Second morning in Dublin

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Enjoying (?) another cup of coffee (?) at the hostel this morning. It’s raining in Dublin, and about 45 degrees. We have three days left including today. Dublin is as different from Kinvara or Kilronan as Chicago is from Charleston or Lerna.

Yesterday we split into groups to explore three attractions of the city. My group went to the Kilmainham Gaol, Ireland’s most famous and most filmed defunct prison, and then to Trinity College to see the campus, the Long Room and the Book of Kells. And finally, Christ Church Cathedral.

Lots more to do today! Everyone is alive and well.

If nothing else, I will make it to Starbucks today…
Gulp

Come sail away

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We did a number of activities yesterday. First, several of the girls wanted to go to Blarney Castle and kiss the stone. I was not moved to spend €10 to walk up 100+ stairs, lie on my back overhanging a drop off, and put my lips anywhere hundreds of thousands of others have. No judgment…Just not my thing. I’m happy to report they felt the experience was worth the expense! (Note to self: Own a tourist attraction–very lucrative.) While they were kissing the stone, the rest of us went to the Largest Irish store in the World … I still needed to buy souvenirs, so I thought for sure this was the ideal place.

I saw my crystal, of course– Waterford’s signature Lismore–and resisted the urge to buy a salt and pepper shaker set and about a dozen other pieces. I wanted to buy some table linens for my mom, but there were mountains to sort through in a variety of patterns. Even to my surprise, I sent almost a half hour looking through Irish music compilation CDs looking for the perfect combination of my must-have songs. Would you believe I ended up walking out empty-handed?! My only explanation is i felt overwhelmed mainly because I overthought every item (how expensive?, how heavy/bulky?, how breakable?, is it perfect?) I gave up, went to the restaurant for a latte and scone, a little disheartened by the experience, a little delighted by the scone.

After we all gathered up, we went back to the Naval base and enjoyed both a tour of a ship and a meeting with a female Protestant reverend/minister/priest/rector from the Church of Ireland. This rounded out our experience having spoken with Fr. Michael of the Catholic church on Inis Mor, and was pretty enlightening. Only in the last 25 years have women been able to become priests in the Church of Ireland. The girls asked a lot of good questions, and we enjoyed our speaker until she had to leave at 2pm. Little did we know what was coming next…

When Cmdr Roberts told us he would try to get us on a boat, I had no idea it would a sailboat (well, three to accommodate the size of our group), nor did I expect that as soon as we left the pier, I would have the ship’s wheel in my hands, getting my first lesson in sailing.

The breeze in Cork harbor was plentiful, but not overwhelming, the day progressively warmer and sunnier. Owen, the captain of the ship, grinned widely and asked who was ready to sail. I looked at the girls. They looked at me. Owen called me out, and instead of bowing out gracefully, I stood up, unsteady with the waves, and took the wheel in my hands like I was choking the life out of it. Now we all had on high quality life jackets with what could best be described as an automatically inflating harness with crotch straps, but I didn’t want to test it out. At first it was so unnerving…definitely out of my element…I knew anyone looking at my face could tell I was somewhere between overly nervous and slightly panicked. Especially when I turned the wheel to hard and the boom swung around. Crewman Paul ducked deftly without incident. He knew it was coming (whereas I didn’t see that coming AT ALL). I freaked out a little, he shrugged. With experience comes relaxation.

At one point two of the Navy guys and two of the girls were up at the front, as I navigated the harbor. I had two more girls near the back with me. While I was confident in Owen and Paul, I had none in myself… I felt the weight of their lives and the expense of the probably 34-36′ sailboat. Deep down I knew Owen would take over if anything went awry, but there were times I wanted him standing right next to me. I realized he was moving further away from me the better I performed.

Paul and Owen kept trading numbers, measured in meters and knots (sp?), and I kept thinking to myself that if one of those numbers turned out to be a bad thing, I would never know. Sailing has its own language, so I probably would not understand words any better than the numbers. None of that seems like a big deal until the boat is heeling (sp?), or leaning to one side, at an uncomfortable and somewhat frightening angle…then you really wish you knew more. At first, Owen or Paul one said it’s like driving a car — right is right and left is left. Later they would both say it’s not like driving a car on a road–you are always interacting with the forces of wind and water.

