These Minnesota college students get an A+ for adventure. Follow along as they explore the world while studying abroad.
For being one of the most stunning places I've ever travelled, New Zealand does not make itself easy to get to. I started my journey leaving Minneapolis at 3:30 pm on Wednesday, February 15th and found myself in Wellington at 8 pm Friday, February 17th. After numerous flight delays, a cancellation and a very long walk to a hostel. I was here.
New Zealanders are known as "the nicest people on earth" and coming from a state that prides itself on its niceness, I was skeptical. I worked my way up the hills in Wellington to my hostel and immeadiately collapsed from exhaustion, thirty six hours of travelling will do that to you. The next day though, I hit the ground running. Wandering aimlessly around a town you've never been to is incredibly relaxing, therapeutic even. About six blocks from the harbor, the road instantly shoots upwards and suddenly you're walking on what feels like a ninty degree incline. However, the views are stunning.
Fun fact about Wellington, the Cook Strait, which separates the north and south islands is the perfect habitat for giant squid. I know this, because during my wanderings, I came across the Te Papa museum, which is a natural history museum centered on New Zealand. There, they have on display a female giant squid caught off the coast of Antartica near the south island. A male has never been sited, and likely never will be as the depths they live at are literally bone crushing.
Once my wanderings had ended, I retired back to my hostel and prepared to leave town the next morning. The bus ride to Palmerston North, which is located in the Manawatu region of the north island, is a beautiful coastal ride, and slightly frightening if you've never driven on the left side of the road before.
Manawatu borrows it's name from the Manawatu river that cuts through the plains here, and Massey University is located just outside of town. Massey actually doubles as a botanical garden because of the vast number of plants the campus houses.
For now, it's orientation after orientation, complete with three different farm trips. While it is exhausting, adrenaline has been fueling me for the last few days, and hopefully soon I'll find some downtime to wander aimlessly here as well.
Again I find myself awaking without an alarm clock, getting up, and eating a breakfast of fresh-baked bread with Nutella on it along with some tea and milk. I finish eating quickly and get dressed. Today is the day of the Fete, and we want to demolish a stairway on the hillside before we leave at noon. Keith has told me that the Fete is a large gathering arranged by the local hunters in order to share the meat they have gotten. Hunters have spent the prior week participating in the Chasse, (hunting in English), and killed a large amount of the excess wild boar in the area. I am very excited to participate in this cultural event.
I walk outside on this beautiful day and meet Katie over by the old ruin that Derek and Ben have been tearing down. She has already started to remove some of the decayed wooden steps from the hillside, so I get to work on helping her. The wood is damp and rotten, and there are a lot of sharp thorn bushes covering them, so it turns into a minor pain. I go into the shed and retrieve a set of trimming shears to get rid of all the nasty thorns so we can continue our work. With those cleared it doesn't take long to get the wooden steps removed and the rocks carried off that were underneath. Under those rocks though there is a pile of rubble that was used as a base for the stairs, so that needs to be removed next. It takes us until noon to get half of the rubble shoveled up and carted away. We walk inside the house and clean up. No lunch today because we need to save room for the big meal.
Everyone piles into the trucks once we are ready. We take both trucks since there are seven of us. Derek and I take the Hyundai and the rest of the crew loads into the Mitsubishi. The place we are headed is the town of Mouchan, and it is not far away. With me driving we take off following Keith in the other truck. The drive doesn't take long and we arrive at the gathering around 12:30.
I follow the others into the building where the Fete is held. Inside there is a large number of older French people mingling and talking with each other. There must be a majority of the citizens of this area in this one building. This is one of those times where I would love to have a good grasp of the language. Our group mingles around for a while and enjoys some of the Armagnac drinks they are giving out. Soon we make our way over to the tables and find a place with enough room for the nine of us. There are a lot of people here and long tables, but they are able to ensure that everyone has a spot to sit. Derek and Justin have started to have a nice conversation in French with the older couple next to them. I can't understand a single thing, but can pick up a small amount of intent based on hand gestures.
