Happy May! Even as I am buried in outlining for final exams, recovering from strep throat, and preparing for a summer abroad in Uganda (!), I find myself reminiscing hard about this week last year–when I left NYC for 3.5 months backpacking around the world!
As part of my frolic down memory lane (and exam procrastination…) I’ve put together my top ten list of A Southern Yankee Abroad posts from last summer. Enjoy! ❤
#2- Being lost on the back of a motorcycle in the rain surrounded by people who don’t speak English in Ho Chi Minh City is a memory I could never have planned, but will always treasure. Adventures in Saigon
#1 – I turned 27 years old on top of a rainbow in Peru…literally! This trek up Vinicunca Mountain with Sarah, Rachele, our guide Abel, and Rainbow the dog was the highlight of the entire summer. A Birthday Trek to Vinicunca Mountain
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.
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.
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!
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.
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! 🙂
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.
Kissing 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!
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!
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.
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?
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! 🙂
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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! On 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!
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. This 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.
Along 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!
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.
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!
Even 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!
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.
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?!
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).
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.
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.
Although 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.”
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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!
Hi, I’m Gracie, a 28 year old New Yorker, native Alabamian, law student, and lover of travel. I’m excited to share my journey with you.
I started this blog to encourage and inspire people to travel, no matter their age, background, or prior travel experience. I left the US for the first time just a few years ago, and recently I’ve had the opportunity to travel across 5 different continents–just me and and my trusty backpack! I hope the information and stories I share will help readers travel with confidence and purpose. I also look forward to using this blog to share my thoughts about current events within the US and around the world in an effort to promote dialogue and understanding across the political spectrum.
“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.” – Sylvia Plath