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:

Education, Shmeducation

So after my first full week of attending class at this prestigious Irish university (just for the record, NUI apparently has the reputation of a low level state school here ... ) I figured I could write a little bit about their education system.

There's two different ways to look at class here ... either you think the Irish kids are really self motivated or they are complete slackers.  Class is optional bordering on pointless.  The professors are fully aware, and make it fully aware to you that they are fully aware, that no one goes to class.  That being the case, the class is almost entirely independent study; meaning that the teacher tells you that you have to read, and that the content of the lecture is essentially pointless.  

Reading is also an adventure at best; a disaster at worst.  The teachers of two of my classes, furthering the pointlessness of having a class or structure for that matter at all, assigned ... 40 textbooks .. at least.  They told us to "find a few that we like and read them" and to "pick and choose." 

SO it sounds like I'm criticizing this method, and sure yea in the first few classes I was like "what the hell?"  But, after going to class a few more times (don't worry mom) I realized that this is exactly the kind of school that college should be.  It's professors telling you that your assignment, for the semester, is to learn ... just to learn about basically anything that has to do with the subject.  There's no teaching for a test, or memorizing facts from a textbook.  

I guess it helps my understanding and appreciation that I only have to get a C minus in the classes but still.  The idea that college is a time to choose something that you like and just study it, on your own, with guidance if wanted, is pretty cool.  (Also for reference kids here only study one thing their whole time at university)

Also one the cool aspects of coming over here to study is the history that is embedded in European culture.  For example, I'm taking two Medieval History classes (500-950, 1250-1500; cool right?)  Anyway, in the States, these classes would be fairly boring, memorization of facts etc... that no one really cares about.  Here, on the other hand, this history of like 1000-1500 years ago is very personal to them.  It is weird frankly.  They still are pissed at the British, not like Gordon Brown, they're pissed at King William.  They still think of modern day Germans as barbarian invaders (seriously, my one teacher was ripping on Germans; thats another thing, they are very very openly racist, by that i mean they heavily embrace stereotypes, and are willing to use them freely)  Basically, listening to them teach Medieval History is hearing them tell and argue about and decide what their own history is.  Really pretty a cool experience.

Additionally, things are happening in the present day.  The continued consolidation and unification of the European Union is mentioned in every class (yes, even Medieval History; its all connected).  I never realized how much like .. well a country the EU is becoming.  The Lisbon Treaty just got rejected by one country (You got it ... Ireland) so now it has to be completely renegotiated.  Basically the treaty would have unified the police, the economies, and a bunch of other stuff of all EU states under the EU.  It essentially made them one country.  SO anyway, everyone apparently who is smart in Ireland is pissed that they rejected it, because apparently everyone wants unification.  Basically where I'm going with this is that this kind of fairly important stuff is happening now and teachers are very open to talking about it in class and forming their classes around it.  (it helps that i'm taking economics of the European Union, I guess)

Anyway, overall I'm excited about the semester.  The relative unimportance of the classes will help out my travel plans, as will only having class MTW.  That said, I'm looking forward to doing some nice learning without worrying about grades at all, especially in this system that seems to encourage actual substantive learning and not just test taking.

Expect an update here with some pics of the University.  I've resisted looking like the visiting student I am by not taking pictures around the campus just yet; I'll relent soon.

(Also I would have like to have been posting about the birds superbowl birth; but instead I'll just say I'm looking forward to spring training.  Go phils.)



Here are the long promised pictures (Only of the old quad, for now)

Friday, January 16, 2009


Random Thoughts and Info about Random Things

The city

Galway sits on the Galway bay and is cut in half by the river Corrib.  The town center, on the left bank, is basically 8 blocks or so of medieval pedestrian only streets.  My apartment sits one block off this main drag, which goes from the river in the north to Eyre Square in the south.  Along those 8 blocks are about 30 pubs or so, dozens of restaurants and the rest is all shops and stores.  On the other bank of the river is NUI’s campus, about a 20 minutes walk from my apartment.  Anyway, the city is great; its exactly the kind of small city that I've always wanted to live in - you can walk anywhere and everywhere, and it's really got the feeling of a small village in terms of the atmosphere etc...  From the friendliness and openness of the locals in the pub, to the open air farmers market at the church, it really is a great place.   I guess calling it a city compared to philly or something is wrong, since its only about 80,000 people I think, but still its a great to be.

