Monday, March 2, 2009


Monday, February 2, 2009

Summit #1

On the flight over to Shannon, I thought it was really awesome when the plane flew right through a giant white cloud, and I could almost reach out and touch it.  Then I got here, climbed to the top of a mountain and realized it is a lot cooler to walk through a cloud, reach out and touch it.  
The Mountaineering Club took a trip to Connemara on Sunday, and we went along to summit the Maumturk Mountains, which you can see in the all the pictures from my previous post.  We actually went out expecting just to walk around Connemara for a little and soak in some of the scenery; I really did not expect to do any real mountain climbing.  Boy was I wrong.
We had gotten all of the "required" gear together though just in case; I had boots already, and bought some water and wind proof pant ... I felt pretty prepared.  That was until I got there and saw the other members - decked out with one piece mountain suits, huge boots, gaiters, climbing poles, goggles, ski masks, and camel-back packs.  Suddenly we all felt a little under-prepared.  (really this whole trip, especially my experience with clubs, is about being underprepared)
As we neared the foot of the mountain, the winds hit hurricane force, probably about 60 mph, so forceful that the guides initially weren't going to take us to the top.  Our sporting desire got the better of good judgement though and we started the ascent.  Now I at least expected some trail or path to reach the top, but apparently most of the fun of mountain climbing is finding your own way to the top.  As we continued up and hit the rock line, the winds doubled, to the extent that when we got tired we could basically sit up against the wind for a good rest.  
The approach to the summit provided some great views both of the ground below and the numerous mountain top lakes, rivers, crevices, and ravines.  
After about 2 hours or so of climbing we finally reached the pass to the summit and made our way through dangerously strong gusts to the top, where a small pile of limestone rocks marks the highest point of the range.  Up here the view was great, and the winds were greater.  My camera almost flew out of my hands and you could barely hear anything.  After spending as much time up here as we could all stand, we finally made  our way down the other side of the range.
The glory of mountain climbing it seems is the approach to the summit; the hell of mountain climbing is getting back down.  First at the summit we were engulfed by a huge white cloud that flew up and over the peak.  While an awesome experience, it also resulted in our guide getting completely turned around and basically lost.  We made our way down a steep mountain ravine into what seemed like a never ending bog between two of the peaks.  Long story short, we finally made it back to the path at the base of the range, only after adding about 2 or 3 extra miles to the hike.  
The final summit brought us up about 2000 feet or so; not bad for our first one.  I'm really looking forward to our weekend trip in a month or so when we head down to Kerry to summit the tallest peak on the Island, about twice the altitude of the Maumturks, 4000 feet or so.  I'll definitely need to load up on some more gear though for that climb.  Thanks mom and dad.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

County Clare, Ireland

So it's been a week but I've finally remember to do a write up on my trip to County Clare.  The bad is that since its been a week ... I forget most of what i should be writing.  I'll do my best though.

County Clare is south of Galway, on the Southwestern coast of Ireland.  The main stop on the tour is the famous Cliffs of Moher, where the island drops suddenly 1000 feet or so into the Atlantic Ocean.  Quite a sight.  

Contained within County Clare is the Burren, a vast area made entirely of Limestone.  This isn't that unusual, since the whole island is all limestone, however in the Burren, the limestone rises into huge mountains of stone and all the stone is exposed.  

Our trip also took us to the Aliwee caves.  Carved into the mountains of limestone by underwater rivers, the caves were first discovered by a farmer who chased his dog into one.  He continued to explore the entire length of the cave with just a candle and a string, while we learned from our tour guide, managing to break every single possible rule above caves.  Anyway, the reason these caves are so famous (there are many more cave formations in the Burren) is that remains were found in here that are some 3000 years old.  You'll notice one picture in the caves of the tour guide pointing to a hole in the cave floor.  That was where the bone of a European black bear were found.  Apparently the caves had been a hibernation spot for the bears, which haven't existed in Europe for over 2000 years or so.  There is also a underground river which was pretty cool but I didn't manage to get that good of a picture of it (I was in a cave ... )    Perhaps the most memorable part of the tour through the caves was when we reach the deepest point in the cave.  And the tour guide proceeds to turn off the spot light and his own light and asks everyone to turn off all cameras etc...  and you experience complete darkness.  I've never experienced the feeling of having my hand an inch from my eye and not seeing it.  I could feel my pupils dilating, growing bigger and smaller, desperate to find a small fraction of light.  But there is none.  It was remarkable.  And then, in what is probably the most enjoyable part of his job, the tour guide refuses to turn the lights back on.  For a long time.  Until about half the people were freaking out and yelling.  Oh and he also talked about how the only animals in the cave now were bats...    Mom i think we should take that tour when you visit?

So then we made our way to the cliffs.  We weren't allowed out of the bus without the warning that people die here ... alot.  Just a week ago someone fell off.  The combination of extremely high winds coming off the ocean and the desire to get the perfect picture, alot of people get a little greedy ... and a little dead.  SO anyway, don't worry mom i never hoped the barrier.  (Even though in his travel guide, Rick Steves tells you that you should.)  but regardless of how close i got to the edge, it was a pretty incredible sight.  

For anyone who thinks that small castle looks like a nice place to live, you might have a chance at it if your an O'brien.  The O'brien clan built that tower/castle on the edge of the cliff as both a look out but mostly as a way to show off the cliffs.  Anway, i think the pictures here came out well so enjoy them.

Thats all, sorry for the delay.


Good News and Bad News

SO I'll start with the bad news ... which really only my parents will care about.  I'm going broke.  At a very rapid rate.

