I’d be happy never riding a bus again Friday, Jul 17 2009 

Thursday morning the 4 of us woke up semi-early to check out of the hostel on time. We didn’t stick around for breakfast because we decided we wanted our last meal in Ireland to be a traditional Irish breakfast. After walking around for a little bit we found a pub nearby that was still serving and sat down to enjoy some food before Sarah had to catch her bus to Dublin to catch her flight to London. The breakfast was huge and delicious! We all agreed that we’d made a good decision in choosing breakfast out over toast at the hostel.

After breakfast it was good-bye to Sarah as she headed off to catch her bus; she still has 2 weeks in Europe thanks to a cruise with her family. Personally I’m ready to go home. Jaclyn, Katie and I still had about an hour to kill before we had to catch our bus so we wandered around Galway one last time soaking  it all in. After one last visit to the Oscar Wilde statue and the tourism center so Jaclyn could grab one last souvenir we got on our bus. The bus from Galway to Dublin took about 3.5 hours total and I’m not ashamed to say I slept most of the way. I just put on The Beatles on my iPod and conked out. It was wonderful.

We got to the airport in plenty of time and actually made it through customs and security just fine (mainly because we didn’t have to go through customs). The flight was delayed about 20 minutes but overall it wasn’t bad. We found out in the air what the cause of the delay was–bad weather. Flying into Paris we got some bad turbulence, worse than anything I’ve ever experience, and could see the sky light up with the lightning from a summer thunderstorm. When we got off the plane we were a little shocked by the heat and humidity, we’d gotten pretty used to the cooler weather in Prague and Galway.

From the plane it was onto another bus, this one to take us actually into Paris. I think it’s pretty cool that now we’ve flown in/out of all three airports in Paris: Charles de Gaulle, Orly and Beauvais. That bus ride was the worst because the driver was a moron and kept going in circles. I swear it must have taken twice as long as needed to get to our destination and the rain had nothing to do with it. Luckily for us though the drop off point was really close to the Chalufour’s apartment so we just walked home.

Once we got home it was a speed round of re-packing and last minute preparations for leaving tomorrow. Our flight home leaves at 1 pm so we have to be on the Metro headed to CDG by 9. I’m actually pretty excited about going home, even though this summer has been incredible! I still don’t think it’s fully sank in that I spent my summer studying/traveling around Europe. It was a dream come true and I will never forget this summer!

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I never knew coach buses could move like that Wednesday, Jul 15 2009 

Our last full day in Galway, Wednesday, was spent on another tour, this time to Connemara and Cong. This one was just as beautiful and informative as the Cliffs of Moher were.

We met up with the coach just like Tuesday morning and we set off on our journey. Connemara is even more in the Irish countryside than the Cliffs were and therefore even more beautiful. Along the way we saw many ancient buildings and stoneworks, further amazing me by capabilities of the Irish people before technology. Go them. One of the highlights of the trip was the stop in the tiny village of Cong, the location for the old movie The Quiet Man with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. I took lots of pictures because I know just how jealous Dad will be when he reads this. I wish we’d had more time there because then I would have gone in the museum/gift shop. I never realized just how many movies are filmed in Ireland but so far we’ve seen the sites of at least 5 movies.

Practically everything in Cong is dedicated to the memory of the movie that was filmed there.

Practically everything in Cong is dedicated to the memory of the movie that was filmed there.

In order to see all these beautiful and picturesque little sites we had to take the most narrow, rocky country roads. Keep in mind we were in a huge passenger coach…on twisty roads…with lots of sharp turns. The skill of our driver amazed me and I swear that coach had to have had a hinge in the middle to make some of the turns we did. Strangely enough, the only things that held us up were the sheep (they liked to cross right in front of us without warning) and the cycle race that was tearing through the country. Those guys were impressive as all get out. I could never imagine riding my bike in that country, let alone as fast and agile as they were about it. I did make the other girls laugh a little though because I was climbing the rocks and scrambling about to get better pictures. I guess I just channeled my inner mountain goat.

Irish hills and lakes, I'm beginning to think there's nothing more beautiful.

Irish hills and lakes, I'm beginning to think there's nothing more beautiful.

The Twelve Ben Mountains with their sides covered in stone fences built during the potatoe famine.

The Twelve Ben Mountains with their sides covered in stone fences built during the potatoe famine.

The few post and wire fences around are meant to keep the livestock of one farmer from mixing with that of another. Most farmers don't care, they just mark their herd and sort them all out in the spring when they come off the mountain for shearing.

The few post and wire fences around are meant to keep the livestock of one farmer from mixing with that of another. Most farmers don't care, they just mark their herd and sort them all out in the spring when they come off the mountain for shearing.

A bike race went through the countryside. Because the roads were so narrow we had to pull off and wait for them to go through before continuing on our way.

A bike race went through the countryside. Because the roads were so narrow we had to pull off and wait for them to go through before continuing on our way.

An old Abbey built in the side of the mountain. Just up the way was a small cathedrale built and paid for by the nuns independently of the monestary.

An old Abbey built in the side of the mountain. Just up the way was a small cathedrale built and paid for by the nuns independently of the monestary.

When we got back in town we ran to the hostel to drop off our bags and then it was to grab a quick dinner before the Harry Potter movie. We were so happy we’d already bought our tickets when we got to the theater because there were signs on the doors saying they were sold out. Because we got there early we even managed to get pretty good seats and I had a lovely conversation with the gentleman sitting next to me. He was there with his teenage children and was very interested in our travels and what we’d seen so far. I like the Irish the best of all the nationalities we’ve met because they’ve been the friendliest, most welcoming of all. I’ll be sad to say good-bye to this lovely place in the morning. Someday I’ll come back when I can spend more time here. For now though I need to go pack and get ready to fly to Paris in the morning. Hopefully this flight goes better than our last one with RyanAir…

Beware the sheep-cows Wednesday, Jul 15 2009 

Amazingly enough Tuesday morning, all 4 of us girls woke up and showered and got ready with plenty of time to spare before we had to meet the bus for our tour. We found a great deal where we could book two day tours for under 40 euro and see most of the country around Galway.

Our first tour was to the Cliffs of Moher and the surrounding countryside. Most of you may know the Cliffs of Moher as the “Cliffs of Insanity” from The Princess Bride because the movie was filmed here. The tour took us through the countryside towards the cliffs and the entire morning was just spent seeing the beauty of Ireland. We stopped at a few fairy dales but didn’t see any fairies and we saw a few old cemeteries with ancient celtic crosses. Again-just beautiful!

Fishermen in the river on the edge of Galway. I don't know what they were fishing for, there were no fish in that water.

Fishermen in the river on the edge of Galway. I don't know what they were fishing for, there were no fish in that water.

The city of Galway as seen from across the bay on our way to the Cliffs of Moher.

The city of Galway as seen from across the bay on our way to the Cliffs of Moher.The Irish countryside, complete with wandering horses.

It's no wonder the ancient Celts thought the land here held magic, just looking at it can put in you a trance with its beauty.

It's no wonder the ancient Celts thought the land here held magic, just looking at it can put in you a trance with its beauty.

The actual cliffs were after lunch and they were just breathtaking. I really wish I could put up my pictures to show you people but that’ll come soon enough. Just imagine black, slick cliff faces more than 700 feet high with the stormy, tempest-ridden Irish sky above and the deep blue and green Atlantic Ocean below. I never really thought of Ireland having beaches or mountains but that certainly is the case. It’s the most amazing juxtaposition of the two geographies I’ve ever seen. This part of the country is also still really rural so we could see all the little field full of horses and sheep and cattle, the other girls were very amused by the cattle and had to stop to take pictures. I guess that’s what happens when you grow up in the city and never see livestock up close.

Storms were rolling in all afternoon over the Ciffs of Moher.

Storms were rolling in all afternoon over the Ciffs of Moher.

The rolling hills around the Cliffs. You would never imagine that the Atlantic Ocean is less than 30 yards away.

The rolling hills around the Cliffs. You would never imagine that the Atlantic Ocean is less than 30 yards away.

The rolling barley along the Cliffs' edge.

The rolling barley along the Cliffs' edge.

The harsh weather made it all too obvious why so many deaths are reported each year at the Cliffs, strong winds and stormy seas claims the lives of those on dry land and on the water.

The harsh weather made it all too obvious why so many deaths are reported each year at the Cliffs, strong winds and stormy seas claims the lives of those on dry land and on the water.

This is not a beach for sunbathing.

This is not a beach for sunbathing.

Our tour guide was the most adorable little old Irishman named Desmond. He’s been guiding tours for 13 years now so he really knows his stuff and makes the trip fun. He was constantly joking with us, telling everyone to watchout for Ireland’s newest and most dangerous breed of cattle: the sheep-cow. These sheep-cows were mentioned a few times during the day but it wasn’t until we were halfway home that we saw one–it was a llama. Granted they are funny looking animals but a sheep-cow? Desmond also serenaded me on the bus. There was Irish music playing all day, including “Galway Girl” and I guess I just fit the description pretty well. The “Galway Girl” has black hair and bright blue eyes and that’s what gets the singer into trouble. I’m learning here that I apparently look quite a bit Irish.

When we came back from the tour we grabbed a quick, hot dinner of soup and then went back to the hostel to try to dry off before going out. It rained off and on all day and sometimes we just couldn’t escape it so we got soaked. Now we know why Ireland is so green. Desmond had told the whole tour about a tavern in Galway that had good prices and live Irish Set Dancing on Tuesday nights so we decided to give it a try.

