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lost_red_balloon


41 Blog Entries
3 Trips
204 Photos

Trips:

I'm a homeless illegal immigrant...?
The European Union
The Oldest City in Germany

Shorthand link:

http://blogabond.com/lost_red_balloon




3 weeks left

Trier, Germany


I have, up until now, never had a problem with the idea of going home. I do love living in Germany, even if there are things about German society and the university system which drive me a little bit crazy, but I’ve always had it in the back of my mind that I would be going back home. A friend of mine studied here last year as well, and came back telling me how wonderful Germany would be for me and how she feels more at home there than back in Texas. She wants to live here. Which is fine – I understand the appeal. But that sense of falling in love with life in Germany never hit me. I feel equally comfortable in Germany and in Austin, but Austin is where my friends are and, frankly, a lot more interesting and eccentric than anywhere in Europe I’ve been.

But now that I only have 3 weeks left here, I’m realizing just how soon I’m going to be getting on that plane. And I’m not ready to go. Every weekend when I call home, my mother asks if I think I’ll be ready to go home at the end of July. Everytime I have answered with “yes,” and explained various things I miss about home, or something I’ve deemed ineffective or unnecessary here, or even just that it’s been a long time since I’ve been home. I’m surprised to feel that answer changing – I was so sure that, despite not being homesick, I would ready and happy to go back when I had to. Now I’m not so sure. I just can’t quite bring myself to start sorting through my clothing and books to see what I should leave, what I should send, and what I should pack. I’m still not done with all of my schoolwork and haven’t written in my journal in ages. All of the things I should be preparing to finish up just aren’t working.

Frankly, I’m nervous that home won’t be as good as the idealic image I’ve had in my head this entire time.

permalink written by  lost_red_balloon on July 4, 2009 from Trier, Germany
from the travel blog: The Oldest City in Germany
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the Land of the Midnight Sun

Oslo, Norway


So our halfway point in our semester is right about when everyone at SU was graduating and/or moving back home. But we just had Pfingstferien (vacation for Pentacost) which is a week long. Tommy went off to Wales to visit Steph, Jill went to Hamburg, Ben went to Paris to meet up with his girlfriend, Rob dropped off the face of the planet (when we finally got ahold of him he was in Dortmund?) etc. So I was pretty much on my own. This really wasn't too bad, though, because everything has been so hectic that a few days of peace and quiet was quite nice. I spent really lazy days reading in bed. I wandered the city, went to a really lame demonstration, and actually went to see the new Star Trek movie by myself, in German (for the record, I think going to the movies by yourself is a really underestimated experience - it's not sad or lonely. It's kind of liberating.)

Then I was off to Norway to meet Tommy and Stephanie again. I arrived a day after them. It was actually rather hectic getting there - I didn't get to pack as much as I wanted the day before, so I had to do that the morning of, go all the way to the bank to withdraw money (which is the opposite direction of Nell's Park from where I live, and Nell's Park is where the bus to Frankfurt Hahn airport picks us up. I don't know why that doesn't happen at the main station...) so had to go all the way to the bus stop, wait, take a bus to the airport, check in, go through security which was more hassle than it should have been (the plastic bag I had put my fluid-y things in was just a smidge too big, apparently) then get on a flight and land in Norway, then (this was the tricky part) find my way from the airport to Oslo which is about 1 hour 45 minutes away. Which meant I had to try to find a bus, in Norwegian, all by myself. I did befriend a German man who teaches in high schools, who helped me out a bit. Good conversation.

Anyway, when I finally got to the main bus station in Oslo, my plan was to withdraw Krona and go straight to the hostel, check in, and meet Stephanie and Tommy there. The ATM wouldn't let me withdraw, though, so I tried to call Stephanie to tell her that I couldn't pay for my hostel and couldn't thus meet them there. I was downstairs and had no service and took the escalator upstairs. As I was disembarking the escalator and still didn't have service, I looked up. Stephanie and Tommy were standing right in front of me looking up at the departure/arrival screens, their heads tilted at a perfectly similar angle.

So we went to the hostel, then went out into the town.

There was one guy at the hostel who we dubbed "our best friend," mostly because he never talked (except to exclaim "shit!" once when he dropped an aerosol can of something) and snored incredibly loudly. He also walked around rather scantily clad. The girl who was there the first night was really nice and had already befriended Tommy and Stephanie a bit. She apparently was in Oslo to interview an ex-Guantanamo detainee.