Before long, though, I started to relax enough to feel the boat, the water and the wind…I found the rhythm between them…and realized I wasn’t sailing; I was dancing. And it was my turn to lead. When I encountered a new challenge (now sail between that buoy and that other boat!), a little anxiety crept up in my throat. First, the other boat in question was the Air … a €750,000 a week rental yacht…and Owen grinned while he said “make your point the back of that boat” as we approached it almost perpendicularly. I laughed nervously and said, ” I can’t afford to replace it if I hit it.”

In my mind, I remembered the lessons of the water…perspective is distorted. Items in your mirror are further than they appear…but I found it hard to trust. As I sailed past the Air, I gained more confidence and found my groove again. I was so thrilled because I started to understand what the fuss is about. Sailing is…positively exhilarating. But all of the excitement and (totally unnecessary) tension in my arms and shoulders and the (somewhat necessary) tension in my thighs and calves, fatigued me a bit. A couple of the students took turns at the helm. When we docked, I enjoyed a refreshing beverage hanging out with the sailors. Splendid company! I’m going to order a nautical chart of Cork harbor to hang on the wall.

Best. Day. Ever.

Thanks to all who made that possible!

So help me if this App eats my post…

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Another day is almost done. We really only have six more days in country after today…time is definitely picking up speed, but I think it’s where we are and what we are doing that shapes our perceptions more than being near the end of the trip. A day talking about The Troubles with Jon or Richard seems much longer than a day sightseeing. But that’s not a bad thing at all. We deeply enjoyed those days. It’s just funny how long ago it has been. And how many people here in the republic are shocked that we went to “the North of Ireland.” … “Why would you want to do that?”

Today we visited the naval base and the world’s oldest yacht club … The Commander at the naval base was a spectacular host, we had a wonderful meal at the officers’ club, and promises to get us aboard a ship tomorrow weather permitting!! *crossing fingers*

At The Royal Cork Yacht Club we talked with the General Manager and another employee who gave us the history through current affairs. while it seemed like there were full slips, membership has suffered as a result of the collapse of the Celtic Tiger taking a nap. Or as one of our speakers said, turning into the “Celtic Pussycat”… It’s both obvious and strange to think of the economic flows and devastating ebbs of the economic climate outside our borders. Much like us, Ireland has suffered a “buy now, pay later” false boom with the inevitable collapse of such a system. During the height of the Celtic Tiger, Ireland had 100% employment rate, and housing costs (along with everything else, including minimum wage) on the rise. Large amounts of money lent to underqualified buyers, speculative building and high risk investment properties on the rise… Sound familiar?? Then it crashed.

We went to the Cork Heritage Center, which is actually a really cool museum. We learned more about the famine and emigration from Ireland, as well as a review of the Titanic…again… It is the centenary after all. ;) There were parts where I started to tear up a bit. The closer you get to the reality of it, the more it just makes you sick. I was really excited and proud to find out that Boston residents took up the cause and raised funds and collected food for the people of Ireland, sending food, money and supplies of about 150k (in the 1800s that was a lot more than it is today). It reaffirmed for me the importance and continued need for humanitarian aid around the globe and t home. :(

Later, we further explored the redefinition of the term “fast food” … In all honesty, the better part of our trip has been spent waiting for food. It is completely understandable when 17 people roll up and order simultaneously, but when there are five or six of us ordering what we would consider to be fast food, we somewhat expect to be served within 20 or 30 minutes. :/. This is us, with our first world problems. I remained patient, glad I get food, considering the trip earlier in the day, and vowed to keep this in perspective. I hope it lasts after I leave this land.

Needing a bit of a break, some of us participated in a trivia night. Considering everything (being Americans) we did pretty well as a team. We came in 15th place I think…out of 30 teams. Not bad, not bad. We had a music buff, a few of us general knowledge types, and zero representation for sports. However, one question was how many points is a touchdown worth in American football (ha!!) and I correctly answered the missing competitive swim stroke of those listed (answer: freestyle). One question I guessed randomly in an Irish “random” category ended up being right, but we didn’t write it down! Boo. Oh well, we still had a blast and ended up meeting some cool people.

All in all, good times…even if I’m not the hugest fan of Cork.

Headed to Cork via Killarney

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Another long, detailed and, of course, nostalgically perfect blog post has been consumed by the devil inside this WordPress App.

Le sigh

That’s two….