It is another hour before the meal begins. First course is a rather bland soup with noodles in it. Not really the start to the feast I was expecting. Still I eat two bowls worth of it because at this point I am starving. The soup is accompanied by some more wine. After the soup is finished the servers bring out more plates with a meat dish. I'm told that the center slice of meat is a wild boar pâté and there are sausages and lettuce around it. This in itself is very tasty and I enjoy it. The servers now have Armagnac and have been wandering around the tables filling glasses. Next dish up is a stew made from more boar meat along with some sliced baguettes. It is satisfying, but has a weird texture to it. Almost gelatin like. Thankfully they soon bring out the main course, which is sliced boar meat along with a very delicious bean soup. I eat two servings of this easily. At this point they switch Armagnac for a very sweet, peach white wine. The final course is dessert. They serve a peach pastry and it is delicious. I am quite stuffed, and so happy to be here.
After the meal they begin with a meat weighing contest. The mayor of Mouchan is walking around the tables with a haunch of ham and handing it off for guesstimate weighing. The fee to guess is 2€, so I pass. As it turns out a kid probably around the age of 12 wins the prize and gets a nice cricket set out of it. After the weighing a group of people start to gather on the other side of the building. I see a flicker of flame every so often from between the people and I am now very interested in what they are doing. The group and I walk over there and find an old man sitting in a chair with a long ladle looking device that is resting in a steel bucket in front of him. The bucket itself is engulfed in flames. I'm told that it is a tradition after the meal to take a bucket like this and fill it with a mixture of Armagnac, sugar, and lemon juice. Then they ignite the mixture and let it burn until a good amount of the sugar and alcohol is burned off. The man tending to it also uses the ladle to lift some of the mixture about six feet above the pail and then pour it back in causing a very beautiful stream of fire raining down. I'm entranced. For nearly 30 minutes I stand there watching the fire flicker up and down and the mixture slowly burning away. When the liquid is reduced enough that the flame goes out they pour the mixture into large pitchers and serve it up to the guests. I take a glass and sniff it suspiciously. The alcohol nearly burns my nostrils. One small sip and I realize just how strong it is. This is after they reduced it. I can't even imagine how strong the pure stuff is.
By this time we have been at the Fete for nearly six hours. Katie, Ben, and I want to go into town to get some cash from an ATM and try to find some groceries for baking. Derek and Justin have started to talk with the mayor and another fellow, who I later find out is the leader of the Chasse of the Gers, so I let them know we will wait out in the truck for them. Nearly 45 minutes of sitting outside in the truck goes by before we decide to go in and disrupt their conversation. When I walk in I see they have moved to a table and the four of them are in deep conversation. They finish and say good-bye and come out to the truck. As we drive off towards Condom, Derek and Justin tell us that they were invited to go along on the next hunt. That is a great honor in this area.
We arrive in Condom soon after only to realize that because it is now 7:00pm on a Sunday everything is closed. Oh well. We are still able to get some cash, and actually get a rather good picture of all of us on the musketeer statues next to the cathedral. On our way back to the house we get lost in Condom and basically experience the entire town through our truck windows. That provides endless entertainment for the crew.
When we make it back to the house it's only 8:00pm. We sit down at the kitchen table and spend a few hours talking about a wide range of topics from space and the environment, to politics and sex. Overall it turns out to be an extremely interesting evening. Around 11:00pm we all decide to get some sleep and rest up for the work ahead of us tomorrow. I sense more rubble clearing and car fixing is in my near future. As I climb into bed and lay my head on the pillow I think to myself just how great it is to be doing this kind of work and experiencing the French culture from this point of view. Soon after I am floating around in dreamland.
If you are interested in reading about my previous adventures through Europe please check out my other blog.
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.