Overall Oslo was very nice. Very expensive, and very light (it didn't get fully dark until about 12 at night, and was light at 3 or 4). We went to the Viking Ship Museum (which was, I think, the entire reason Stephanie wanted to go at all) which was awesome. These ships have all been dug up from old burial grounds. For rather high-ranking people their bodies were prepared, then put in ships along with anything they might need for the journey to the afterlife, so by finding these, archaeologists actually found a goldmine of information on ancient Viking lifestyles. So it wasn't just ships (which were amazing) but also cooking utensils, boxes, carts, fabrics, agricultural tools, etc.

We also went to the Edvard Munch Museum ("Scream," anyone?) and watched some really bizarre movies about his artwork and a documentary about his life, then went into the exhibit. It was really cool, especially considering what a controversial artist he had been. His art style wasn't widely accepted (and his first exhibit was actually shut down due to criticism) but he refused to change it. He also had social problems relating to a woman he had been having an affair with, and was probably not quite right mentally anyway but was never diagnosed with anything. He had studied at an art institute (in Berlin, maybe?) and was technically very advanced, but he hated the precision that was assumed to go along with great painting. He just saw the world differently and painted it the way he wanted, and was eventually (obviously) considered an acclaimed artist. It was so bizarre to see the Scream in person because I've spent so much time studying it, but I also really really liked his sketchings and etchings. I found them much more moving than most of his other paintings.

Leaving the Munch museum, we actually ran into some of the Japanese students we study with in Trier (which was crazy!) so hung out a while.

We also went to an anti-authoritarian bookstore which was AMAZING. We had an address for it and a name we couldn't pronounce, but when we got to No. 3 Hjelmsgate, we found a bike shop a little bit off the road. Stephanie went into the bike shop and asked if there was still a bookstore, and the guy said it was around back and upstairs. So we walked out behind this rickety-looking building covered in stickers and graffiti, and up some stairs, and found ourselves completely alone in a café of sorts (it was mostly an empty room with a few tables and benches, a table in the corner serving as a bar, and stacks of books everywhere). A girl about our age completely covered in piercings, and heavy eye make-up, dyed black hair, and black leather clothing came out and we asked again for the bookstore, and she got this older man to take us even further upstairs and unlock the bookstore for us. There were stacks of books in all sorts of languages about everything from anarchism in sci-fi works to communist and anarchist ideology, to history books of revolutions, to manuals on revolution (peaceful and violent), noam chomsky books, propagandist pamphlets, etc. There was one book I was tempted to get entirely devoted to a street corner in Hyde Park, London, which has historically been a soapbox corner, I guess. I ended up buying a book entitled "Evasion," which is about a fictional group of people in the United States who choose to live completely outside of any system - squatting in old buildings, stealing out of dumpsters for food and clothing, and essentially living on less than a dollar a day. I haven't finished it yet, but it's thoroughly enjoyable.

There was also a jazz café we went to where we spent ages talking to the guy working there. You could actually listen to the CDs before buying them because they were all kept behind the counter, but the CD players weren't all working so he just played various CDs for us over the PA system, giving us all sorts of recommendations on jazz harpists, folk jazz, widespread jazz, etc. We asked if there was a Norwegian jazz scene, at which his eyes just lit up. He played a CD for us that was a pianist from his hometown in the north who was playing with a Portuguese female singer that was just amazing. There was a group that dug up old Norwegian folk songs and revamped them in a jazz style, and then a Norwegian violinist who does an old film noir kind of sound. We each bought one of these CDs (Tommy took the first, Stephanie the folk songs, and I bought the film noir sound). When we left, the guy bowed.

One thing I thought was really cool about actually being in Norway, though, was seeing the diversity. Wherever we walked people seemed to assume we were Norwegian (I had to refrain from using Norwegian phrases on occasion so people would know we did not actually speak it), but there are so many different ethnic groups. The Scandivanian countries (at least Norway, Sweden, and Finland) have really good social systems (I think Denmark does too, but I'm not entirely sure). Sweden has historically been a prime immigration state because they have such good integration programs, social welfare programs, etc. that make starting a life there much easier. I really enjoyed being amidst such a diverse group of people who were all speaking and cooperating in one language - it was like the normal tension that the US, Germany, France, and many other countries I've now been to tend to have in regards to ethnic minorities getting pushed to the borders of things was simply not an issue here.


PIctures to come soon, for all of my remotely recent posts. Promise.




permalink written by  lost_red_balloon on June 7, 2009 from Oslo, Norway
from the travel blog: The European Union
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Just checking in...

Trier, Germany


It's been a few weeks since I've written. This is mostly because NOTHING HAS HAPPENED. Overall, Trier isn't a terribly exciting place. Don't get me wrong, I love it here. It's really nice to just sit back and get things done without all sorts of other things going on. I'm starting to discover my favorite places to go for various things (I have an ice cream place, a pizzeria, an Italian restaurant, grocery stores, and my all-time favorite bakery with the sweetest women I've ever met).

German universities are still crazy. There is no getting around this. I'm still trying to figure out what I need to do in all of my classes because some students don't need to do research papers, and some do, and some need oral presentations, and some don't, and I have no idea where I fit into all of this. So I've been frantically emailing people at SU trying to make sure everything I'm doing will count for something because, really, if it doesn't, I can't graduate with an international studies degree because I was... ahem... studying. Internationally. Yup. My only other rant along these lines is how ridiculous I think it is that Southwestern wants me to pay $1350 to do my own research in Germany for my capstone. I want to do an Honors capstone, which is a two semester program, and figured that I would be researching in Germany for it anyway (German capstone, German country... it makes sense, right?) and thought it would be nice to get one of the semester's credit for that. Apparently, though, this is not how things work. UGH. I will refrain from the rant that builds up EVERY SINGLE TIME about how much I don't like the money-drive behind education that is building up. I'm watching this develop now in Germany, too, which is big on public education (which means ridiculously low tuitions). I understand that resources cost something for the school - that in general I get very small classes, one-on-one opportunities with professors, good access to other academic resources, etc. but that this all costs money to the school so I'm going to have to pay some. But still, independent research in another country is a completely different thing. I can't afford $1350 for two extra words on my diploma.

ANYWAY, I'm getting through things. My class list for this semester is:

Pictures of Germany in Literature and Film (German as a foreign language course)
French Postcolonial Literature (in French)
Oral Violence
Academic Writing (German as a foreign language course)
Introduction to Political Economics
Art and Archaeology of the Greek World
Intercultural Communication (German as a foreign language course)
Gypsies, Vagabonds, Artists and Bohemians: Border-existence in the literature of 1900

Woot! On top of that I'm researching for my capstone. The theme I'm going with (I have yet to develop a specific research question) is an examination of how the stresses of immigration/integration in Germany are expressed through German language immigrant-based literature. It sounds more eloquent in German.


Um... I went to Paris again last weekend. It was mostly really fun, but I was with a bunch of people who'd never been so a lot of it was stuff I've already kind of seen (e.g. Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, etc.) but the group was entertaining. A bit stressful towards the end, but... well... nothing you can do. I did get to go to this flea market I've been trying to go to for ages now (mostly I tried to go in 2006 with my mother but we got there and it was closed, and I tried last semester and just got lost in Parisien banlieues/ghettos) and I finally made it!! Parts of it are just booths selling knock-offs of brands or cheap-ish clothing, which Rob described as having "fallen off of trucks." The quotation marks were his as well. But you also get some pretty cool stuff. THe area is mainly an immigrant-populated area, so you can get a lot of stuff from Africa, the Middle East, India, etc. that is shipped in or, in the case of more arts-and-crafts-y things, made by the people now living in Paris. It was a lot of fun. I bought a bracelet made out of a fork (it looks better than it sounds, promise).

That's uh... pretty much it. I'll check in later!

permalink written by  lost_red_balloon on May 12, 2009 from Trier, Germany
from the travel blog: The Oldest City in Germany
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First day of class

Trier, Germany


Today was the official first day of class! I don't actually have any classes scheduled for Mondays, but one of the classes I was in as a Seminar also has an Übung portion. The professor had written an email asking (I think) everyone to attend the Monday Übung session so that he only had to do an intro once, I guess. So I went, except that it was completely and utterly overwhelming.

I wasn't on the roster, which ended up being a good thing later anyway. And we had to enter our information (name, age, semester, address, etc.) on a sheet that was passed around the class, and I'm definitely the youngest in there by 3 or 4 years even though my semesters are the same as everybody elses, I think. And we had to pick days to present on certain things, except he didn't give any information on what was expected from the presentations. We have to write a really big 20-25 page paper due in August (after I'm gone) and also do what's called a Zwischenprüfung (which translates to "in-between test"). This Zwischenprüfung I thought was originally a mid-term, except that he described it in a way that makes me think it's really flexible. People actually turn in their essays in August and then realize they never did their Zwischenprüfung. So I have no idea what that is. I couldn't keep up with his lecture (the guy somehow described Chinese history in pretty good detail all the way from a couple thousand years B.C. to the Revolution and involvement in the 2nd World War in about an hour. Speedy talker, that one) nor the discussions in which the students all used these really abstract terms I'd never heard of before. I recognized them as somewhat abstract terms because they all ended in "mus" which is their equivalent to our "ism". Overall it sounds ridiculously and unnecessarily difficult for the workload I'm trying to balance already, so I just went ahead and dropped it.

And that was my first day of class.

I did walk back though with a roommate of mine from Syria, so we spent the whole time comparing winter in Texas to winter in Syria and how much we both want summer to come. It was fun!

permalink written by  lost_red_balloon on April 20, 2009 from Trier, Germany
from the travel blog: The Oldest City in Germany
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Orientation is done!

Trier, Germany


Today was our last day of the Einführungsseminar (orientation seminar). Or, rather, yesterday was - today we had our official Deutsch als Fremdsprache placement test to determine which level of German as a foreign language courses we could take. It was fairly easy, I think, but we'll see on Wednesday when the results get posted.

So classes start on Monday - EECK!!! I'm signed up for way too many right now, which is good in the end. As things get started I will get to pick and choose and drop as I will. I've already received a few emails from one professor who is doing a Seminar course I signed up for. The class sounds really intense anyway, and he wants us to show up to the Übung section on Monday, even if you're just in the Seminar, to get an introduction. I'm also supposed to watch a movie and read stuff for the first day of class...?

I guess I should vaguely explain the system here. Not vaguely because I don't want to go into a detailed rant, but vaguely because that is the best that I know anything.

Classes are split into three main groups: Vorlesung, Seminar, and Übung.

A Vorlesung is basically a strict lecture. The professor talks, the students listen, and everyone leaves. You can, however, sign up for classes that are a Vorlesung with a discussion section, or an übung section, etc. but strict Vorlesungen are also offered. It's one of the easier levels, because the studying and preparing is done independently and people can go at their own pace.

A Seminar is more of what a normal class is for me, I think. It is run by a professor, but people are given long term presentation assignments and expected to participate regularly. Proseminars are like Seminars, but easier.

I think an Übung is one in which you don't even really need a professor because everything is group work. Or something. I never really got a straight answer on that.

So this class I"m getting emails about is a regular Poli Sci class (meaning not designed for non-native speakers), a Seminar (which is one of the harder levels) and the guy is already expecting me to work before things really have gotten started. Eeck!

Right now I'm signed up for this seminar, China and its Neighbors, a Poli Sci Vorlesung entitled Intro to Political Economics (I know nothing about economics and thought it was something I should do... when it doesn't factor into my GPA), hopefully two DaF classes on intercultural communication and academic writing, two normal Germanistik courses on literature (one is about bohemians, artists, and people on the edges of society in 1900 ish lit and the other is called Oral Violence), a French lit course (my French is SO rusty, this could turn out poorly) and an art history course on gender throughout art. Something(s) will have to be dropped. I'm thinking the China course at least is out, but we'll have to see about the rest and how interesting they sound after the first week.

Other than that I'm just getting used to life here in Trier. My bus stop is a 2000 year old Roman gateway, which is pretty sweet. I don't know any of my hallmates very well (save the other Americans)... I'm working on it but I don't get the impression anyone really knows anyone else well. I do talk to one guy a fair amount, but all of our conversations revolve around how the Americans should speak in German and not let people speak English to them. Because the whole point of coming to Germany is to learn German. I don't know why he thinks he has to tell me this all of the time, considering a) I've been in Germany since August, b) I've lived with Germans and 3) I obviously make an effort to speak German. We have this conversation in German. Everything.

I can't wait for classes to start. I'm somewhat terrified about it - everything is going to be in German, and I don't know the system or how classes work or anything. But I'm ready to really learn again (I haven't actually been in a class of any kind since mid-December) and to be in a academic environment. Also I'd like to meet some new people - but that's kind of hard here.

Hopefully pictures will come soon. My internet connection here is EXCRUCIATINGLY slow and uploading pictures is quite the hassle. Hence the reason nothing is posted in pictures since I left Freiburg. Whoops.

permalink written by  lost_red_balloon on April 17, 2009 from Trier, Germany
from the travel blog: The Oldest City in Germany
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Arrival and orientation

Trier, Germany


Well, nothing terribly exciting yet. I got into Trier yesterday and took a taxi to my dorms, and finally have my own room again. It's a really exciting thing. Tommy's getting here was hectic - he was supposed to arrive at about 3, which was too late to check in with the Hausmeister so I'd gotten his keys for him. But he wasn't on the train. I waited for hours at the train station convincing myself he was just coming on the next one each time. He called me from skype at one point, but I didn't get to answer, saying he couldn't make the train he wanted and was doing his best to get to Trier. He'd call me with more information when he had it.

So I bought some food really quickly (honey and bread) and went home. At 10 he called from some old lady's cell phone who'd been nice enough to lend it to him, saying he would be getting into Trier somehow and asking directions to get to the dorms.

He somehow got let into the dorms and went up to my floor where he ran into one of my roommates who took him to my room right as the American next door came out of his, so everyone met everyone else right at once. It was crazy.

It turns out Tommy had missed his plane out of Chicago because the one to Chicago was delayed, and the next one wouldn't get to Germany soon enough, so he just went to Lufthansa for help. Switched airlines and had to fly to Munich instead of Frankfurt, and then had to take trains all the way across the country. Hence the delay. And of course in switching airlines his luggage didn't make it.


Today we had our first day of orientation-y things, which was basically an introduction. The three biggest groups here are actually the Japanese, the Americans, and the Danes. But there are so many people here from all over, I'm really excited!

permalink written by  lost_red_balloon on March 26, 2009 from Trier, Germany
from the travel blog: The Oldest City in Germany
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S'mae! Dw'in byw ym Mangor

Bangor, United Kingdom


So I got into Bangor and Steph was waiting on the platform for me. It occurred to me that it had been forever since anyone has really waited for me on any of my travels. Someone picked me up from the airport in Austin for Christmas, of course, but out of the the 11 countries I'd visited before Christmas, and coming back to Germany, and then going to London, Stirling, and Ireland, no one has ever been there waiting for me as I pulled in. At first that was a really lonely feeling - seeing everybody else finding someone, and all of the hugging and crying and smiling and other people carrying luggage for you. But I actually got really used to it, and had forgotten until I saw Steph on the platform how much I missed having someone to greet me.

She and I went back to her flat, which is where I spent most of my time. She lives in the international dorm, so she lives with people from Germany, Austria, Spain, Italy, Britain, etc. Her best friend there is German, and they play an absurd game where they hide clothespins in the kitchen and wait for other people to find them. I got to join in on all of the games and absurdity. It was a lot of fun in the end.

We took one trip to Portmeirion. This is another story requiring context.

I grew up watching a show called the Prisoner with my dad. It's a spy show from the 1960s, and is incredibly 60's-ish. I think the first time a lava lamp was ever shown on TV was in the Prisoner, so it kind of helped start the craze. The whole thing about the show is that this British secret agent quits his job, goes back to his apartment and starts to pack, and then gas seeps in through the absurdly-large keyhole and knocks him out. This is all during the really intense intro bongo music. He wakes up in a village that is only called The Village, which looks very Mediterranean. Everything is stucco and really colorful, but it's really creepy. Every map of The Village only shows the village, and the surroundings are The Sea, The Mountains, and The Forest. So he has no idea where he is. And he's just given a number, and no one goes by names. And if you try to escape, these great bouncy white ball things chase you down and suffocate you.

Needless to say, when I found out that this was all filmed in a town called Portmeirion in northern Wales, conveniently close to where Steph was studying, I had to go.

It's even hard to get to. We took a bus to a placed called Porthmadog, which neglected to tell us via a sign or anything that we were actually in Porthmadog. From Porthmadog we caught a bus to a placed called Minffrodd, I think, which was the next village over, and from there we had to walk through the woods to the village of Portmeirion.

Even without having watched the show, the village is incredibly surreal. But I'd seen the show, so it was surreal squared. I recognized places and scenes. We even went down to the ridiculously big beach (where in the first episode the main character is chased down by a giant bouncing ball) for a while. Of course, the only time I've ever seen a warning for quicksand would be in The Village, right?

