Monday, March 8, 2010

North Wales and London!

On the ferry, leaving Ireland

After about a three hour ferry ride across the Irish Sea, we met the coast of North Wales. It was hard to part with the beautiful, scenic Ireland, but I was excited to see what was next to come. Immediately, North Wales looked very different from Ireland. There was much larger of a population and more buildings, but there still were little white specks of sheep scattered everywhere! Also, in the distance were the Snowdonia Mountains:
We then drove through a little town in North Wales with a name that I don't ever think I will be able to pronounce. Our tour guide pronounced the name, and I wrote down how I thought it would be spelled:


Here's how it ACTUALLY is spelled:

I think my spelling was slightly off! It was a quaint little town, and we had a nice lunch there. I ate shepherd's pie, which I have been eating every chance that I get. By the way, the food here is quite bland, but the dishes are still quite tasty. I've been eating a lot of potatoes, beef, and chicken, and they are not really prepared with a lot of seasonings. The desserts usually comes with some sort of cream, and the cream is very rich but lacks sweetness. All of the food was a different taste to me, but I could definitely get used to it! Delicious Shepherd's Pie

Fruit Pavlova: Fruit on top of creme and meringue

We had a nice drive through the countryside of Wales, and we then arrived at Conwy castle. This castle, by far, has been my absolute favorite castle. Have a look for yourself:
View from atop the castle

After the castle visit we had some free-time so my sister and I decided to walk around the town of Conwy. We found a little tea place where we enjoyed some tea and scones which is a popular afternoon treat in the UK. We then spent the night in North Wales, and ventured on to London the next day.
Afternoon snack

On the way to London, we stopped at Stratford-upon-Avon which is Shakespeare's birthplace. We visited the house of Anne Hathaway, the wife of Shakespeare. We also got to walk around the historic town of Stratford-upon-Avon where the streets were lined with little shops. There was also an open-air market taking place which was similar to a flea market.
Anne Hathaway's house

In the same day we also saw Oxford, one of the leading universities in the world. You could tell that just by looking at the buildings. The architecture was magnificent, and even though I was left behind for a little, I couldn't help but stand there for a few minutes to take it all in.

The next and last day in the UK consisted of a tour around the city of London. I absolutely loved the buildings. There were not too many shops, but instead there were large Parliament buildings, churches and cathedrals, and historic buildings all beautifully designed, once again. I rode the London Eye which is the second largest Ferris Wheel in the world. It takes 35 minutes for one rotation, but the purpose of the Ferris Wheel is to give a breathtaking view of the city of London:
And indeed a view it was.

In London we also saw Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey. Westminster Abbey was awesome. It is a Gothic monastery working church owned by the royal family. Kings, queens, statesmen, soldiers, poets, and heroes in British history are all buried inside the church. It was really neat to see. The church was huge, but there no longer is anymore room for anyone to be buried there.

I had a wonderful time in London, and it was the last place to visit on the itinerary before our flight carried us back home the next day. This trip has truly been the most amazing experience in my life. I was never able to travel outside of the country, but I am so grateful to have been given that opportunity. My experiences with this trip have given me a new perspective of the outside world and have also helped me to see how unique the United States is from other countries. I would highly encourage everyone to travel outside of the country at least once in their lifetime because I know their eyes will be opened, as mine have been.

Between the three countries that I visited, I must say that Ireland was my favorite. It definitely had simplicity to it which I liked. I LOVED the scenery and everywhere I looked there was beauty to admire. This is exactly what I expected, and I know I will be returning to Ireland someday when it is in its blossoming season. I think its beauty might capture me there forever though!

I almost forgot to mention, strangely, but luckily enough, we did not have any encounters with rain during the trip. We had beautiful weather each day which is rare for Ireland and the UK. I think my angel in the sky had something to do with this, and he must have been with me all along on this trip...

This trip was really a blessing, and I hope you enjoyed reading my adventures as much as I enjoyed sharing them!


Saturday, March 6, 2010

Random Facts About Ireland

Hello, hello!

Sadly my time came to an end in Ireland, but in just two days worth of time I got to see a little bit of Wales and tour the city of London. Before I write of my adventures in these two countries, I have some random facts and pictures to go along with them which I collected throughout my time in Ireland.

1. This castle, located in Killarney, is called Ross Castle. The scenery was spectacular. There was a lake right next to the castle with white swans peacfully swimming around in the water. Notice the white snowy mountains behind the castle as well.