The good news however ... is why I'm going broke.  I feel like if there is any time for impulse buys its when your young and in a foreign country and when you have parents who won't let you starve (Hopefully)  So with that in mind, I made my first impulse buy over here ... a beautiful dark brown and red Irish mandolin.  For those who don't know ... I have played guitar for about 7 years now maybe, so it makes a little sense.  (Although the mandolin is apparently more like a violin than a guitar...)  But yea I'm pretty excited about it, and I'll have some pictures of it, and me playing it up soon.  I've already got the three songs I posted earlier down and memorized, so feel free to make me play some traditional Irish music for you the next time I see you.  Based on the amount of free time I have here (see post on education...) I'm pretty confident I'll be master by the time I get back stateside.

Also, I love you mom and dad...


So yesterday was the second part of our 2 day bus tour through County Clare and Galway.  

This tour took us through Connemara, a huge tract of undeveloped land north of Galway city that reaches into County Mayo.  I never knew that Ireland had such a large range of terrain, all of which can be seen in Connemara.  Usually you just think of the lowland rolling green hills. (Think ... the shire in Lord of the Rings ... it really feels like that)  But as I'll try to show with my pictures, the countryside goes from the lowland peat bogs and green hills to surprisingly huge mountain ranges, which we managed to see with rare snow-capped peaks.  Snaking through the mountain ranges are innumerable lakes, lochs, rivers, an inland sea, and even a fjord (The only fjord in Ireland! who knew they had these outside of .. what Norway?).  

This tour, much more than the other was about the drive and just experiencing the scenery.  The only real stop on the tour was Kylemore Abbey, a manor house built onto the base of a mountain overlooking a finger of the inland sea.  The house was originally built by an Englishman who lived his whole life there, but upon his death it was sold to Benedictine Nuns, who have run a private, apparently very exclusive, boarding school for girls.  At one point students from 80 countries came here to live and study.  Unfortunately the nuns are getting old, attendance has dropped, and the school will be closing after this school year.  Its a shame, because this place seemed as close to Hogwarts as I'll ever see; we talked about it and we're all fairly certain it might be a school for wizards. (or i suppose witches?)  Its basically a boarding school in a castle built into the side of a mountain overlooking a lake ... miles from any sign of civilization.  I mean c'mon ... thats a wizard school.  

Anyway, the man who owned the estate also built a replica of an English gothic cathedral on the grounds, about a half mile walk from the manor house.  It was a gorgeous church in a great setting ... although it did feel like .. well just a miniature cathedral ... as if like a playhouse, or a play church.   Judge for yourself i guess.

Here is a slideshow of the Connemara scenery; it was very had to translate in pictures ... there was just something about being in unspoiled nature and in such unique terrain.  I swear our tour guide used the word "natural" to describe just about everything we saw or went to, but looking back it was a very fair assessment.  Although i thought it was a bit of a stretch when he called the pub we went to for lunch "natural"...

And here is the slideshow of the Kylemore Abbey and the Gothic Church:

Also, Check out the post on NUI Galway for an update with a little slideshow of the Old Quad at the school.  I'll snap some more pictures around campus eventually, just, as I said, I'm trying not to look like the dumb tourist that I am.

Finally, thanks to all of you who are actually reading this.  I appreciate it.  Maybe we'll get up to double digit followers soon.  Hell, if I hit 10, I'm putting ads in.  I'll definitely need the euros if i keep up my current pace.  

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Yet Another Blow to my Self-Esteem

So the other day at school was "Clubs Day," where all the clubs have tables and try to get the visiting students to join. By the time that I went most had left, but the few that I was interested in were still there. I got my name in for the mountaineering club, the kayaking club, the basketball club, and the cycling club. Eager to get involved, mostly out of boredom, two of my friends and I were excited when the Basketball Club guy told us they would be getting together that night at 8. Jay, Brian and I felt like we could use a little exercise and a little bit of pick-up basketball would be good for us. (Just for reference, the only way you can get into the gym is if your with a club)

So we headed over to the gym a little early, stopped at a pub on the way for a pint or two (as we assumed the locals would too), and arrived to see very few americans. Actually there were very few people period ... about 15 of whom 5 of us were Americans. I was also surprised by the look of the Irish kids; all of them were between 6-4 and 6-6, which i was not expecting. Now we assumed that a lot of visiting students would come out to play some basketball, since its relatively rare over here. I was actually worried that we would have to wait a while to get into a game or something and the night would be a waste.

Well anyway, then a 6-10 guy comes over and introduces himself as the coach, which surprised us a little who didn't expect a lot of structure to this club. He proceeds to ... run us on drills for the next 2 hours. There was about a 10-15 minutes full court 4v4 scrimmage and that was it. We had one on one drills, shooting drills, on ball defense drills; things I haven't done since 8th grade. About 15 minutes in all 3 of us were dragging, not expecting this at all; and naturally our lack of hustle led to ... orders to do push-ups, sit-ups, sprints, suicides. 

After 2 hours of this, our confusion was finally removed as the coach thanked the Americans for coming out and informed us none of us would be making the team. Yes, we apparently tried out for the varsity basketball team here. In crazy Euro talk, a "club" is basically their varsity sport. We had gotten the night wrong, surely along with the 2 other americans who came; the basketball rec time was the next night at 8. Unfortunately we were all too sore the next day to make it to the actual basketball club rec time, but at least I can now say that I got cut from the NUI basketball squad.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Irish Music

Some Samples of Irish Music That are played literally every night in the pubs:

(Also might be covered by my traditional Irish band which might be forming when i buy a mandolin; more on that later)


This is Galway Girl; You might know it from the smash hit movie, Ps I love you. We've heard some great versions of this with completely different words, basically making fun of the movie. "Galway Hooker" is my favorite.

"Dirty Old Town" ; a great sing-along that is played once a night.

"Molly Malone" also a great sing along as you can tell from the video: