These Minnesota college students get an A+ for adventure. Follow along as they explore the world while studying abroad.
If there is one thing I suggest to my fellow travel-enthustiasts out there it is to explore the art of the city you are in as much as possible. Of course I am spoiled here in Florence which is quite literally the birthplace of the Renassaince movement housing works like Donatello's Marzocco, Brunelleschi's architecture with the Duomo, Masaccio's work in the Brancacci Chapel and, of course, the statue that destroyed my emotions, Michelangelo's David. Now I wouldn't necessarily consider myself someone who is easily brought to tears by art (animal movies are something else entirely. Homeward Bound? I cried forever.) but as soon as I turned the corner of the Accademia Museum and saw David illuminated at the end of the hallway all the moisture in my body tried to escape through my eyes. I managed to keep myself composed while I decended towards him, not even glancing at the six unfinished Michelangelo statues on either side of me, until I was finally face-to-podium with this very symbol of the Renassaince. It is pretty overwelming as I, a mere 5'6", stared up at this 17 foot sculpture.
You can take a lot away from art, even if you do not know much about the artist or work. David, for instance, I only knew a bit about. Michelangelo is the artist, David is from the bible story of David and Goliath, and sculpture was Michelangelo’s favorite medium. But even if Michelangelo was not one of my favorite artists, and I was not aware of the celebrity-like status of this sculpture, I am pretty sure I would still have experienced an overpowering feeling of comfort. David is not only vast because of his size, but also because of his perfection. Even though his hands and head are disproportionate to his body, I find myself going to the Accademia Museum when I have an hour or two of free time and just sitting in front of the him because of how peaceful it makes me feel.
America does house a lot of beautiful works of art and I try to take advantage of that when I can by visiting local museums, but you cannot ignore the history that unfolded on these European lands both in art, culture, and politics. Not to say that art found in America is inferior, but there is just something so surreal about looking up at the David, in the birthplace of Michelangelo, which is a block from my apartment. I am a lucky girl.
[Listen to this song while you read this post- it's my soundtrack to writing right now!]
The Dingle Peninsula in southwestern Ireland, is hands down my favorite part of Ireland and tends to win the hearts of anyone who visits. I have been to Dingle twice so far this year (and hopefully will return once more before the end of it), once in November and once in December- and it is a MUST-SEE if you have any interest at all in the Irish countryside and traditional Irish culture. Although in the summer it can become a bit touristy, in autumn and even the brisk winter days it is absolutely breathtaking!
So what is Dingle? It is a tiny, tiny town that lends its name to the whole peninsula surrounding it. And here’s why you need to add it to your Irish agenda:
1. The views you’ll see on the scenic drive around Dingle (primarily on Slea Head Drive) are really some of the most beautiful hillsides and ocean views you’ll find in Southern Ireland. Although a bit less rocky and mountainous than the adjacent ring of Kerry, Dingle’s massive fields filled with sheep on the hillside are just as enchanting and come with equally as wonderful views! It’s best to have a rented car so you can do the scenic drive and stop to take pictures at your leisure, just be aware that the roads are TINY so it’s best for your car to be tiny as well. The drive is essentially a circle beginning in Dingle Town and returning you there at the end of your journey. There are two different routes: the drive can be as quick as a half-hour or take up to two-three hours, depending on how often you stop and which paths you choose to take. We actually did the drive twice, once when it was rainy and again when it was sunny!
2. Dingle Town. The epitome of a tiny, coastal Irish town is fun to spend a few hours exploring and wandering in and out of the tiny shops! Accompanied by that lovely ocean-y smell and the frame of hills on every side, there are an abundance of Irish Woolen Shops and places to purchase souvenirs. As aforementioned, it has gotten a bit more touristy since the filming of ‘Ryan’s Daughter’ but is still a cheery town willing to welcome visitors.
3. If you are a ‘Ryan’s Daughter’ fan: it’s worth the trip just to see the locations in which the film was shot! The famous beach in the opening scenes is easy to access along Slea Head Drive, and the schoolhouse that many scenes were shot in is a bit tricker to find but is available along a few back paths. The movie that jumpstarted Dingle’s tourist business is a must-see before you travel to Dingle. Warning: it’s three hours long and fairly boring…so just enjoy the scenery and it will allll be worth it!
4. EVERYTHING IS ANCIENT. If you are not already aware, Ireland is OLD and there are remnants of the ancient Celtic culture lying around Dingle at every corner. Rick Steves’s guide to the Slea Head Drive is fantastic, because he tells you fairly accurately which of these ruins are worth seeing and which ones you should really just drive by. My favorite is the Gallarus Oratory towards the end of the drive, one of the earliest ‘churches’ discovered in Ireland. In the shape of an upturned boat, the Oratory is still completely watertight after all these years! They didn’t use mortar, they didn’t use glue, they just used flat stones. It’s completely ridiculously cool how long these monuments and stone walls littering Dingle have stood there for…if stones could talk, eh?
5. If you like traditional music. I’m not sure I’ve actually met anyone yet who doesn’t like traditional Irish music? It’s happy, it has a great beat, and it seems to carry a hint of the ancient and spiritual Celtic culture of Ireland in the lilting notes of the wooden flute and resounding bellow of the drums. Dingle has some truly fantastic live Irish music on weekend nights; our favorite pub was John Benny Moriarty’s for a Crean’s (the local Dingle beer) and a good time.
While writing this, I realized that I think I love Dingle so much because it has helped me discover why, essentially, I feel such a passion for Ireland. Despite the seeming gloom that has come over Ireland recently due to the economic strife, religious conflict and an impending sense of poverty, the Irish still have the ability to tap into the deepest and most spiritual parts of their ancestry. Throughout the entire country, there seems to be an undercurrent of throbbing and humming wildness, an untamed quality from the rough and primal Celts that still resides in every Irishman today. Their ancient background is in their backyard. The songs, the dances, the fighting and laughing culture of the Irish is deeply, deeply rooted both geographically and spiritually in a way that many Americans are not familiar with- and there is something utterly and completely enchanting about that.
P.S. If you’re looking for a charming and welcoming home away from home, the Castlewood House is a beautiful haven for a relaxing vacation- I highly recommend it.
After enduring the theft of my iPhone in Lyon I decided that it may be a good time to take a break from hostel living. As mentioned before I was able to contact a family living in southwest France through the HelpX program. They agreed to house and feed me so long as I return the favor with work on their farm. Seems like a very fair agreement to me. After spending my three days exploring Toulouse my hosts were ready for me to come to their hobby farm east of Gondrin.
As I board the high-speed train in Toulouse I am filled with anxious excitement. I’m not sure exactly how the next couple weeks will go, but I am sure that they will be eventful. The train arrives in the city of Agen after an hour passes. I need to find a bus to Condom, so I walk to the ticket counter and ask when the next one arrives. The slightly rude man behind the counter informs me that the next one comes 9:15. Good, 10 minutes to find an ATM for enough cash. Walking down the street I ask a local where the nearest machine is and then head in that direction. There is a line at the ATM when I get there, so by the time I have some cash I only have a few minutes before the bus arrives. Running back to the station I get there right as the bus arrives. I walk up the steps and show the driver a piece of paper where I have written ‘Condom?’ to which he nods his head and I pay for my ticket. The bus is almost empty as I take my seat and it leaves the station.
The scenery on the way just keeps getting more beautiful. We pass rolling hills with vineyards that look like tiny, desolate forests covering the ground. I can not wait to see where this farmhouse is located. I arrive in Condom around 10:00. In the emails previously exchanged with Deborah we agreed on a 3:00 pm pickup, so I have five hours to kill. I leave the station and walk up the small hill towards the city center. I pass a cathedral on my right that seems to have a statue of conquistadors out front which I find odd. Finding a small sports cafe I walk in and order a cafe latte. I have five hours to spend here, so I find a booth, read my book, and sip coffee. After three coffees and one book finished it is time to walk back to the station to meet one of my hosts, Debs.
Debs arrives and tells me that because her car is broken from overheating she walked from where she works in town to meet me. I can fix that for her and I already feel useful. She says that she is glad to have a mechanic coming to stay at their house with them.
We walk back to her place of work together. As we walk we pass more small shops underneath housing flats. The shops are nice, and I stop in one to buy a gingerbread and raspberry sweet. The mixture of gingerbread and raspberry filling is absolutely delicious.
When we arrive at her work we meet up with one of her colleagues who will give us a ride to the house. He is a nice guy, and we all pile into his old Land Rover Discovery for the trip. It takes nearly 30 minutes to get out to the farmhouse from Condom. Traveling on single lane, dirt roads covered in ice and snow, it reminds me of driving out to my family’s cabin up north. I get a pang of homesickness, and then it is gone, replaced instead with excitement.
As the Land Rover pulls up to the house I am greeted by a quartet of barks and howls from the four excited dogs, eager to find out just who has arrived at their home. Being sure to pet all of them, they return the love and I’m sure they will welcome the addition to the household. The household itself is absolutely beautiful. A few hundred years old, it is built from sandstone blocks and wooden beams. It is situated next to a natural outcrop of sandstone in the hill and is high enough to have a lovely view of the surrounding area of French countryside. Absolutely breath-taking.
I walk inside the chateau and greet the other three help exchange participants. Justin and Katie are both from Canada, and Ben is from England but has spent a great amount of time in Catalonia, (Catalunya in Catalonian). They are all very interesting people and I look forward to getting to know them during my stay here.
After getting to know each other for awhile it is now time for dinner. Keith turns out to be a fantastic cook. Dinner is beef cooked with parsnips, carrots cooked in basil, delicious steamed cauliflower, and red wine. Derek arrives some time after the meal is finished and is able to retell his story about driving back from Toulouse and getting lost. Soon after that Debs and Keith go to sleep and the rest of us stay awake much longer sharing our interests and backgrounds.
The next morning I find myself waking up at 8 am without an alarm to the morning sun, which is unusual for me. My first job is fixing their little Hyundai 4X4. I gather some tools and take a look. I see the signs of a mistake that I made returning to MN from AZ when I neglected to make sure my coolant was good for very cold weather. Debs told me that her truck overheated. The weather has been unusually cold here. The coolant mix was too weak and the lower half of the radiator is almost frozen solid. Luckily, it is a gel still so it had not broken the radiator or anything else. I thaw it, flush and replace the coolant. Her little truck just barely escaped disaster. I feel like a part of the group now that I have added something to the maintenance of the farm.
Work for the day ends around 4:00 in the afternoon. We all wander into the house and clean up for a bit, then head back outside to play some Frisbee in the nearby field. The dogs come with and are extremely excited to maybe, just maybe, get ahold of that Frisbee. When we get out there I find out that Katie actually plays Frisbee for a team back home and she spends some time teaching us all of these different throws we can do. I never knew that Frisbee could be taken that seriously. When we are all tired out, including the dogs, we walk towards one of the taller hills nearby to get some beautiful photographs of the surrounding area. Then we make our way back down the hill because it is nearly time for supper.
Dinner is delicious. We have mashed potatoes, Swiss chard with onions, and oven cooked fish. It is one of the best I have ever had. I drink some red wine with the meal and eat as much as I can until my stomach tells me it will burst if I eat just one more bite. We spend the next couple of hours telling and listening to stories from each other. Derek is working as a forest firefighter back home in Canada, and he tells about a time when one of his colleagues got food poisoning from their terrible cook and how angry his friend was that he had to rest instead of cutting down trees. Ben is very much a philosophical man and is also a fantastic cook. He prefers to sit back and listen to the conversation from the side and every so often interject something either fascinating or absolutely hilarious. Katie and Justin share some interesting stories as well, and I spend some time telling all of them about small town Minnesota and how it is to live in America.
Soon after I am near dozing off, so it is definitely time for bed. I fold out my sleeping quarters from the couch in the living room and cozy up inside the comforter. As I drift off into dream land I realize that my previous expectations will prove correct. The time I spend here will surely be amazing and will make memories for me forever.
If you are interested in reading any of my previous stories feel free to look at my WordPress blog.
Also if you want to do this same kind of work exchange program check out HelpX.
“Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness. All other travel is mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter.”
One of the reasons I am so in love with the University of Limerick is because of its beautiful, vividly green, and natural campus. The river Shannon running through the center with swans casually hanging out, the secret streams and miniature waterfalls sporadically placed between buildings, and the rolling hills watchfully enveloping the perimeter make it a lovely place to live if you happen to be someone who thrives upon the outdoors. Since my school in the states is relatively small, it’s a treat to be able to constantly explore the massive Limerick campus- and I’m serious, it looks like there could be a leprechaun hiding behind every corner! Yes, it’s rainy- but that’s the price you pay for living in a neon green wonderland, right??
Here’s a little story that exemplifies one of the other massively cool parts about Ireland: CASTLES. One of my favorite activities since I’ve been at Limerick has been attempting to explore the campus on nice days, and finding little nooks and crannies I didn’t know existed! On one of the nicest days last semester (a.k.a. it wasn’t raining or hailing for once), I decided to take an afternoon walk along the river Shannon. It was sunny and beautiful, the river was sparkling, and the path was completely empty except for me and the occasional dog-walker.
Taking advantage of the lovely weather, I kept on walking after several options to turn around. My head was down for most of the time in a relatively futile attempt to save my rainboots from the muddy slush that the path had turned into after so much rain! All of a sudden, I looked up.
To my left were huge, abandoned ruins of a CASTLE. WHAT?! A castle was just sitting there, hanging out, within walking distance of my village?? No signs, no markings, no gate, separated this castle from being an anonymous object. I stopped for a minute and gaped with my mouth opened, then immediately opened my phone to call my friend Bridget in glee.
Naturally, I brought her back the next day so we could explore it together. We weren’t the first to find the ruins, as they were covered in graffiti already from some clever kids who apparently couldn’t afford an easel. Nothing could take away from the grandeur of this ancient ruin, though! With a bit of deft climbing, we defied gravity (and probably a few safety standards…don’t try this at home) and climbed to the top of the castle on some stairs that were almost completely intact (AFTER THOUSANDS OF YEARS. THIS WORLD IS COOL). Sitting at the top of the castle, gazing over Limerick fields, I fell in love with Ireland all over again.
There’s not a lot of countries where you can take an afternoon walk and find an ancient ruin on the side of the road…but Ireland is one of them. Lucky me!
Stay tuned for more posts about Rome, Barcelona, Munich, Berlin, Amsterdam, and London (I’ve been busy…)!
P.S. Photo credits to Bridget McQuillan, more of her work can be found at http://cargocollective.com/bridgetmcquillan.
After years of French class, a weeklong vegetable fast in preparation for the disgusting amount of baguettes I was planning to eat, and hours spent in the pages of Rick Steves Takes Paris, I was ready.
Everyone dreams of Paris, and it’s one of the only cities I’ve ever visited that could actually live up to the uber-high expectations that the rest of the world had set for me! Our friends joked that throughout the whole visit, the word “fabulous” must have been used at least 70,000 times. While lacking the extraordinary amount of green space found in London or the friendly, welcoming people in Vienna, Paris has a kind of magic to it that’s altogether unique and completely Parisian. Not to mention that if you look at any random person on the street, there is 100% chance that they will be chic, long-legged, well-dressed, and drop dead gorgeous! I’m serious- I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.
With a minimal amount of high-school and college French, we were able to get around pretty easily- Paris is most definitely used to excessive amounts of tourists filling their streets constantly. While this means that the vast majority of people speak English, they are also used to churning people in and out without any particular desire to speak to you or get to know you. We didn’t interact with any ‘mean’ people, but they definitely weren’t quite as friendly as people in Austria or Vienna (especially after hearing our obnoxious American accents). The metro system was also easy to navigate and a two-day metro pass was not nearly as expensive as we were expecting, which was fantastic! For museums, what we did (and what I highly recommend) was purchasing the two-day museum pass, which then lets you in to pretty much any museum you would care to see, including Versailles. And best of all, it was only thirty-five euros! Pretty good, considering that most museum prices were somewhere around thirteen euro. We managed to make it to several of the museums we wanted to see, but due to time constraints we missed out on a few of my must-sees including L’Orangerie and the Rodin Museum.
We stayed in Perfect Hostel, which was probably the best bet for our money at only twenty-six euros a night (HOSTELS IN PARIS ARE EXPENSIVE. I practically choked on my coffee while we were looking at prices, but it turned out just fine!). We were a short metro ride away from most of the major attractions, so early in the morning on day one, we hopped on the metro and began our sightseeing immediately! We popped up at St. Germain and walked along the beautiful Seine until we reached the Musee D’Orsay, our first museum of the trip. What I really loved about the museums in Paris is that the buildings themselves were remarkable, without even considering the world-class art they contained! Musee D’Orsay originated as a train station, with an amazing high ceiling and a layout that was very easy to navigate and wander through. It was even a bit more manageable than the Louvre, since the Louvre is just so massive that it can sometimes be a little overwhelming- aesthetic overload is absolutely a real thing!
After leaving the Orsay, we strolled through the Tuileries and down the Champs-Elysees, which had about a mile of Christmas booths selling meats, cheeses and scarves- and let me tell you, there is NOTHING I like better than a European Christmas market! We metro-ed over to the Grand Opera house, and just sat and people-watched for a while- people-watching is absolutely incredible in Paris. And last but not least: the Eiffel Tower. Just like Big Ben and the Trevi Fountain, it’s just one of those things that can’t be captured accurately on camera. When you’re standing underneath it, it’s a rather surreal experience! We unfortunately didn’t go to the top, as it was twenty euros, but it was a magical thing to see all on its own.
