"The core of man's spirit comes from new experiences."

Monday, December 20, 2010

"We'll always have Paris"

I know it has been a while since I last wrote but I have been running around like a crazy person doing papers and tests and trying to see everyone one last time and taking in everything as much as humanly possible. But now I am back home in the states, without a car, or money, and an injured foot.. so I have nothing but time :)

So the weekend after Thanksgiving, Matt and I decided to take a trip to Paris. I had been wanting to go to Paris probablyyy since I started learning French in 4th grade, and was even all set up to go my senior year of high school but it didn't end up working out. So Paris has always been this distant dream and now it was becoming a reality! I could NOT wait! Tour Eiffel! Baguettes! Stinky French Cheese! Mona Lisa! 

So our plane touched down and the first thing I saw were the golden arches of McDonalds! Really?! It was not my French dream, but it turns out the airport was about 1 1/2 hours from the city, so it wasn't my first view of Paris

Anyway, we had a night flight and didn't arrive into the city until around 1 am. Then we had to hop on the metro, which I was kinda concerned about since I had visions of the T in Boston at 1 am and it's the sketchiest people in the city in one designated area.. but the Paris metro was packed! It could've been any time of day. We found the metro really easy to navigate too. We had to walk down some creepy dark alley with black hooded figures in French Chinatown to get to our hostel though. I don't think I could've walked any faster! Then we found our hostel, which apparently is a nightclub/bar at night, so we were very confused when we were met with a bouncer when we tried to check in. We made it up to our room and crashed. 

So the highlights of our trip:

Notre Dame Cathedral
The Alter inside the Cathedral
The back of the Cathedral
  

Gargoyle/View on top of Notre Dame
View of Paris from atop Notre Dame
The Bell of Notre Dame
  
Notre Dame Cathedral: 
I walked around with my jaw dropped. I have never seen anything so big or felt so humbled. I couldn't even begin to imagine how it was built so long ago! We were also able to climb to the top of the towers and look out across the entire city. It was amazing how far we could see! Amazing views of the Eiffel Tour! It hadn't really hit me yet that I was in Paris... sometimes it takes a day to really sink in. But standing 228 feet above the city made it sink in pretty quick. 





Le Tour Eiffel:
We went up at night, and I was getting sweaty palms as I looked down at the ground and became further and further away from it. But once we got to the top and looked over the City of Lights, it was impossible to not become captivated by the beauty. We went to eat at a restaurant right next to the Tower, "La Brasserie Tour Eiffel", and had the most amazing chocolate mousse cake!
L'Arc de Triomphe

Under the Arc

View of Tour Eiffel from on top the Arc

Matt and me on top of the Arc

L'Arc de Triomphe:
The sheer size of the Arc was incredible. It's the second largest triumphal arch in existence! I think its about 100 feet high or so, and we climbed up to the top of that as well. The Arc is the meeting points of various streets that stem off from it, making a star-like shape, or "L'etoile", so we could see every street stretching from the point, including the Champs-Elysees. 

Le Musee du Louvre


Mona Lisa

Egpytian Art

Egpytian Tomb

Palais du Louvre

The Louvre
Probably my favorite part of our trip to Paris. The Louvre was, well, overwhelming at first. It is enormous! It used to be a Palace, so the architecture and decoration of the building itself were extremely detailed and beautiful, not to mention the artwork covering the walls, the ceilings and scattered about the room. We saw ancient Roman artifacts, hundreds of sculptures, French, Italian, and Spanish paintings (way too many Jesus paintings, if you ask me), and my favorite, the Egypt exhibit. They must have had the entire Egyptian civilization and all their tools and relics in the museum! They had tomb stones, huge slabs of rock with hieroglyphics that were all translated, jewelery, pottery, sculptures, and tools. The amount of Egyptian items they had and the condition they were in were amazing. We also saw the Crowned Jewels of Louis the something.. and, of course, the Mona Lisa.. which I actually wasn't that impressed by. I don't understand why it's so famous?