Sarah wasn’t feeling well so Jaclyn, Katie and I went. We ordered our drinks and were just chatting until the music and the dancing started. None of us were quite sure what Set Dancing was but we soon found out. Its kind of like square-dancing meets swing meets two-stepping all to Irish folk music. We were watching for a while and having fun when an older man (most of the dancers were older) came up and asked if I’d like to dance. I figured why not so I went out on the floor with him. That was the best decision I’ve made this entire trip! It was soo much fun! I was worried my clumsiness would make me a horrible dancer and I’d crash into everyone but I didn’t, my partner was named John Walsh and he was a great teacher/leader. I danced 5 dances with him and loved every second of it. In our little chats along the way he asked me if I had any Irish blood in me and I said yes and he said he could tell walking up to me that I did and he just knew I’d be a good Irish dancer. I don’t know if all that’s true but it was fun and I hope to do it again sometime!!

After the dancing I was exhausted and we needed to come back to check on Sarah so we headed home. Our next day in Galway should be fun because we have another tour and we’re seeing the new Harry Potter movie! Get excited people!

Jaclyn says harp Monday, Jul 13 2009 

Monday morning started way earlier than any morning in Prague did. The breakfast here at Snoozles (our hostel in Galway) is much earlier and shorter so that encourages early rising. We ate our breakfast and then just set out on foot to explore the city.

Galway is very friendly and adorable and I am totally in love with it. We just wandered down the same little streets where we ate dinner on Sunday when we got in and this time we were able to explore the shops more because they were all open for business. On our adventures we saw lots of traditional restaurants and shops, including several specializing in yarn and knitted goods. I was, of course, in heaven. I hadn’t planned on getting anything on this trip but when I saw the homespun yarn and the amazing price that it was at I was sold. It’s beautiful and warm and I can’t wait to work with it! For lunch we wandered along the riverside and found a really nice little tea/coffee cafe. The food was delicious and the atmosphere was just so cozy, it really made me miss Columbia and my coffee houses. Everything was so bright and welcoming, our table was the perfect still-life, I think I took a million photos of it.

The girls' cranberry tea in the bright red tea kettle.

The girls' cranberry tea in the bright red tea kettle.

My coffee and the shiny tea kettle again.

My coffee and the shiny tea kettle again.

The amazing tomato/red pepper soup and the tea kettle. Our table looked like it jumped out of an 18th century painting.

The amazing tomato/red pepper soup and the tea kettle. Our table looked like it jumped out of an 18th century painting.

From there we wandered along the river and looked at the gorgeous coast line and the swans swimming in the water. There was an old cathedral along the way that we stopped in at too. Before we knew it we were back on our side of the town, Galway is so small we walked across the whole city in one day. On the way back to the hostel we stopped at a grocery store and bought some pasta and sauce to make our dinner, along with a yummy looking chocolate cake from a bakery (it wasn’t as good as a French pastry but it was pretty good).

After dinner we decided to go find a pub and try a real Guinness since we are in Ireland. The desk clerk at the hostel gave us some suggestions on pubs and we set off to find one of them. I was actually surprised to find that I liked the Guinness, I think of all the beer I’ve tried in Europe it’s been the best. Good to know. The pub also had some really cool live Irish music so we stayed just to hear that. It was a really popular pub and before we knew it we had some new friends sitting with us. We met Lorraine and her boyfriend (we don’t remember his name) and their friends Johnny (who’s name was really Patrick) and Mike (he was obviously the wingman). They were all interesting and made the night hilarious! They were harmless, but at one point Johnny decided he was going to kiss either Jaclyn or Katie and they were going to flip a coin to decide who. Euros in Ireland have the number on one side (that’s heads) and a harp on the other. Jaclyn couldn’t follow the accent so Johnny decided she called harp… Jaclyn won but never paid up. Our new Irish friends were sad to see us leave but we have a tour in the morning so we had to head out. Maybe we’ll see them again later this week, then again we may find a different pub…

We don’t need no stinkin’ stamps…o wait, yes we do Monday, Jul 13 2009 

Sunday morning got off to a great start when we left the hostel/apartment in Prague to head to the airport. The bus we needed when we got off the Metro took forever to pick us up, even though we could see it just sitting in the parking lot. From there we got to the airport and started the check-in process. When Katie and I tried to check-in the woman at the counter told us that we could just go straight to the gate because we weren’t checking any luggage, super. So Sarah checked her bag and we all set off for security. Security wasn’t a problem, we got our passports stamped without any problems and then we went to our gate to board the flight: problem. Apparently on RyanAir (the small European airline we were taking) non-EU passengers have to have a stamp from the check-in counter on their boarding pass or no dice. The woman at the check-in counter screwed us over. So Katie, Jaclyn and I then had to run like crazy back through the airport, out through security, back in, go to check-in, go through customs again and we barely made the flight. We weren’t too happy.

Once we made the flight though everything was good. We landed in Dublin and got a bus to Galway just fine and got to see some beautiful scenery along the way. I swear Ireland is the prettiest place we’ve visited this whole summer. The grass was so green it almost seemed to glow and it really did look like something out of a picture with the stone fences and the hills dotted with cattle and sheep. It really made me a little bit homesick but I can’t wait to explore it some more.

When we got to Galway we checked into our hostel, which is a convenient 5 minute walk from the bus station. We explored the area a little and got some dinner and then just relaxed in the hostel. It was a pretty great evening and I’m really looking forward to the rest of the week!