2. We drove through a little town called Lisdoonvarna which is famous for its annual matchmaking festival. Yes, I said MATCHMAKING festival! I've heard of peach festivals, music festivals, art festivals, but never a matchmaking festival. This festival goes on for one month in September and appeals to those looking for love. People write to the matchmaker himself prior to this festival, and when September comes, he arranges for two people to meet, that h

e thinks would make a good match. My tour guide jokingly said that a man might say something to a woman like, "I have 20 acres of land; do you want to dance?" We all were quite amazed at such a thing!

3. Typical education for children in Ireland begins around four years old. Children then enter into a "junior" or national school at 8 years of age. They are taught all of the core classes and then leave this school at age 12. Then they move onto secondary school for three years where they then get their junior certificate from an exam that they prepared for in their third year of this secondary school. This secondary school includes classes in english, irish, math, foreign language, and the general history, geography, business, science topics as well. In their fourth year of secondary education the student either prepares to put on a production or leave the country for work experience. The way that college works is quite different than how it works in the United States. There is sort of a point system which determines what subject you are qualified to study. Throughout secondary school, an "A" at an advanced level is worth 100 points, whereas an "A" at an ordinary level is worth 70 points. In order to study medicine at a college or un

iversity, it requires almost all of the advanced levels and a lot of points.

4. On the way to the Cliffs of Moher, our tour guide pointed out a little square of grass in a small town. This square is an acre in size and owned by a man who owns a pub directly across the street from it. Every year he divides this acre in 49 plots, 7 x 7 in size, and he marks it all off. Inside his pub across the street, you can "buy" a plot for one euro. Once all the plots are sold, he then lets a cow into the acre, and the cow just grazes, and grazes away while people are all watching in anticipation for the cow to let out a plop on their little 7 x 7 plot. The money goes to the person who owns the plot with the plop! This happens annually and brings a lot of excitement to the town. And by the way, it is called the Plotto!

5. This is an Irish wolfhound. It gets its name from its purpose, hunting wolfs, rather than

its appearance. It is built like a very muscular greyhound and is extremely strong!

6. We also took a visit to Yeats' tower near Gort, County Galway. William Yeats was an Irish poet and he was an important 20th century literary figure. He wrote his poetry here and lived with his family here for a few years, but once he died and they moved out, it was ruined. Since then, it has been restored to the condition that it was in when he lived there. It is in such a quiet and pleasant location.

7. I kissed the Blarney stone! Blarney castle is one of the most famous castles in Ireland, and many people flock to this treasure of Ireland to kiss the Blarney stone. The legendary Stone of Eloquence is found at the top of the tower, and supposedly if you kiss the stone, you have the gift of the gab. Not only does the castle have a mystical stone, but it also ha s gardens which attract many people. The castle that I saw was the third one erected on that site. This one was built by Dermot McCarthy, King of Munster, about 600 years ago.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Hustle and Bustle Around the City of Dublin

Dublin, the capital of Ireland, has quite a little charm of its own to it. It definitely lived up to its reputation and beyond. Though I am not much of a city person myself, I very much enjoyed the bright and colorful shops, the live Irish music playing in the streets, and the way the old architecturally significant buildings have been preserved. One thing that Dublin had in common with every other city was its fast moving pace. Everyone seemed to flow along with it, excluding us of course! Some of the people would quickly zoom around our group to get past us and hurry off to their meetings or their classes at Trinity College, and even the people that seemed to be on shopping excursions seemed to be in a hurry as well! In the meantime, we were just enjoying the sights and taking them all in.

This is a little view of Grafton Street in Dublin--ideal for shopping!

I thought this was also neat. It was like a clash of times with brand new trams on a bridge built in 1821! The purpose of trams is not only to get people quickly from point A to point B, but also to greatly reduce Dublin's traffic, which has been successful. Dublin also has all large trucks traveling underneath the city to reduce traffic buildup, and in order for the trucks to be in the city they need a permit. Dublin is also trying to start a new bicycle transportation system, and it is up and on the rise. Even further, instead of adding to the pollution and traffic problems throughout the city, you can even rent a bicycle for the day from various stations throughout the city. It seems like a good idea to me!

Another neat thing to see in Dublin is the houses. The houses in Dublin are built as row housing, and the only way that the owners can individualize their houses is to paint their door. They also may change the hinges and the trim, but the main thing that sets them apart from each other is the color that the owners choose for the doors. Unfortunately, I do not have any pictures of the doors to display until I am able to hook up my other camera to my computer at home, but these doors have had quite alot of fame in several movies, so you may have already seen them yourself!

