Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Reunited: Part II


It needs to be discussed on here! Over a month ago, API took all of us on our international excursion to the City of Lights. It was a whirlwind weekend trip so the details are a bit hazy (this makes me regret not blogging about it earlier). Let me whip out my travel journal to jog my memory.

We took an early plane from Cork to Paris with API Limerick and met API Dublin there. I love plane rides so that was fun. The Charles de Gaulle airport is really strange... there are these slanted walkways (they have one here in Cork in the Dunnes grocery store) that form tunnels and make you feel like you're a hamster in a tube. Immigration was easy-peasy, and I loved getting a new stamp in my passport.

The crepe place we were supposed to have a late lunch at was closed so we went to this cafe that took forever to make the food. It was a large group of people, but our orders were all concise -- and we were starving! They ran out of fries (France should never run out of French fries!) so we basically just ate bread with a slice of meat on it. But hey, it was free, and beggars can't be choosers. After dinner, we took the hop on/hop off bus to the Louvre, which was incredible. If I go back to Paris one day, I'll spend my entire time in there. It's a gorgeous bunch of buildings, and what's inside is just brilliant. I've always loved art museums, but being able to stand three feet from the Mona Lisa, The Wedding Feast at Cana, and Aphrodite was unreal. Check out these pics:

Three of my close friends from SMC joined me in Paris, coming from Bath, England; Maynooth, near Dublin; and Madrid. Our plan was to meet at the Mona Lisa at a given time, but I was running late, per usual, and snuck up on them instead. We made a little bit of a scene in that gallery -- they screamed when they saw me, and a bunch of people turned around. It was so great to see them, to hug them, to just be in their presence. In the middle of a bright, bustling city, I felt at home. I expected tears, but I was too excited for that.  We spent some time walking around the Louvre together, which -- even a month later, as I write this -- seems unbelievable. We may never have the opportunity to be at such an international landmark together again. The picture below is of all of us, and I couldn't tell you the name of the statue of which we're standing in front. Maybe this is disrespectful to the artist (and cliche), but we didn't really care where we were -- it was just great being together again.

After the Louvre, we walked around for a while trying to find a place to eat. Surprisingly, at ten at night, much of Paris (or at least the district we were in) was closed! We found a place near the Eiffel Tour and ate over-priced food. Our waiter was a little snobby too. In my experience, the stereotype about stuck-up Frenchmen and -women is true. If you don't speak French well, you're not as welcome in the city. None of us speak more than two words of French.

After our little dinner, we wove through the (empty, oddly enough) streets of Paris for a while until we got really lost and took a cab back to my hotel. We parted for the night, and my friend Kaitlin and I chatted in our room for a bit and fell asleep quickly.

The next morning, we got up at a decent hour and planned out our day. It was really rainy and dreary, which made for a gloomy start to the day, but all in all the morning was OK. Most of my API Cork group walked into the city with me, but we stopped at a flea market on the way to the Eiffel Tower, where Kaitlin and I were going to meet my friends. The flea market was neat (and huge), but I wasn't really in the market (pun intended) for anything. I do regret not looking at the dozens of little antique spoons a lot of vendors had because I've been wanting to make a spoon ring. But my priority was meeting my friends on time. Luckily, they were running late too. My group took a few pictures at the Eiffel Tower and some of my friends decided to go up. We parted ways, and Kaitlin and I met my friends at a souvenir shop down the street.

