donald Trump along the same line of reasoning? Sadly, I now think the answer is yes. And this horrifies me.

Several conversations I had with Irish citizens throughout the weekend confirmed my fear–there is a strong global right-wing movement that is growing and eroding the foundation of rational, moderate political discourse. One Irish woman I met while shopping said, “Happy Brexit! Welcome to the beginning of the end!” Another man laughed and said it was entertaining to watch the “great empire” crumble on itself (I can understand where his bitter sense of humor comes from, given what I’ve learned (or been reminded) of Irish-British history in the last few days).

The Irish are mainly concerned how the Brexit will affect border controls with Northern Ireland. As it stands now, traveling to Northern Ireland is as simple as crossing the border from Alabama to Georgia. However, now that Ireland remains in the EU with its open borders, and Northern Ireland is part of the UK, the open border policy is likely to change over the next 2 years (for the worse, in the opinion of many Irish), unless some extra agreement is reached. Some Irish believe there could be positive economic development and investment repercussions for them, as Ireland is now the only English-speaking nation in the EU.

Still in shock from the Brexit news, Michael and I went for a traditional Irish breakfast and then for a morning of shopping. We then walked around Dublin for a bit, stopping for ice cream at Murphy’s and for a “pygtail” (cocktail) at Pygmalion. IMG_0248.JPG

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This is the alleyway where Handel first conducted The Messiah. They re-enact it every year here.

We also saw Joe Biden pass by in his motorcade! This was quite funny to me, as I also saw President Obama’s motorcade pass by in Saigon earlier in the summer. As one friend asked, am I following them or are they following me?!

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Uncle Joe passing by in Dublin! BFD!!

Dublin Pride

On Saturday, we woke up bright and early for the Rainbow Run 5K at Dun Laoghaire West Pier along Dublin Bay. The weather could not have been more perfect! I was quite nervous, as this was my first time to really run since the beginning of May and I had a sore knee from my spill in La Paz. However, the race was a lot of fun, and Michael and I both did well! We were also covered in all colors of the rainbow by the very end (which was simply flour with food coloring…haha).13521838_10209382759627559_6600704039503503585_n.jpg13511050_10209382756427479_3700391745242614586_n

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After we cleaned up from our run, we made our way to downtown Dublin to join in the annual Dublin Pride parade. Michael was kind enough to invite me to march with his hiking club–Out and About. This was my the first pride march I have ever participated in, and it was truly an honor to show solidarity with and support for my LGBT friends back in the US and across the world.13521967_10209383025874215_4982384121704861924_n.jpg 

The Pride parade started in 1969 in NYC as a public response to the Stonewall Inn riots, and has expanded to cities across the globe in the decades since. Last year, around the same time the US SCOTUS came out with the decision to legalize same-sex marriage across the country, Ireland became the first nation to legalize same-sex marriage through a constitutional amendment. Several major companies had floats in the parade, including Amazon, Google, LinkedIn, and Accenture. In fact, Accenture was handing out American flags for demonstrators to show support for the victims of the recent Orlando tragedy, and they gladly shared one with me. I was blown away by the amount of Dubliners who came out to show support for the LGBT community along the parade route. There was truly an atmosphere of love and acceptance in the city, and I felt it was one of the most beautiful events I have ever witnessed.IMG_0368

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13517688_10207840293097776_9046839315067913136_o.jpgAlthough the LGBT community has made strides toward equal rights across the world, there is still so much work to be done, especially in the US. In particular, there are 32 states that still do not have fully inclusive LGBT non-discrimination laws. Then, there are some states like Mississippi and North Carolina which have passed actively discriminatory laws toward the LGBT community. Yesterday, I was reminded that we all need to work together to ensure equal rights for all. LGBT issues are not just a “gay community” issue– they are human rights issues. As MLK once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Irish Football

After an amazing dinner at Brasserie 66, I turned in early, exhausted from the activities of the last few days and still recovering from South America! I woke up late on Sunday, put on my newly purchased Irish football pullover, and headed to the pub with Michael to cheer on “the boys in green” in their Euro Cup match against France.

I now truly understand European “football” (aka soccer for those who speak American!). To me, it is most comparable to college football in the US (or at least, the type I grew up around in the SEC!) Each country in Europe is like a state, and their football/soccer team is their source of pride. If Ireland is like Alabama, then the football team is the Crimson Tide. People post Irish flags outside their houses and cars, much like Alabama fans post pennants in the same way.

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The pub where we watched the game!

The atmosphere in the pub was electric. When Ireland scored their first goal and went up 1-0 on France, the floors shook from the noise and celebration! Unfortunately, Ireland went on to lose the match, but the fun (or “craic” as they call it in Gaelic) continued. This reminded me of Ole Miss football…win or lose, the party continues!

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By the end of the night, we had switched our loyalties to Belgium! hahaha

After another restful night, I am ready to explore Dublin a bit more today, and then the rest of the country later in the week. Ireland is just getting started!