Also, in Dublin, this cross below was erected for the visit of Pope John Paul II in Phoenix Park, in September of 1979. The Pope held a mass here for an unexpectedly large crowd of over one million people. We took a walk up the steps and stood where the Pope would have spoken, and it was such an amazing sight from his point of view because I could see far out into the distance over a large stretch of land which would have been covered with all the people. We also took at stroll around St. Stephen's Green Park. I could see lots of flowers starting to bud, and there were birds everywhere. It was a very pleasant park with beautiful fountains around it as well. I think I actually experienced a little bit of Spring on its way!
While visiting the city, we also payed a visit to Trinity College. Located in the heart of Dublin, the Trinity College campus really made me feel like I was back in the 18th century as I walked through its cobblestones surrounded by its magnificent buildings on all four sides. The old library of the college houses Ireland's most precious treasure,the Book of Kells. It is an old 9th century manuscript containing the four gospels in Latin, lavished with beautiful artistic symbols and colorful drawings within the text. It was amazing to see this right in front of me and to imagine the time and patience that it must have taken to carefully and beautifully copy each word of the gospel by hand. Another amazing sight to see was the main chamber of the old library in the college, known as the Long Room. It is filled with 200,000 of the library's oldest books. There are also many of Ireland's treasures showcased in this room including one of the few remaining copies of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic. Unfortunately, pictures were not allowed to be taken due to interferences with the preservation of the objects, but if I were to describe it with words it simply would not do it justice; here is a picture from the web:

After I learned a little bit of the extremely complex history of Ireland, my little group and I moved on to a visit more familiar to us--Catherine McAuley's first House of Mercy that she built. Catherine McAuley and all of her work has greatly impacted many parts of the world. She was born in Dublin in 1778, and she had a love for the poor, inherited from her Catholic father. Unfortunately, her mother and father died when Catherine was quite young, and she was then adopted. Catherine then used the money that she inherited to build a house on the corner of Baggot Street which served as both a home for her and her helpers and also as a place for them to care for those in need. Eventually, Catherine and her helpers became Sisters, and they became known as the Sisters of Mercy. Catherine died quite young; however, her merciful works and acts are still being carried out in many Houses of Mercy around the world. This was all very exciting to see outside of the classroom, as Gwynedd Mercy College was actually founded by the Sisters of Mercy. We toured all around this first House of Mercy and saw the schoolroom in which Catherine taught the children. We also saw her bedroom which was her place of death, and we visited her grave behind the house where both her and some of the Sisters of Mercy have been buried. In this cemetery there was a little fountain of water which contained water from different countries around the world in which some of the Sisters worked in. Each of the Sisters brought back this water in a decorative vase relating to the specific country. Unfortunately, there was no photography allowed inside the actual house, so I cannot share any pictures of this as well.

One of my favorite places that we visited in this little tour around Dublin was St. Patrick's Cathedral. It was the most magnificent cathedral that I have ever seen:

The cathedral was built in honor of St. Patrick, Ireland's patron saint. It actually stands adjacent to the well that St. Patrick baptized converts on his visit to Dublin. The church is open to everyone for historical visits and also serves as a place to worship. In the first picture above, the wooden seats on the left and the right are for the choir. The architecture of the cathedral is extremely detailed, with each detail adding to its beauty. Before we left the cathedral, my sister and I both lit a special candle inside the little chapel in remembrance of my father's life. I'm extremely happy that my sister and I got that opportunity because I've been keeping him in mind throughout this whole trip, imagining his excitement. I know he would have especially loved this place.

Outside view of the cathedral.

I enjoyed my two day stay in Dublin, as it was a city none like any I've seen before! When I took all of the commercialism out of my view, the preservation of the city's old architecture really allowed me to experience what the old city used to be like. I could tell that the people of Ireland really care about this city because of all the preservation, restoration, traffic control, and also the litter-free streets. I am very lucky and grateful to have been able to experience this city in its true essence.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

People Warned Me I Would Fall in Love With This Place...

And it's true. I'm falling into a deep love. The landscape, the warm, friendly people, the food, the atmosphere-it's all so pleasant. The people here really seem to notice that we are tourists here almost instantly, before we even let out our accent. Maybe it's because of the way we slowly but curiously enter into the shops or because of our dress, but most likely because we take pictures of EVERYTHING. We cannot help ourselves though because EVERYTHING is absolutely picture-worthy.

So far, one of my favorite parts to this trip has been the visits to the castles. Some of them are beautifully restored, such as Bunratty Castle which can be seen below, while others are more worn down, but still beautifully stand. Bunratty Castle was very interesting because I was really able to get a feel for how the castle must have looked and functioned back in the 1400's. It was rebuilt a few times because it was under attack at one point, but in 1425 the MacNamara family completed the present structure. In 1954, the castle was then restored with some amazing 15th and 16th century furnishings to capture the Irish heritage of those times of County Clare.