We were all getting hungry so we went to this cute place on a corner near the Tower. This was something we'd been talking about doing since we decided to go abroad -- it was a well-planned, much-thought-about lunch! I got some soup (I eat veggie soup when out here in Ireland, too -- it's usually cheap and it's so yummy) and lots of bread (of course; if you know me, you know I love my carbs). Lunch was a great time to catch up and introduce Kaitlin to my friends (it's always fun to bridge new friends with old ones). I honestly don't even remember what we talked about, but I know there was a good deal of 'remember when...' going on. After lunch, we braved the spitting rain and walked back toward the Tower to get some pictures. The green in front of it, which reminded me of the Mall in D.C., yielded some good ones. We planned on going to the top of the Tower at night, if at all, since the sky was so overcast. Not wasting any time, we jumped on the hop on/hop off bus (which was packed and mad slow!) to begin sightseeing. Basically, we just stood outside every monument and took a few pictures. We marvelled at the architecture and talked about how America has nothing that comes close to Parisian landmarks. Maybe that's not entirely true, but if you've ever been to Paris, you have to admit that they have a heck of a lot more pretty buildings (for lack of a more sophisticated phrase) than we do in the good ole U.S. of A. Here's the run-down of what we saw, brought to you in pictures:

First stop: Notre Dame. We didn't go in because the line looked nuts, but we did meet a lovely Canadian couple that took pictures of us and teased us for spending our study abroad not studying but traveling. I won't lie - I didn't really come to Europe to have my nose in a book (and trust me, my nose has been nowhere near any textbooks). Even one of the API directors agreed that the best kind of learning as an American in Europe is outside of the classroom.

St. Michel was next. Obviously, we SMC kids are partial to this lovely fountain. I wish I could give you some brief history lesson, but I know nothing off the top of my head about this landmark. The district around it had a lot of great little shops that we went into. I bought one of my best friends a birthday present (which was left at the hotel and couldn't be found!) and we ate some awesome pastries from a Lonely Planet-recommended place. I was tempted to get an eclair, but I've been so good with my nearly-no-dairy diet, that I couldn't break down! My chocolate-filled pastry was delicious. Check out the picture of the dessert case. Everything looked incredible.

We made our way down Champs Elysees (no picture of that because it wasn't anything's just a bunch of stores none of us could afford even setting foot in). To avoid the rain and find a bathroom, we bought a bunch of postcards in a shop in one of the gallerias there (the shop across from the souvenir shop we went into had a $1,000 shoe on sale -- ridiculous.) The real attraction was Arc de Triomphe at the end of the road. Apparently it costs something like 9 Euro to stand under the darn arch. We tried to act like clueless tourists and started for the underground exit that led up to the arch, but the people in front of us (who also had that idea) were reamed out by a guard so we decided against playing the ignorance card. Taking pictures in the pouring rain was enough for us.

Finding the metro station after that proved to be nearly impossible. So incredibly frustrating. We walked around the Arc trying to find it for a while...the only up-side to this was the opportunity to take pictures of the expensive-to-enter-under Arc from every single stinkin' angle. After asking a few people in broken French, we finally found the unmarked metro stop. And then we got stuck in the station. Our cards wouldn't scan properly so we spent a good 10 minutes running around the station freaking out. Don't worry -- we made it out. But that's the last time I use public transportation in Paris.

This is where things get fuzzy...I don't remember where we were headed, but I know we got a great view of the Eiffel Tower as the subway came out from underground. I think we were trying to find something to eat, actually. This creperie near my hotel had been recommended to us, and we wanted to try it out. Unfortunately, we were running out of time so Anna and Becca, two of my friends from home (yes, the Becca who visited me earlier, and, as you'll see if I can get my act together and write another post soon, the Becca who came to visit me -- with Anna -- for my birthday), ate there (I think?) while Sunny, Kaitlin, and I went with an API girl to the top of the Eiffel Tour.

It was cloudy and chilly, but I didn't even care. Being at the top made me unbelievably giddy. It's one of those bucket list things that I'm so lucky to have experienced. The hourly lights show (when it sparkles) went off while we were on the first tier, and that was pretty cool. That's an understatement -- honestly, I almost cried...that's how in-awe I was. The pictures here are from one of the tiers, not the top. It was really foggy at the top -- basically just a lot of bright yellow clouds. I like these pictures, though, because they illustrate Paris as the City of Lights. It was great to be at the Tower at night just to see the city lit up.