Musee D'Orsay
Also one of my favorite parts. The Musee D'Orsay used to be a train station, but it was turned into a museum and housed the best of the best French impressionist artwork. Monet, Manet, Renoir, Degas, Van Gogh! The Van Gogh exhibit was huge and was definitely my favorite part of the museum.


Versailles

The Gates of Versailles

The Palace

The back of the Palace

The Gardens

Vicious Swan that was attacking other swans

The Gardens

Versailles
On our "last" day in Paris (our flight was cancelled, so we had an extra day), we decided to go to the Palace of Versailles. It was a little bit out of the city, but we took a train and were there in about an hour. It had just snowed the night before, so there was a layer of white covering everything, making it really beautiful. There was no line when we got there, which we figured was because we got there a little on the early side. But we walked around the perimeter for almost twenty minutes before we saw the huge sign saying "CLOSED MONDAYS" (ps it was Monday). Soooo we weren't actually able to go inside, but we got to walk around the gardens and the outside of the Palace, which was still amazing.

Alter at Sainte Denis

Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI's tomb

Dead people


The exterior of the Basilica

Basilique de Sainte-Denis
Since we had an unexpected extra day we decided to go to the Basilique Sainte-Denis, which I hadn't even heard of but I'm really glad we went. It has a Royal Necropolis of all the past rulers of France, including the tomb of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. The heart of Louis XVII was on display, which was kinda gross, but also cool :) The church itself was a really beautiful, gothic-style Cathedral, similar to Notre Dame but smaller. Napoleon wanted to make it a national monument to the Kings and Queens of France.


We saw a lot more, but those were the main highlights, along with chocolat chaud, crepes, and the joy of wandering the streets of Paris :)


Le Tour Eiffel, all lit up

L'Opera

La Seine

Place de la Concorde

Aux Champs Elysees :)

Under Le Tour Eiffel

Le Grand Palais

Oscar de la Renta doll inside Le Petit Palais

Le Petit Palais

L'Opera

L'Opera

L'Opera
 Paris, je t'aime.

Friday, November 19, 2010

In the Hills of County Kerry!

Last weekend, I went to one of the most scenic areas in all of Ireland: The Ring of Kerry

The Skelligs off the Coast



The weekend started with a long bus ride. I went with Matt, and my friends, Christina, Sarah, and Allie. We were with a big group of mostly Americans from the University of Cork. 

We first visited a small village called the Kerry Bog Village. A good portion of County Kerry is covered with bog land. The Kerry Bog Village has replicas of houses that existed in 18th Century Ireland. There's an old blacksmith forge, a turf cutters house, a stable dwelling, and a dairy house. In addition to the houses were a few animals. First were the Kerry Bog ponies, which are particular to the Kerry region. They're pretty small and were used to transport peat from the bogs to the roadside. The other unique animals were the Irish Wolfhounds. They were enormous! They were the size of greyhounds, maybe bigger.
Brendan, the Irish Wolfhound with his owner and breeder Frank Winters (who is 6'1
Irish Wolfhound (I got this off Google..)

As we were leaving the village, the dogs got out and tore a cat to shreds! Comet wouldn't last in that village haha.

We made our way to the hotel and had dinner. Following dinner, we had a local come in and talk about her upbringing in Kerry. She grew up on a farm and didn't have electricity until her teens. She said they neighbors would come and tell ghost stories or they would play music and dance for entertainment. A large part of her life was digging up turf, or peat bricks, from the bog. She thought it was hilarious that her form of a chore, people now pay to do for the experience..."A Day in the Bog".
After the speaker was one of the major highlights of the trip: Céilí Dancing Class.
Our trip leader described Céilí dancing (pronounced kay-lee)  as Irish speed dating, in a sense, because it's very much a social dance where you dance with different partners. We learned a few dances like The Walls of Limerick and the Seige of Ennis.  Matt and I are clearly not the most coordinated people but it was so much fun! 