Some of our other favorites were Versailles: hands down one of the coolest, most interesting buildings I’ve ever been to in my life. The grandeur and splendor of every single room was breathtaking and over the top. One of my favorite things to do when I’m in old buildings is to imagine what it would have been like at the peak of it’s existence- thinking about everything the walls of Versailles have seen was fascinating. Also, I would most definitely recommend going to the top of the Arc de Triomphe: even though it’s a climb, the view from the second-highest viewing terrace in Paris was phenomenal. Seeing the Eiffel Tower as part of the skyline and being in the center of that massive roundabout was absolutely gorgeous, and it was free with our museum pass too!
This goes without saying, but the Louvre was incredible. I’m a little sad that we didn’t get to it until the end of our trip, because at that point our feet were ready to fall off our legs and we were just a little weary. And let me tell you, the Louvre is NOT a good place to be weary! I managed to see the Mona Lisa and some other great Renaissance art as well as the Greek and Egyptian art wings, all of which were amazing. I will definitely have to return fresh-faced and ready to spend a day in some comfortable shoes walking through the miles and miles of halls of awesome art.
And last but not least, the Latin Quarter! We visited Notre Dame, which as a Catholic, felt like a little peaceful slice of home in the middle of a crowded and crazy city. We also found some very cool bookshops there, such as the Abbey Bookshop and Shakespeare and Company! The towering stacks of books made for a very magical bookshop experience. After rounding out our Paris experience with a banana and nutella crepe (YUM, that’s all to be said), we hopped on the metro back to Charles de Gaulle for our two-hour flight home to the green grass of Ireland.
As I previously mentioned, there’s so much to do and see and visit and explore in Paris that it’s rather difficult to condense into a 2.5 day trip, much less an easy-to-read blog post! I cannot wait to return to see everything that we didn’t have time for, because I’m sure that we could have easily filled another week, probably even a month! That city is truly full of endless magic and opportunity.
Sorry for being a bit behind on posting, but we just returned from Rome! Stay tuned for posts on the Dingle Peninsula, Rome, Barcelona, Berlin, Amsterdam and more!
P.S. Many of the pictures in this particular post were taken by Bridget McQuillan, a good friend on the trip and a fantastic photographer!
I recently had a friend do some research on Nantes. Wikipedia gave some pretty interesting statistics.
"I looked up Nantes' population. Wikipedia says that it was 500,000ish in 2007 and 800,000ish in 2008. Did everyone do it like rabbits in oh-seven or should I assume some mistake somewhere?"
Unclear. But actually the website says it was roughly 280,000 in 2007, and 820,000 in 2008. INSANE population growth in a year.
Whatever could have happened? The counting methods they use probably changed. That is, of course, the boring theory.
To change the topic, I’ve picked up some habits in my exactly four month stay in France.
Habit #1: I walk everywhere. I walk to school at least once a week (45 minutes if I stride like a giraffe and stop for no man, woman or child). There are daily strolls in the garden, to various bars and cafés with friends or just curious meanderings which have a bad habit of turning into frustrated goosechases.
Habit #2: Onomatopoeias galore. One of the things that is so much fun about learning a language in a native country is you pick up all the “filler” words and sounds. I shudder to think about the visitors of the States United picking up “um” “like” “yeah” and “errrr.”
My favorite french sounds. And my best idea as to what they mean.
“Tuk tuk tuk”- when counting something or doing a series of something, like putting dishes in the dishwasher.
“Shlack”- Use when you make a chopping gesture with your hand. Synonym with "Clack."
“Bah” or "Bein"- Doubles as “um” and “well”, an expression of confusion accompanied by the stereotypical expression of bewilderment, which is adorable. Can be inserted into just about any sentence.
Habit #3- So much bread. It wouldn’t be unheard of to read this headline in France. “After a week of bread absentia, half the country succumbs to starvation, the other half not far behind.”
Habit #4- Hot drinks in bowls. Coffee and hot chocolate in particular. To combat the lack of mugs in my life, and my klutzy self, I use mugs for just about everything else. OJ is better in mugs.
I came to France expecting to find most things extraordinarily different and the people quite alien. It's been a pleasant and rather weird experience (to use the french phrase "déjà vu") to see that despite our ocean between us, we aren't so different after all. The importance of family is echoed in Minnesota, as is the growing necessity of public transportation (hello bike paths!).
I will miss Nantes.
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