Suffice it to say I wrote something thought provoking and interminably witty about our travels today, as well as my deep reflections of both the culture and my emotional ties to certain parts of Ireland. I would recreate it if I could, but since that is impossible, allow me to Readers’ Digest the hell out of it…

We stopped in Killarney for lunch, but didn’t have time to get a feel for the place. We did get offered numerous horse and trap rides, but we as a group are pretty much horsed-out. Nothing could compare to the vistas on Inis Mor where we took our first carriage ride. Plus our bodies might rebel against any equestrian endeavor at the moment.

Horseback riding yesterday has left parts of me sore I didn’t know I owned. Be aware when traveling to Ireland that they use Irish (= English) saddles. You will find a definite and unfortunate difference between the two should you, like me, be accustomed to a Western saddle. On the other hand, you could say it’s like two hours with a thigh master, but more fun. Unless you account for the perched position creating unnecessarily harsh angles for your other bits. Ahem. I have bleeding blisters from my riding boots. Should have thrown caution to the wind and worn my Nike Mary Janes. If they can handle the hike to Dun Angohasa, they could have done just fine on the ride.

In another part of my epic post, I waxed philosophic about the cultural and personal experiences I have had with Ireland, trying to find my “home”, my “people”, my “tribe”…

I assure you it is not in Cork. And certainly not found at the Cork International Hovel Hostel.

Enough complaining! Time to get some sleep…

I’ll be paying for wifi tomorrow to post this.

Doing the Dingle Peninsula

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Today we enjoyed a full service breakfast and rejoined Noel for our tour of the peninsula. A great deal of trust and Dramamine got me through the tortuous mountain roads and sheer drop offs. We have seen a few rock wall fences, but there are fewer here in County Kerry than we saw in County Galway…especially Inis Mor.

It doesn’t take long to realize why monks came to the Ring of Kerry area in the third and fourth centuries. It is majestic and peaceful. There are pockets of small villages and scattered farmhouses, and if course this cursed serpentine road, but I bet it looks pretty much the same as it did then. It seems like the perfect place to get in touch with the universe.

We had lunch at a hotel restaurant on the way (cheese toastie!) and made our way around some more high cliffs. Yikes! I survived thanks to the Dramamine, but the side effect –sleepy!– kicked in. I took a nap from 2-4. I had a bizarre dream about accidentally going into a brothel instead of a pub (saw James Spader in there…hmmm…), having a terribly hard time trying to register the kids for school in Ireland, purchasing a house sight unseen and then losing the mortgage paperwork. Very high anxiety…and then the worst part of the dream happened when Jim started having cardiac trouble. I began administering CPR and pounding on his chest, begging for someone to call 911…and then realizing they don’t use the same number here for emergencies. In my dream (and this is how I you can REALLY tell it was a dream) the health insurance company sent in a fleet of helicopters, tour bus sized ambulances and about a 72 person support team to organize his care.

I think my subconscious mind had some stuff to sort out.

At 5 some of us went horseback riding. It was great, except when it wasn’t.

I need a shower and more sleep…

Limerick to Dingle

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I’m trying to be zen…. I just lost a very long blog post. :( There’s no way to recreate what took me an hour or more to do. Super sad face. Here is my half-hearted effort to bring everyone up to speed…

We made our way to Limerick, but elected to stay in for the night, since locals warned us to only use cabs to get around from our hotel. The nickname of Limerick is “stab city”. I have no idea how accurate this moniker is, but I was not anxious to find out. The hotel was clean and nicely appointed, and I prefer a hotel over a hostel any day. The only problem was that the Internet was spotty at best. I could only be on in public areas, which were too loud and too well populated to Skype. I listened to traditional Irish music at the hotel bar while publishing last night’s blog. nice way to get work done.

We had a beautiful drive into the mountains, when I wasn’t panicking. Twisty mountain roads tend to unnerve me (understatement).

We saw the master crystal cutter, and now we are headed to dinner!

Cliffs of Moher and Bunratty Castle

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We were met with a proper Irish breakfast this morning…much to the delight of all of us who are sick of toast. But wouldn’t you know, many of us ate toast with our eggs and bacon or sausage anyway. We joke about not eating toast again after we leave this country. Twenty-to-one odds we will find ourselves craving toast within a week. Some of the girls tried (blood) pudding. Million-to-one odds NO one will be craving that any time soon.