If you want to see the complete album of my Paris pictures, all 434 of them, you can follow the link here. A good 200 of them are of the Eiffel Tower alone. Be prepared for ones that look pretty similar. Maybe I don't need the same shot twelve times, but I wanted to make sure I got plenty of decent ones!

So that's Paris in a nutshell. Not my favorite trip thus far, but certainly a good weekend all in all!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Reunited: Part I

This post is (so) long overdue. I find that the more I do, the less energy I have to write about it here because I know I could easily write pages (is that possible in a blog?) and pages. I want to thoroughly document my experience here, but I'm usually short on time or energy, so the more it builds up the less motivated I am to try to cram it all into one big post. I did make an effort, though, to write about this a few weeks ago, which is why the timestamp on this was originally February 21st. Anyway, let me at least cover one of the two big adventures since my last post: Becca's visit.

It's been about month since this happened so forgive me for leaving out little details I no longer remember. My roommate from home, Becca, is studying abroad in Maynooth, Ireland, a little town outside of Dublin. She came down for a weekend in February just for a change of scene and to see the south.

I picked her up at the bus station Friday night and was thrilled to see her through the bus windows. It was so nice to see a familiar face! We spent the night hanging out and catching up until about 3 a.m., only to get up early the next morning for a bus to Blarney. Becca really wanted to kiss the Blarney Stone, and I was more than happy to go back to the little village. We had great weather for it too (Look at the picture above...yet another picture-perfect shot from the top of the castle). The sun was shining and the skies were clear -- weather Becca said she hadn't had up north yet. She kissed the stone (she'll probably kill me for posting the picture of it. But honestly, Bec, no one takes a good Blarney Stone's just not a good angle.) and we walked around the grounds for bit, taking pictures of the poison garden (of which I still don't understand the significance). Crocuses (purple and yellow ones at that -- yay SMC!) were starting to peek through the ground, and it was nice to see that sign of spring. We ended our tour of Blarney in the Woollen Mills across the street. Some of the stuff they have there is really nice, but I'm holding out for my trip to the Aran Islands for a sweater or something!

After Blarney, we took the bus back to Cork, where we got lunch in the English Market and changed buses to head to Kinsale. I had wanted to go to Kinsale for a while, it being the home of a Desmond Castle (now an international wine museum!), one of a few scattered throughout the country. We weren't even looking for it when we ran into it in the middle of town. I think we spent more time there than anywhere else, even though the museum is closed until April. We took a lot of pictures; well, Becca took a lot of pictures of me posing next to/on/in the castle. It's actually a really tiny castle, more like an old apartment building. Still, we share a name and maybe even some history, though we haven't been able to trace my roots back quite that far. The picture to the left doesn't really show its size, but it's one of the shots of the castle. And below is the nearby Desmond House B&B.

Kinsale's a great little town, a little like Boothbay Harbor, ME or something. We had fish and chips at Fishy Fishy Cafe, the eatery recommended by the Lonely Planet guide Becca and I both have. After that we walked around a little, trying to cram in as much as possible before the now-gloomy sky opened up. We came across a little bookshop (the Irish children's book section was a nice find -- I confirmed that I'm actually learning some things in Irish by reading a picture book) and an art gallery that I loved. I bought a really nice painted card with the UCC quad on it. Then it started to rain, though, so we caught the next bus back to Cork for an evening in my apartment. We started to watch a movie and ended up falling asleep about 10 minutes into it.

The next morning we attempted to find a church with an early Mass since Becca had to leave at 11. We wandered around a side of Cork I never really go to, and we never found what we were looking for. We did get to see the grounds of Finbarr's, though, even though we didn't go inside. We made it to the bus stop on time, and we said our goodbyes. Luckily, Paris was just around the corner, so we had that to look forward to.

...But that's another story, one with lots of pictures (over 400 -- I was only there for 48 hours!) and a few stories to accompany it.

For now, I should get ready for bed. Up early for Kerry and Killarney tomorrow! Pray for clear skies and warm temps!