Day 3: Blarney Castle, Cliffs of Moher, & Galway

Day 3, we set off from Cork for our first stop of the day: Blarney Castle.

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We got here early and were some of the first people in, so naturally we raced to beat the soon-coming crowds at the lineup to kiss the Blarney Stone. After a short climb up a very narrow spiral staircase, and a short wait, I kissed the stone! Kissing the stone itself was an odd experience – you have to lay down and then lean far, far back, while a guy supports you and makes sure you don’t fall to your doom. But according to legend, I now possess the gift of the gab, so it was worth it.

After kissing the stone, we spent some time exploring the castle and grounds, which were quite lovely. The grounds included a poison garden, caves, the old dungeon, and a fern garden with its own waterfall.

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Next up was the drive to the Cliffs of Moher, which were seriously awesome. They’re the ones that appear on so many the desktop backgrounds and Ireland travel pictures, and you know they’re going to be good, but you don’t expect how incredible they are in real life. We only had two hours there; some of our group went on to the gift shop and cafe after seeing the cliffs, but I literally couldn’t take my eyes off them. They were seriously so, so beautiful, from all angles. I’d go about ten feet and then stop and admire the new view of them. Had a good, long look, but still could have spent all day there, looking at the cliffs, the way the light hit them, the sea birds circling around, and the waves crashing below.

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We finished off the evening by driving on to Galway. Here we had a short walking tour from our guide before splitting off for dinner. Our whole group met up again later that night to enjoy more live music and drinks at one of Galway’s many lively pubs.

 

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Day 2: Kilkenny, Middleton, & Cork

Day 2 was the first day with our entire Contiki group, and we headed out early from Dublin.

First stop of the day was Kilkenny, where most of us opted in for the additional bicycle tour. The tour lasted 2 hours and took us all over the cute town of Kilkenny. We visited Kilkenny Castle and saw one of Kilkenny’s famed black cats at St. Canice’s Cathedral.

Kilkenny Castle:

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St. Canice’s Cathedral (black cat visible in the bushes below):

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As well, our tour guide taught us some Gaelic phrases and a traditional Irish song about Molly Malone. Later on, he led us in a rousing chorus of Molly Malone while standing near the city centre; a passer-by mistook us for buskers and put money into our guide’s outstretched cap! It was a hefty few coins, or as our guide put it, “almost enough for a pint!” The bike tour was a really fun and efficient way to get a feel of Kilkenny.

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After the bike tour, we left Kilkenny to move on to Middleton, where I’d opted in for the next activity, a tour of Jameson’s Whiskey Distillery.

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Here we got a thorough explanation of how the whiskey is made, the aging process, and what makes it different from other, non-Irish whiskeys. The tour ended with a whiskey tasting for everybody, and then a bonus whiskey cocktail (Jameson’s, ginger ale, and lime – very refreshing and delicious!) in their Jameson’s bar.

Whiskeys at different stages of the aging process (note how the older & darker it gets, the less remains in the barrel):

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We finished the day by driving on to Cork, where we had dinner and spent a relatively quiet night recovering from our day of adventuring.

Arrival Home & Catch-up time

Have arrived safely home in Canada!

Got in last night, and in my first twenty-four hours home, I have already had a healthy dose of maple syrup (something I sorely missed the past 2 months). I also slept for a whopping 16 hours. I probably would’ve been disappointed if I’d slept for less – if you don’t need that much sleep after returning from travelling, you’re probably not travelling right.

The Contiki trip through Ireland was so fast-paced and jam-packed that I’ve had very little time to blog at all, so it looks like it’s catch up time once again. Will be posting tales from Ireland over the next few days.

So far, I am enjoying the comforts of home…. but already beginning to daydream about what my next trip will be. The travel bug has bitten hard.

Ireland Day 1: Dublin

Saturday was the first day of my Contiki tour of Ireland! I landed in Dublin a day early, and since I wasn’t meeting up with the tour group until dinnertime, I set out for a day of exploring around the city.

I started at Kilmainham Gaol, going on a tour at 9:45. This place was so, so cool. As someone without very much prior knowledge of Irish history, it was a great introduction. The Gaol seems to have been a part of almost every significant event in Ireland’s history, particularly the Great Famine and the rebellions for Irish independence, including the Easter Rising in 1916. The tour guide was fantastic; in addition to telling us the dates and significance of the place, she also shared stories of specific individuals who spent time at and/or died at the Gaol, really bringing the history to life with the stories.

Inside the Kilmainham Gaol. The Gaol has several different wings, based on different ideologies about prisons. This was one of the nicest sections; most of the others were dark, completely enclosed, and intended for almost complete isolation.