The drinking

First of all, it is quite a part of Irish culture, at least as far as I’ve seen it.  Never before have I seen so many people out every night, and not only that but people of every single age, and … well that’s basically the most diversity you get here, but you get the point.  What I like about the culture here a lot more than in the states is that drinking isn’t the thing to do … its just well … assumed that you will do it.   The things to do are ridiculous amounts of live music … 7 nights a week, usually twice a night, at every single pub; Irish dancing at basically every single bar every night (wait for a more detailed post on the Irish dancing scene till next week when I hopefully build up enough courage to get out on the floor); and the best thing is how pubs are actually just the center of life around here.  Everyone from the city is in one and every single one of them will gladly talk to you if you want or even really if you don’t.  The stereotypical friendliness of the Irish really is quite true; whether it’s the culture or the drinking ... or I guess both are the same.

 The weather

So it really is true what they say about the Irish weather.  I can’t whether I like it or not to be honest with you.  On the plus side, it never really gets too cold; however it also never really gets warm … at all.  40-45 degrees is the high and the low pretty much every day.  It rains, a lot; but the rain here isn’t really rain, its more of like a cool mist that barely gets you wet at all.  Personally, its my favorite type of rain to be honest with you.  Also, as I mentioned earlier, the sun is up for maybe around 8 hours at the most, which can get kind of depressing at some times.  However, on the plus side I hear that around May that the sun is out for 12-14 hours a day or something like that.  I guess that’s what you get this far from the equator.  (For some reason I always seem to think that Ireland is right there at like New York City or something, but its actually on the same line as like the Hudson bay in Canada…)  So anyway, that should be another interesting experience.

A slideshow of a few pubs:

A quick slideshow with some shots of the city during the day:


Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Troubles...

So for many, especially in this part of the world, "the Troubles" would refer to the armed conflict in Northern Ireland between the nationalists, the IRA for example who all sought a united Ireland, and the royalists, Northern Irish military and those who wished to remain a part of the British empire.  Ironically, "the Troubles" could also refer to some of my first few days here.

It started Wednesday night, the day after the arrived.  Some of my friends and I spent a long night in the pubs, perhaps a little overzealous at taking advantage of the Irish lifestyle.  

We ended up back at our apartments, having one of those great "getting to know each other" chats that I miss so much from freshmen year in college, and just as always happens, by the time we exhausted the usual topics (or just as we finished up with politics) we noticed that the time was right around 8 am in the morning.  Obviously we did just about everything that people say not to do to adjust to the jet lag, but looking back it was probably worth it.

Anyway, we made the decision that since we had orientation for school at 9 am, we should take the long way to campus and watch the sunrise over the bay at the docks.  Again in retrospect, I like the pictures that I got, but I doubt it was a good idea given what happened after.

To make a long story short, I fell asleep after orientation and woke up to what I thought felt like the worst hangover I've ever had.  In reality it was probably only half a bad a hangover, and and half a pretty bad sickness that apparently the rest of my family got a few days before me.  So basically I spent the next 24 hours straight in bed.  I missed all of my class orientation the next two days, which has contributed to my being relatively clueless about anything that is going on in school.  There's no reason to go into any detail here, but suffice to say it was a rough few days, and I don't think continuing to go out after the first night was a good way to treat myself.  It definitely made my first week rougher than it had to be, but I'm over it now, and back to having a lot of fun.You can decide if the sunrise pictures were worth the 24 hours or so of suffering.


Thursday, January 8, 2009

Arriving etc.

So since it took me a good while to start writing this, I'm going to separate the posts to do about 3 days or so recap for each one.

Traveling to Ireland couldn't have been easier.  I left Newark on a direct 6-hour flight into Shannon, about an hour and a half south of Galway.  I wasn't really ready for the schedule of the Irish winter, though, with sunrise not until around 8 am.  So basically we flew in under complete darkness, which really ruined my plan for a nice aerial arrival shot from the plane.  The rose quickly though, already up in the sky by the time we emerged from the airport.  
The bus ride to Galway showed off some of the great country scenery that you would expect in Ireland.  The road north runs right along the west coast of the island, and with the sun still low in the morning sky, the countryside looked very picturesque.  One of the things that I've noticed about the landscape (and will try to show in pictures) is the bright colors of the country in person.  The grass is a very lush bright green, and the water a very deep dark blue.  The countryside really does look like a stereotypical postcard of from Ireland; sheep and cows roam the side of the road, separated by centuries old low limestone walls.  We passed in and out of small villages along the way, as the much maligned Irish highway system still passes through the direct center of all the towns that line the way between the big cities.