Before long we were headed to the Cliffs of Moher. The cliffs are a sight to see, for sure. It is quite the attraction for foreign travelers. I must have picked up on half a dozen languages, and probably missed at least that many more. I heard French, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese, as well as Japanese and something eastern European (Czech?). The site is well appointed with an exhibition area, a cafe, a restaurant, and gift shop. It is built underground. The steps up to oversee the cliffs appear fairly new, as do the walls with signs suggesting you stay behind them. Not everyone regards the signs. We stayed well within safe range. The view was lovely. I thought the sheer faces of the cliffs, the crashing blue ocean water some 700 ft below, and gulls circling between was beautiful….The sun on the waves looked like diamonds. But my eyes kept being drawn to the horizon. To the Aran islands.

To compare the cliffs at Dun Angohasa to those of the Cliffs of Moher at first glance would seem unfair, slanted toward the beauty and height of Moher, Plus, it was an easy bus ride with parking, convenient steps leading up, and all the safety features befitting a national treasure that must see millions of visitors a year. But I didn’t like it nearly as much. In fact most of today’s visits seemed a bit commercial. Somehow less authentic because of it.

Bunratty castle, built in the 1400s was built by the McNameras and subsumed by the O’Brien clan. Now it subsumed by tourists.The castle is neat, but I was not prepared for loads of people who spill out of giant tour busses.

Does it mean you have been in country too long when you start getting annoyed by the tourists?

Slan, Galway, dia dhuit, Kinvara

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We are now in the small town of Kinvara. En route from Galway, we surprised the girls with a stop at a farm that has adapted itself toward the tourist market. They have you apron up, teach you to make your own scones, then show you sheep herding, sheering and feeding lambs with a bottle while the scones are baking! Then they serve tea and your own scones (after washing hands of course) Brilliant!

We also got to tour the farmer’s 250+ year old home that has been in his family all that time. We got to see thatching in progress. A roof must be re-thatched every two years. They had a peat fire going, but surely this was a tour related activity only, as we are experiencing temps in the mid eighties here (I think)… whatever 24-28 degrees Celsius is. Every animal is panting here. They are not used to the heat and so much sunshine. I’m legitimately getting a tan. The natives are saying if we get one more day like this (3 in a row), panic will ensue among the farmers. They say there hasn’t been weather like this for years.

In Kinvara we enjoyed the farmer’s market. A couple of the girls wanted to buy a chicken.

It will be dinner soon…got to run….

Back to Galway

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Yesterday we said goodbye to Inis Mor. Sad face :(. I can’t believe I fell in love with the Aran Islands. I guess I thought it would be nice… I didn’t suspect it would be so good for my soul. We had not been on the mainland for more than a few hours when I caught myself longing for the rolling fields, the sounds of waves lapping and crashing against the cliffs, and the breezes blowing away any cares. This morning I sit at a picnic table in the hostel courtyard, wishing I were sitting in my spot on the stone fence back in Aran.

Yesterday we went to see some Irish boats, Currachs and hookers. We even saw one in the process of being built as part of a community building activity. Jim was delighted, the girls more reticent at the prospect originally. In a moment of genius or kismet, the seaman sent his young (20 something) son, Connell, to direct the tour. That certainly improved the attention and attitude of the collective. Within minutes frowns turned upside down, and a contagious wave of giggles spread. Directly, the girls engaged in the activity and began asking questions.

The experience I have had so far tells me that studying intercultural communication works easily, but the conjoined aspects I find compelling are identity and narrative. I would probably develop this framework more if I were to lead this trip again. My first Gaelic word was sceal … Story. We are narrative creatures, but no more so is this true than in Eire. Some stories are political, some economic, or cultural, but they are all deeply personal and connect natives to a well spring of identity. And the stories they inherit from their ancestors are fraught with violence, territorialism, and survival. Also stories infused with humor and passion. Storytellers function easily here. Just ask Jim.

Jon McCort from northern ireland said “we don’t learn violence, we inherit it,” …this sentiment was echoed in Tony’s words… “when the conflict arises, the flags come out.” There is a sense that anyone on this island has come from a long tradition of fighting.

It’s time to prep for a meeting. We will be reviewing journals, talking about the next couple days and reviewing what we have learned so far. I will try to remain in the present moment, a challenge since stepping foot off the ferry. Even though we are still on the bay, the only sounds I hear now are city sounds. People, construction, cars. My mind keeps drifting back to the pastoral landscape and the sounds of the sea.

Slan agus Bennacht.

We will be home in two weeks…

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