Other than that one trip, Steph and I just explored Bangor a lot. We went to the Yellow Pub a lot (which has an actual name, but it's yellow) because it played good music and had a good atmosphere and good food. And to Herbs, which is a really good Redwall-esque restaurant. Overall, great times.

permalink written by  lost_red_balloon on March 24, 2009 from Bangor, United Kingdom
from the travel blog: I'm a homeless illegal immigrant...?
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Back in Germany

Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany


Well, I had no problems getting back in. I flew into Basel, took a bus back to Freiburg, killed some time with Krystal, picked up my luggage, etc. I still have to kill about 6 hours in the Freiburg station, though, to catch the midnight train up to Koblenz (where it will arrive at about 5 in the morning) and then take a train to Trier. I'm really tired, but it'll be good to have a home again.

Hopefully will write from Trier!

permalink written by  lost_red_balloon on March 24, 2009 from Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany
from the travel blog: I'm a homeless illegal immigrant...?
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Eire

Limerick, Ireland


So I got into Shannon Airport in Ireland at about 7:30 and had to find a bus to Limerick. I find the Irish bus system very confusing, for future reference. I managed, although I had to actually pull the "I'm not from here and I don't know how things work and I'm just a 20 year old girl please don't be mad" kind of act a few times. Strange that I didn't have to do anything of the sort in Eastern Europe, or Spain, or France, or anywhere else. Nope. Just the place where people actually do speak English.

Anyway, I made it to LImerick. Really though I didn't spend much time in Limerick. I spent a few days there - I explored the campus, met some people, sat in on some classes. We did go to a medieval feast in a castle that H.'s program let me tag along to. We had a tour of the castle and the grounds (which have a village set up in the old-fashioned Irish village way). Then we went into the main hall of the castle, sat on benches at really long tables, and had a medieval feast. The whole thing was structured like an actual meal - the courses and traditions were all the same as hundreds of years ago. The food was delicious, but hard to eat without silverware. And the costumes were horrendous and the performances rather cheesy. But overall it was a lot of fun.

Then we set out for some traveling.

First, H. and I went to the Aran Islands. My impression of that trip is that the Islands tend to be kind of overlooked on the Irish tour scene. But the impression I get, both from the extent of my travels and from H.'s recounting of her classes, is that Ireland is falling victim to commercialization. Pubs are becoming chains, music is going a little more mainstream, and people keep moving to cities. We went to Galway first, which was really nice, and had dinner in a pub with live music, then a ferry to the Islands. It was like landing in a completely different place. The landscape is much more rugged, and everything is older. It's almost untouched by the rest of Ireland. We went to the biggest island, Inis Mor, rented bikes, and rode to all of the sights.

First we went to Dún Aonghasa, which is basically a >2000 year old Celtic fort right on the cliffside facing the Atlantic. It was epic. It was a straight shot down to the ocean (and I mean way down) inside this old fort which had pathways and ancient methods of defense. In the middle, right on the edge of the cliff, was a big block of stone which was probably used for ceremonies. Apparently the boundary between land and sea was of huge mythological importance to the ancient tribes there.

From the fort one is SUPPOSED to be able to go to the "Wormhole," which was something H. and I both really wanted to see. But the guy at the bike place told us to just walk straight along the cliffs until we saw it, which would have worked if the cliffs weren't fenced off past the fort. So we walked back down towards the welcome center, trying to figure out how to get to the Wormhole. We considered jumping a gate we passed and just walking, but figured we'd ask at hte welcome center anyway.

At the welcome center, the lady basically told us in a really hushed tone "well, its private property, but no one is ever out there. Just jump the white gate."

So back we went to the gate, and jumped it. This quickly turned into a mile or two hike across cow fields and cross-country along the cliffs. We had to jump a few of the old stone walls Ireland is famous for, by technicality cross a waterfall on the side of the cliff (which was really just a trickle of water onto a ledge, but we enjoyed the literal description) and deal with rocky terrain, bogs, and cow paddies. By the time we were neared the first big inlet, though, we realized we didn't know how far the Wormhole was, and suddenly the expedition turned into a really cool idea. We were out of the area where even the cows can go. We were walking across the cliffs exactly as people have been for thousands of years, looking for a natural landmark. I couldn't believe that I was experiencing this in probably the same way the first person to find the Wormhole did - by just walking and exploring until we found something cool.