Barcelona has all the makings of a fantastic vacation spot. It has sunshine and beaches, the people take PLANNED nap time in the afternoon (I’m allll about that siesta), and the entire city is filled with awesome sculpture, art, and culture. I could rave about Barcelona for years, to be perfectly honest, so I decided to narrow it down to a few things that any Barcelona trip should include (in my opinion). Something to keep in mind when deciding whether or not to make Barca your next vacation destination is that there is LOTS of crime, mostly pickpocketing. We really had to learn just not to talk to anybody on the street, because chances are that they were figuring out a sneaky way to grab my purse! This didn’t affect us in any major way, but I don’t think it’s a great family destination; it’s not the most kid-friendly city. For anybody else, though, I’d say to BOOK YOUR TICKET NOW! What are you waiting for!?
1. La Sagrada Famila: This cathedral, still under construction 130 years later, is/was the crowning achievement of Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi. Gaudi’s work is found all over the city, but this church is the most spectacular of them all! And the best part: they aren’t even finished with it yet. It’s 100% worth it to pay the fifteen euro to enter (even though it’s a bit steep for the typical student budget)! The outside is amazing, but the massive sandstone columns and gigantic panes of stained glass on the inside make it completely worth it. Walking in with the sound of construction reverberating around you, gazing up at the seemingly sky-high ceiling, and admiring the swoopy curves and designs of stairwells and seating areas is an unforgettable experience. It’s also worth the few extra euro to take the elevator to the top for a great view of Barcelona; don’t forget to stop in the Gaudi museum on the way out to see his grave!
2. Quimet & Quimet: I KNOW I always talk about food, but this place is too good to ignore…in fact we may or may not have gone there every night! There are tapas restaurants littering the streets of Barcelona, and this is hands down one of the best- it’s on a tiny, empty side street and somehow is completely packed every night. Picture this: you squeeze through the crowds into a one-room restaurant, the walls are lined with wine racks and there are small tables dotting the wood floors. You stand at your table, yell out in mangled Spanish to the proprieter to attempt at an order, and two minutes later he produces an absolutely gorgeous tapas with unique ingredients and flavors! Not bad, eh? Our favorites were the langostinos con pequillo (caviar, prawns, and yogurt sauce on a crostini) and another one we couldn’t pronounce that was dried beef with a sweet balsamic sauce and relish. They. Were. Delicious. Make sure to try the tangy house beer, aptly named Quimet & Quimet, prepare for an unbelievable culinary experience: and the tapas are only two-four euro each! Then mail me the meat and cheese platters, and I’ll love you forever.
3. Parc Guell: Aaand we’re back to Gaudi! The man was all over the place, I tell ya. Parc Guell, a massive green space found a bit north of the city, was originally intended to be a private neighborhood that integrated eco-friendly public areas with private homes to create one exclusive community. Unfortunately for them but lucky for us, funding and the high requirements to join led to the downfall of the plan and the opening of the park to the public! A walk through the park will show you surrealist structures that seem to be out of a Dr. Seuss novel, along with leafy trees and a view from the top of the city! The house where Gaudi lived is also inside the park and is worth a walk through just to see the sweet furniture he designed. If you’re lucky, while you are there you will see a police bust of all the gypsies selling trinkets along the side of the path as well as the gypsies fleeing up the side of the mountain with the police in hot pursuit! We did, anyway- I’ve never seen anything like it.
4. The Picasso Museum: If you are a Picasso fan in any regard, this museum will be your heaven. The museum goes through stages of Picasso’s life, even the times when he was not residing in Barcelona. There is a fabulous collection of his paintings, as well as rooms full of his ceramic work that I didn’t even know existed! Beware: this museum is ridiculously hard to find, as it’s on a weird little side street in the very middle of the city, so make sure you have good directions so you don’t spend two hours attemping to find it like we did…
Some of our other favorites: Rosal 34 (a delicious tapas restaurant located near Las Ramblas), Montejuic Park and Castle (a great afternoon activity for a beautiful view of the city), and la Barceloneta (the beach neighborhood on the ocean).
Stay tuned next Tuesday to hear a little more about BERLIN!
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