I arrived in Galway at 10 am local time, half a mile from my apartment, and decided to save myself the 10 euro for a taxi and do a little exploring on foot while looking for my building (Attempting to save Euros has become a fairly constant theme of my time here).  The walk to Niland house, my home for the next 5 months, took me right through Eyre square, the grassy quad right in the middle of downtown Galway, and a very scenic part of the city.

Niland House is ... adequate at best.  The location cannot be matched; it sits one block east of the city center and one block west of the wharf and the bar.  The amenities on the other hand are .. interesting to say the least.  Our hot water works occasionally, provided you turn on the hot water heater at exactly the right time (10 minutes before you intend to get in) and get out of the shower in about 5.  For anyone who is familiar with my love of showers, this has really been rough going.  Our heat didn't work the first few days, apparently because the landlord, Oliver, simply forgot to turn on the utilities before we got there, so the first few nights were pretty cold.  Adding to the cold temps is the fact that the window of my bedroom doesn't close, which in addition to making my sleeps cold (which i actually like) also allows me to hear every thing that is happening on the city street below (drunk irishmen at 5 am on the other hand can get annoying).  Our "wireless broadband internet" is actually just one internet hook-up, which i really wouldn't mind, but we're pretty sure that Oliver has just paid for one hookup for the whole building and has split it between 30 apartments or so,  resulting in some of the slowest internet I have used that isn't dial-up.  Our "satellite tv," is wild.  It gets about 3-8 channels depending on the day, and is controlled with 3 buttons on the tv that somehow, in certain combinations, control every function.  We have yet to figure most out, though we did just discover how to change the channel a few days ago.  Our washer and dryer is, not are.  That is apparently they are both the same thing, but as of yet we haven't figured out how to dry things with it.  I plan on not doing laundry since I've heard that even when the dryer "works" it doesn't work.  Our stove has one working burner and the oven presumably works but the dials have worn away their markings, rendering it relatively useless (Oliver has told one of my roommates that we just need to use "intuition," which though true is a pretty bold thing to say).   Anyway enough of complaining about the place; I actually really like the place and couldn't be happier.  The location saves us 10 euro a night easily taking taxis into town, and the 3 extra pints that buys a night is worth the troubles.

A word on Oliver Niland - He is apparently one of the richest men on the west coast of Ireland, presumably from family money because he really doesn't have great organizational skills.  He neglected to separate all the visiting students (his main tenant) before we all got here which resulted in him first asking us to do it ourselves, and then when that didn't work in him moving people around constantly for about 4 days or so.  Luckily I wasn't one of the ones who got moved into several apartments, but I know some who still have the threat of moving 10 days after move-in.   

Here are some photos of the place - 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom, 4 person apartment, really all that I could have asked for.  My roommates are all great, which is really what I worried about the most.



(for reference, if you want to sound like a local, "cheers" roughly rhymes with "hers")

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Dia Duit

Hello all, 

or as I suppose we're supposed to say here, "Dia Duit," but no one really says that at all.

So it took me a good ten days to decide to start my travel blog, but I finally relented.  It was the point where my mom started sending me links to other people's "study abroad" blogs that I realized it was time.  (Yes I was reminded of the incomperable "Ryandia," where I stole the inspiration for my title; I will try to live up to the precedent)  Anyway the blog will really be for my own benefit mostly; to keep track of everything that I've done.  I was going to do a written journal, but as this is the digital age and I'm left handed which smudges my writing I've gone the blog route.  (There are far too many pints to be had over here for me to remember myself, trust me)  I will try to update fairly often, hopefully more often than anyone checks, but we'll see how it goes.  For the record or for those who don't exactly know, I'm living in Galway, Ireland, on the far western coast and spending the next 5 month studying at the National University here.  I'll post more about both later.

Anyway, I hope you all enjoy.  Please don't expect much, of the writing or the picture, but I'll do my best.



(We, and the locals, actually do say that ... constantly)