We did find it. It was in the second big inlet. The Wormhole is (I know you're dying of curiosity by now) essentially a big, perfectly rectangular hole in a ledge on the cliffside. Naturally made. Perfectly right angles. Crazy. The tide was out when we got there, so we couldn't really see the water in it, but we were tired and decided to sit a while. Turns out the tide was coming in, so we sat there and watched water gradually pour into the rectangle. Then the waves started to crash against the cliffside. H. and I were sitting about 2 feet from the edge (there was a ledge below us, just in case - we checked) leaning against another rock sheltered from the wind. Eventually the waves came in so forcefully that we actually got wet from waves... on top of the cliff. I have a photo that is shot looking straight out from the cliff, and the white foam that takes up most of the frame is the wave. So H. and I sat there together for a good 45 minutes, on the side of a cliff, with no one around and a private few of Ireland and the Atlantic.

From the Aran Islands we took a ferry back to the mainland, then a bus to Doolin. Doolin is a TINY town. As in, our hostel is the place to buy groceries and bus tickets. Doolin is also the closest town to the Cliffs of Moher. We talked to the guy at the hostel and got some advice. We went out to lunch at Fitzgerald's, which was kind of mediocre but good enough to fill a stomach. Then we took the 5:00-ish bus out to the Cliffs, knowing the next one didn't come until 8:30 or so. The Cliffs of Moher are much higher than the cliffs on the islands, and greener, and overall much more impressive, but it's so touristy. There are paved paths, and stairs, and people everywhere, and H. and I were just laughing about how unimpressive the experience of being there was. The Cliffs themselves are awesome, but stairs are nothing to rock walls, and paved pathways are not bogs.

Because we couldn't get a bus back before dark (which was part of the plan) we walked back on the Burren Way, which they tell everyone is a popular biking and hiking trail. What it actually is is no space on the side of a road. At least until a turn-off. But it's really scenic and follows the coast almost all the way back to Doolin. It was actually really fun - just walking along the side of a little country road in Ireland with some rations in our bags. We were most of the way back (we'd been walking for about an hour, and it's only supposed to be an hour an fifteen minute walk) when a car pulled up next to us. Inside was this 70 or 80 year old farmer who offered us a ride. I told Heather I didn't care if we got in or not, because he seemed completely harmless. She said yes, so we hopped in. I did a check to make sure we could get out if we wanted (which is what I do most places I go now, looking at doors, locks, speeds, etc.) but the guy was in an old car with manual locks. And was driving at about 2 miles an hour. He was really nice, but impossible to escape a conversation with. He dropped us off in Doolin.

That night we went to McDougal's pub, which is the only actual traditional Irish pub I've seen, and apparently one of the last ones around. It was dark and dusty with fantastic traditional food - H. had Irish stew and I had vegetable pancakes. There was traditional Irish music and spontaneous step dancing. It was a lot of fun. We did meet a bunch of people from Texas, who were college friends way back when and decided to take a trip together, which meant a lot of talking about American football for a while. It dampened the Irish experience but was fun nonetheless. The next day we headed back to Limerick.

Tuesday we went to Dublin for St. Patrick's Day. The entire town was a madhouse. We couldn't figure out where to go to see the parade, because they did not block things off the way we expected. We got shepherded around, and finally stuck in a spot simply because we could see the reflection of the approaching parade in a window in a building across the street. We managed, somehow, to actually make it to the first and second rows (H. and I let the two shorter girls with us go in front). I don't really know how that came about, but we saw most of the parade up close in the end. It actually looks a lot more like Carnival than anything else. St. Patrick's Day is much more Irish in America. Irony? We found a Lebanese place for lunch because the pubs were all absolutely packed, then a restaurant and bar for dinner. The bar was a lot of fun - everyone in there had had more than enough alcohol (I couldn't convince an Irishman that I was, in fact, not Irish, but from Texas) and there was live music. Overall, awesome.

From Dublin I took a ferry to Holyhead, Wales the next day. The cab driver was really really nice. We talked about literature. The train of conversation went from which boat I was taking to James Joyce (once of the boats from that company is called Ulysses). The cab driver thinks Ulysses is an absurd book and does not understand why Joyce is seen as a god of Irish literature. So I asked him what he would recommend, and he really just talked to me about really obscure Irish authors and playwrights for half an hour. It was so much fun.

permalink written by  lost_red_balloon on March 18, 2009 from Limerick, Ireland
from the travel blog: I'm a homeless illegal immigrant...?
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the land of William Wallace

Stirling, United Kingdom


I can't believe how bizarre it is to be in Scotland. This needs some explanation.