Inside Bunratty Caste, our little castle tour-guide, explaining that only the rich people used wood for the fires. If you weren't rich, you burned peat. The fireplace was built right into the center of the floor of the great hall.

<---Very narrow steps were designed to make it more difficult for a large group of enemies to climb up all at once.

View from atop of the castle. The castle was surrounded by a lot of water, for defensive purposes. Another defensive aspect of the castle is that there are little stones on the floor that were removed so that hot oil could be poured down onto the enemies' heads if they were to attack and enter the castle.

I got to see yet another castle in County Clare at the Cliffs of Moher, located on the West of Ireland. The views were breathtaking.

The Cliffs

A castle at the Cliffs of Moher

So there's a little bit of what I've been seeing these past few days; hope you're all enjoying the pictures!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

After a Long, Long, Long 36 Hours...


After two flight cancellations, a 2 hour wait for our pilot to arrive from Orlando, and a sleepless flight, my group and I finally landed down in Shannon, Ireland, and boy, I'll tell you; just the first day was worth the whole mess.

As we were landing, I got a little glimpse of Ireland from above. The sun was bright and shining at the perfect angle, revealing the rolling hills, the green landscape, and the tiny white speckles of sheep scattered everywhere. Immediately after we went through customs and claimed our luggage, we were greeted by our jolly tour guide, Terry, and were promptly off to begin our sightseeing for the day. We toured a lot of the rural area on our way to Galway by a motor coach, and the views were spectacular. Most of our first day included a visit to the shops in the town of Galway. A lot of the shops were similar to gift shops, selling mainly tourist gifts, but some of them sold some nice clothing, shoes, and crafts. For lunch, I actually ate at the Quizno's chain sandwich shop found in the U.S., but it was my first time eating a Quizno's to begin with!

On our way to our hotel, we saw some beautiful scenery. Here in Ireland, there is a lot of open, hilly land. The land is not ideal for farming because it is typically rocky; however, there is some beautiful vegetation that sort of seems to cover the land like a green blanket. Since it is winter time, many of the plants cannot carry out their photosynthesis, so in turn there is not as much green as there usually would be; however, as you can see below there still is quite a large amount of growth. The grass is still somewhat green in most areas, but there are also areas where it isn't as vibrant. If this is what this place looks like in winter, I really don't know what would happen to my eyes in the spring/summer!

Note the two sheep!

Another thing that I found very interesting about the land was the large amount of biodiversity. The climate here is cold but also mild, allowing a large variety of growth. There is a particular tree growing here called a Monkey Puzzle which actually is not native to Ireland, but rather it was brought over from South America. To me it looks like a tree made out of pipe-cleaners, but you can have a look here yourself:

The Monkey Puzzle tree is dark green, and though it's hard to see in the picture it has little spikes coming off of the branches. Another invasive species to this island is a type of palm tree. It was something very unusual to me as I would never expect to see a palm tree in Ireland! The mild and wet climate allows for these two types of South American plants to grow easily.

Here are also some of the spectacular views and sights seen throughout this day:

Stone walls are everywhere! They add so much to the scenery. Stone walls are built to clear the land, to enclose properties, and to contain animals such as sheep and cattle in specific areas.

An Irish thatched roof home with a stone wall

An old beautiful Irish castle

I have found that the beauty of this country is unbelievable. I find myself repeating over, and over again, "These pictures do not come close ONE bit to capturing what I really am seeing!" The views are absolutely breathtaking, and I have much more to come!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Hi Everyone!

I have been very excited and anticipating this trip to come, and at last, the time is almost here! Before I depart from the United States I would like to take the time to share a little about myself and the wonderful opportunity that I have been given to travel abroad during my spring break. My name is Michelle Benton, and I am a sophomore biology student at Gwynedd Mercy College. I was given this opportunity to travel to England, Ireland, and Wales by winning an essay contest held by the college.

I've always had in me a hunger to travel and see the world, stemming from the passion for traveling that my father possessed throughout his life. He instilled this hunger in me because he always spoke of the things he would have loved to see and learn about if his illness had not prevented him from doing so. I cannot even describe the degree of excitement that he would have for me, knowing what I am about to experience traveling to these countries. I am taking this trip in honor and memory of my father, as I know he would be right by my side if he could be. It will be very exciting for me to see the world from a new perspective, and I will be writing and updating my learning experiences that I encounter as I immerse myself in these different cultures, day by day!