During Céilí  Dancing

The next morning, we took a bus around the Skelling Ring. We saw Valentia Island, the Skelligs, and Ballinskelligs. We saw the spot where the first trans-Atlantic cable reached as well as a monistary, carved out of stone atop a rock about eight miles off the coast. The views were amazing! It was really rainy though, and my boots were far from waterproof, so I was walking around with soggy feet all day. Our tour leader was from the area of Kerry, so she showed us where she grew up. We actually passed her mother's house and saw her brother waving out the window! It's a very small, tight-knit community! We also passed by the Skelling Chocolate Factory, which are really good, expensive chocolates. Unfortunately, the night before, it had caught fire and burnt down. There was still smoke coming off the roof when we drove by. 
We had that afternoon free, so we visited the Daniel O'Connell Church (who was the person who emancipated the Catholics, giving them freedom to practice), and stopped for some Irish Coffee at a local pub before heading back to the hotel. 

After dinner, we had another speaker. A top level GAA football player came and told us about the game of Gaelic football and the culture that surrounds it. He plays for the Kerry football team but has made it to the highest level in on all-Ireland team. Gaelic football is definitely a passion, almost obsession, of the people of Kerry. Every single town in Kerry has two things: a church, and a football field (the latter which he said is more important, but don't tell anyone)

After the football player came and talked to us, we had a table quiz, or trivia night. The questions were all over the place. There were spot prizes in between every few rounds, the first one being the first person to get up and sing a song, in any language, wins a prize. So I sprang up and belted out (nervously) one of my shower favorites, and got to pick a prize, which ended up being lotion! Our team was actually doing really well, and I didn't want to be cocky, but I was pretty sure we were going to win.. at least take second! But we didn't place.. oh well, it was still really fun :)

The next morning, we started the day with about an hour long walk up to the stone forts of Cahersiveen. It was a beautiful morning! There was this big, yellow, shiny thing in the sky that apparently people call the sun! The sky was blue and the landscape was beautiful as ever. We walked through fields, saw mountains, the ocean, lakes, horses, cattle, sheep, and of course, the forts. As we were walking down the road, we saw two big sheep running towards us, followed by two running Irishmen.. it was hilarious!

The forts were really, really well preserved. I really loved visiting them. Plus the view from on top was breathtaking. I wish my camera could capture what the scenery actually looked like, but it didn't even come close. 





After leaving the forts, we visited Daniel O'Connell's house, who led the movement for the freedom of Catholics to practice. His house was really beautiful, but the tour was a bit boring. The lady giving the tour literally outlined every single item in the house. Not exactly the best thing to listen to running on little sleep. Our drive back was mostly mountains. We stopped at a place called the Lady's View, where you could see mountains for miles, and the Atlantic Ocean in the background. Again, just breathtaking.

We arrived at Killarney Bus Station and caught the next bus back to Limerick City. 
This weekend was definitely one of my favorites.

Then on Wednesday, I went on the Mystery Bus Tour. Basically, I paid to go on a bus, having no idea where it was going. There were 400 tickets sold, all of them were UL students. So we got on a bus and two hours later, I was back in Killarney! The student union rented out a club there exclusively for UL students, so that was great craic! I also learner the phrase "well, what's the crack, hey!" which apparently means "what's up?" It was a really fun night though :)

So as some of you may know, Elise is coming to visit during my last week in Ireland, and we planned and amazing trip! We're travelling to Rome, Barcelona, and Paris, then flying into Dublin and getting some quality Irish time :)

Unfortunately, my final exams also fell during that week. Two of my lecturers have given me the option of writing a paper, instead, and the other exam is the first day of our trip, so hopefully we can just cut it short a day! But I will be very, very busy for the rest of the semester!

I cannot believe Thanksgiving is in less than a week! My American friends and I are throwing a traditional American Thanksgiving party for our Irish friends, complete with pilgrim hats and the story of Thanksgiving!

I also have an Irish song recital next week for my Irish music class, which falls on the same day as the biggest drinking day of the semester: an all-day fiasco called Christmas Days. Perhaps I will go after my music final...

Also, Matt and I are going to Paris in one week! I cannot wait!! Ahh so much to do, so little time!

Slán leat!