 

From Bolivia to Ireland (via Madrid)

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My three weeks in South America have come to an end, and boy, am I really feeling it. This trip has taken more of a physical toll on me than any trip I’ve taken before in my life. As I left my hostel in downtown La Paz yesterday morning at 5am in the pitch black cold, my bones literally ached.

 

1- For one, the cold there was more extreme and penetrating than anything I imagined. My Uniqlo Ultra Light Down jacket miraculously did the trick (these jackets are literally magical and everyone should buy one!), but just barely. Except for a few warm days early on in Peru, I was bundled from head to toe at every point–and my toes were often sore from coldness on a daily basis!   

 

2- Secondly, Sarah, Rachele, and I exerted ourselves in ways we never have before, and proved to ourselves just how strong we are and can be. Whether it was trekking Rainbow Mountain in a record time at extreme altitudes, exploring Machu Picchu, sleeping on overnight buses, or spending three days in Uyuni without heat in below freezing temperatures, we did it all and had fun doing it.

 

3-Third, our sleep schedules on this trip have been unreal. Almost every day, we have woken up before the hour of 6am, with the earliest wake up call being 1:45am for Rainbow Mountain. This trip has not been about luxury and relaxation–it’s been about pushing ourselves to new personal limits.

 

4- Fourth, I fell down the staircase in our hostel in La Paz on our second night there. No, I had not had anything to drink! The staircase did not have a light and was pitch black, and I fell about 5 steps down hard on my right knee. Some of you may know I already have some issues with my knees when it comes to long distance running, so I am hoping it holds up for my 5k with Michael in Dublin this weekend! As for now, it is still very sore and adding to the overall feeling of being beatdown.

 

5- Fifth, my hands are severely wind-chapped from our time in the wild the last few days, to the point that they are bleeding (gross, I know…sorry!). I even wore gloves the whole time! One of the immigration officers even asked me if I was ok! Again…feeling beatdown.

 

I apologize if it sounds like I am “whinging” (another term I adopted from my favorite Brit, which means “to complain”!). However, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t content to see this portion of the trip come to an end. I am flat out exhausted and in need of recovery! Also, I am incredibly excited to see several friends in Europe across the next few weeks, all while enjoying the warmer weather! Peru and Bolivia definitely hold a special place in my heart, but it wasn’t hard to say goodbye in the same way it was hard for me to say goodbye (for now) to southeast Asia.

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We did what we had to do to stay strong along the way!

My cab driver dropped me off at the airport around 5:30am yesterday in La Paz. He originally said 70 bolivianos when I got in, and then changed his mind to 90 bolivianos at the end. As I was all by myself before dawn in the cab, who was I to argue?! So I paid the higher price, begrudgingly, while saying “no justo.” While I wrote earlier about being happy to bargain lightly and pay up on goods to support the local economy, I do not agree with this style of “negotiation,” which in my mind is clearly not fair negotiation but rather an indication of a driver taking advantage of certain situations.

 

After a brief delay, I was on the plane from La Paz to Santa Cruz, where I went through Bolivian immigration to board my flight to Madrid. This was an intense experience, to say the least. I spoke with no less than 4 people, had my bag emptied, searched and sniffed, and was body scanned before I was stamped out of the country. They are definitely cracking down hard on what leaves the country in Bolivia!

 

The 11 hour flight on Air Europa from Santa Cruz to Madrid had no TV (!), so I finished my current book (Blink by Malcolm Gladwell) and then tried unsuccessfully to get some sleep. We arrived in Madrid just before 5am Madrid time. I had an 8 hour layover in Madrid, and given my current physical condition, thought long and hard about just napping somewhere in the airport. However, I learned my lesson about jet lag the hard way, so I left the airport and explored the city center for a few hours before heading back for my connection to Dublin. The subway system was easy to navigate, and it made me homesick for NYC!

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The Madrid subway was clean, neat, and orderly…I still prefer the NYC subway though!! 🙂

The most exciting part of my day in Madrid was finding a post office to send some items home and lighten my pack a bit. I also ate plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, and enjoyed indulging without fear of getting sick for the first time in 1.5 months. Madrid seems to be a relatively cheap European city, as I purchased a large bowl of strawberries, a large fresh salad, a coffee, and a bottle of water for all under 9 euros! 

 

Instead of just 4 nights as I originally planned, I will now be spending a week and a half in Ireland. Why? Two simple reasons: 1- I feel very drawn to Ireland for some subconscious reason, and 2- My good friend and native Irishman Michael is an excellent salesman of the country, and highly recommended a few tours for me to see the countryside after our weekend in Dublin! Michael and I became good friends when we were on the same tour in Africa last December, and I feel like we are kindred spirits when it comes to traveling. He has been generous enough to offer to host me in Dublin this weekend! I cut down my time in Paris by about a week so I could spend more time in Ireland, and I feel very excited about this decision.
Although I haven’t slept in over 24 hours, I am looking forward to exploring all that Ireland has to offer, and hopefully piecing myself back together from my time in South America along the way!

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