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After the Gaol, I decided that, considering I had just a day to explore the city, how much there was that I did want to see, and my ability to get lost practically every time I try to go somewhere, I bought one of those hop on/hop off bus tickets that took me around to all of the top sights. Finally, no more getting lost! It was brilliant.

My next stop was at the National Museum of Ireland – Decorative Arts & History. This museum is in a former military barracks, and it was surprisingly empty; I almost had the entire place to myself.

Panoramic shot of the barracks:

IMG_1173.JPGIt was also free to enter! (Love those free museums). I only spent a couple hours here, but I did really enjoy their exhibit on “Proclaiming a Republic: The 1916 Rising” that explained the Easter Rising of 1916 in a lot more detail. It’s crazy to think that all of this history didn’t happen all that long ago; the 100th anniversary was just celebrated a year ago. On my tour of the Kilmainham Gaol, my tour guide told us that when she was in school, they didn’t really learn about the 1916 rising because it was just too recent, and still too difficult for many people to talk about.

After the National Museum, I went on to see Trinity College. I got briefly lost (of course), but found my way to see the Book of Kells and the Long Room, both of which were beautiful.

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The Long Room also held one of just 12 remaining copies (out of 2500 originals) of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, which was read out at the start of the rising in 1916. My day definitely had an Easter Rising-theme throughout.

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As well, while I was walking around the campus of Trinity College, I had a couple tourists walk up and ask me for directions. Since I had my backpack on, am university-aged, and tend to walk quickly (like I know where I’m going… ha!), I blended right in!

Having run out of time, despite having so much more I wanted to see in Dublin, I took the bus back to my hotel. Unfortunately the hop on/hop off didn’t go near my hotel, so I had to take a city bus… and promptly got lost for about an hour and a half. In the end, I made it to my group dinner just ten minutes late.

We had dinner, got to know each other a bit, and then our guide led us into the city for a bit of a walking tour. We finished off the evening in the Old Storehouse Bar & Restaurant, in the Temple Bar area, where we listened to live music and enjoyed Irish beers for the rest of the evening. The live music that night was really amazing, a mix of traditional Irish tunes and more modern music, and the atmosphere in the pub was incredible.

IMG_1334.JPGMuch of the crowd was singing or clapping their hands along with the music, which seemed to be encouraged, and it was so much fun to join in with the whole pub loving the music.

 

We’re All From Everywhere

Today is my last day in England; currently I’m sitting in the airport waiting for my flight to Dublin. I’m happy to be moving on to the next leg of my journey but am going to really miss the friends I have made at the UEA’s international summer school.

Over the past month, I’ve met and become friends with people from Australia, Mexico, Serbia, China, Uruguay, Brazil, Turkey, Morocco, Spain, Thailand, Russia, Poland, USA, Slovakia, and more. My biggest takeaway from this experience, of living, hanging out, and studying with people from all over the world, has been how similar we all are. Despite coming from different countries, having cultural and sometimes language barriers between us, what I’ve learned is that if you talk to anybody for long enough, you can find something in common with them. Maybe you both love history. Maybe you share a passion for late-night comedy shows. Maybe you’ve both travelled to the same country. Maybe you’re just both travellers. Maybe it’s something as simple as both liking chocolate. But there’s always something, no matter where you are from or how different you may initially think you are.

It makes me think back to the first day in Norwich, when we had afternoon tea at the cathedral. Our table got into some serious tea-time discussions about the world and its people. As one of the student ambassadors sitting at my table pointed out, we’re really all from everywhere. People have moved around the world and mixed so much that there’s really nobody who’s solely from one country. For example, look at me – as my friend Mary pointed out that day, my name, Caelan, isn’t a very typical Canadian name. It’s actually Gaelic. My family’s heritage on my dad’s side, when you go far back enough, is Irish, Scottish, English, French, and German, and my mother’s parents were both immigrants to Canada from Holland in the 1950’s.

And it’s like that whether you look at individuals or at countries. Learning about English history for the past month has been really eye opening for me, because what I didn’t realize is that England is in so many ways a country of immigrants. In my head it was always a body of English people, but in reality, there were Celts, there were Romans for a while, there were Britons, and then Anglo-Saxons came, and then Vikings, and then the Norman Conquest happened in 1066 and took over the united kingdom of England, and England was ruled by Normans for  a while…. and so on.

Looking at the world this way – not as separate bodies, but as inextricably linked by their histories and their peoples – many things that happen in the world start to seem strange. International conflicts. Isolationism. Because these actions aren’t just “protecting X country’s people” or “fighting Y country’s people”…  Country X has people from X, and Y, and also W and V and Z countries. And so does country Y. No country is ever, or can ever be, completely separate from the rest.

The world is big, but the connections are vast.

Thanks to UEA and my experiences here for helping to teach me this lesson.

-Caelan