So, there's a stereotype about Germans that they're very blunt and mean. This is a very simplistic and naïve version of something that is, kind of, true. Germans tend to be more private and distant, but only at first. I have met very few mean or unfriendly Germans. It's just that at first it can be hard to get to know anyone, because people don't talk. That whole thing Americans have about just making conversation with the person next to you in a line that's taking too long does not happen. At all. Once you get to know people they are very nice, and very funny and helpful and welcoming and everything like that.

So suddenly being in a place where people make jokes and talk before actual introductions is a HUGE shock for me. The weird part of it is that it's exactly like home. Except with accents. For something that I've missed so much (this incredible openness, helpfulness, friendliness) it shouldn't shock me so much. But it does.

Anyway, on Monday (the 2nd) I caught a noon train headed for Stirling. I've discovered that the English countryside heading up strangely resembles the Midwest... in winter anyway. I slept through most of it (even though I'd promised myself I wouldn't) and woke up just as I started to get into Scotland. I was, for a while, thoroughly confused about the landscape. AG had sent me all of these pictures of Stirling and her university, and they were all in the mountains. So the clock kept ticking away and I kept thinking "there are no mountains!" There was fog and rain and sheep and villages and churches and everything except mountains. Suddenly, about 5 minutes before the train was due in, they suddenly appeared out of the fog. There were no foothills or anything - just flat, and then mountains. Small mountains, granted, but in America they would have had foothills.

My first night here we were supposed to go to a cailidh (the spelling may be wrong, but either way it's pronounced kay-lee) which is a sort of traditional dance. But AG didn't manage to get tickets, so we ended up drinking hot chocolate instead. One night we also went to the Celtic Music Association's meeting (which is just some people playing music and everyone else listening). Seating was rough, but the place was, it claims, the oldest pub in Scotland. Overall it was pretty cool. Minus the sitting on bathroom steps part.

We took "day trips" to Edinburgh and Glasgow (Stirling is about halfway in between). Day trips is in quotes because AG sleeps so late - they were actually more like evening trips. But they were nice, anyway. In Edinburgh we ate dinner at the Elephant House - J.K. Rowling used to go there to sit in the backroom and write. Even without the claim to fame, though, the food was delicious and the building and restaurant itself was absolutely awesome. Our waiter was American and doing his Masters at the university there, but it took everyone a very long to figure out that we were all from the same country. In Glasgow, we basically ate and went to a piercing parlor.

I did have one really awesome experience on the University itself. Their classes are split into lectures and tutorials - lectures are just that. It's almost like watching a performance because there is no interaction at all between the professors and students. I went to a few lectures (LInguistics and Scottish history) because 1) I would have been bored and alone otherwise 2) I was interested and 3) no one would know that I wasn't Scottish let alone not a student. So one day AG was in a tutorial, which are smaller, discussion-based classes I can't sit in on, so I just wandered the loch (yep, they have a loch!) taking nature-y pictures. The trees all had these really cool, twisted silhouettes because of how the light was (sun through fog) and it's still winter. I saw one particularly cool one up the hill from me, and decided to get closer to get a good picture of it.

So I go ahead and start climbing the hill, just in my sneakers, jeans, overcoat, etc. It was mucky and squishy and I've never heard so many sounds come from the ground I've walked on. I had to fight my way through underbrush and around various sorts of plants. Finally at the top near the tree, I break out of a wall of spindly little bushes, kind of stumble out, and look up to find about 5 or 6 people. Swordfighting. In medieval costumes.

There was maybe a full minute of silence in which everyone just stared at each other. I still don't know who was more shocked: me to find medieval sword-fighters, or them to see me fighting my way out of bushes. So I just dusted off my knees, said "Um... have a nice day!" and walked away. When I was finally a good distance away from them (meaning they wouldn't get suspicious) I turned around to take a picture of them against the mountain. (it will be posted soon, promise!)

Other than that, I just spent a lot of time in AG's flat. Her roommates have a really funny dynamic, and I really enjoyed just hanging out with everybody and watching how they interacted with each other.

Anyway, tomorrow I catch a plane from Prestwick to Shannon. Later!

permalink written by  lost_red_balloon on March 9, 2009 from Stirling, United Kingdom
from the travel blog: I'm a homeless illegal immigrant...?
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