As promised, we started the day at the Guinness storehouse. It's a fairly interesting museum (for instance, I learned that hops smell good before they go into beer, but give it its disgusting taste post-brewing) and the ticket comes with a free pint.
My least favorite thing about Guinness is that it's very hard to find. We took the tram, and after two wrong turns (don't let the fact that two is such as small number fool you!) were horribly lost. The second of those turns was made after consulting a map. Half an hour later, we finally found the place. My favorite thing about Guinness is knowing that it'll be there for a really long time: the lease, signed only a couple hundred years ago, is for 9,000 years. I think that's hilarious.
Kristen and I both enjoyed watching a video showing a cooper make a barrel, which is a complicated process. They were so skilled that measurements were taken during only one step of the process, otherwise everything was done by eye and feel. The advertising exhibit was also quite interesting. The barley exhibit smelled gross. Guinness tastes disgusting, so I didn't get my free pint (I would have gotten Fanta, but they had run out).
Kristen likes beer:
I do not:
We took the tram back downtown, stopping at a woolen mills shop before finding a Chinese restaurant for lunch. The Irish are hesitantly welcoming international food, but Kristen and I greeted it with open hearts and stomachs. A wonderful, filling lunch to tide us over until our arrival in County Mayo in the evening.
Ireland's trains aren't nearly as fast as France's, but they're reliable and Kristen and I had a blast eating toffee and playing cards. We even discovered how closely linked our minds are: while silently trying to think of an adjective (or some other non-noun part of speech, I don't remember exactly) that starts with an M, we simultaneously suggested, "Monkey." [Note: the next day, while listing animals in French, we both simultaneously said "Singe," which is monkey in French. So not only do we think alike, we think alike in French, and we think about monkeys a lot.]
We arrived in Claremorris around nine, and Kristen's host mom Sheila picked us up and drove us to Ballyglass, where Kristen lives:
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Don't worry if you can't find the "town" on the map! It's tiny. Sheila had made dinner for us, a typical hearty Irish dinner of winter vegetables, potatoes, and a hunk of meat. Potatoes are one of my least favorite foods, but I've gotten quite good at eating them politely. Sheila is really sweet, as is her husband Sean. Their kids, Niall (pronounced "Nile") and Niamh (pronounced "Neeve"-- gotta love Irish Gaelic!) are adorable. They're ten-year-old twins, and are energetic and intelligent. I'm fairly shy around people my own age, but I feel perfectly comfortable talking with kids and older people, so I felt right at home with Niall and Niamh.
Friday Kristen and I got up early enough to see the kids before they headed off to school, then we headed out to Burriscarra Abbey. It's several kilometers away from Ballyglass, along winding, hilly roads. We were lucky that the rain had stopped, but it was incredibly windy out! Not ideal weather for a long walk (Kristen in hiking boots, me in borrowed wellies), but Ireland is green and beautiful so we didn't mind!
Here's a field full of sheep. Fields are generally surrounded by a stone wall a few feet high.
Here's a sheep who paused its grazing to stare at us through the hedge:
This is a tourist map, which isn't very helpful. There are virtually no street signs in rural Ireland, and people navigate by "turn left at the house with all the horses and a red door, then right the first chance you get, then right again when you pass the short brown house that usually has a truck in front of it." Roads are known as "the Ballyglass-Claremorris road," not by an official name. But it can give you a bit of an idea of where all of the places I talk about are.
And here's the Abbey! The sign explains, "In 1298 a priory was founded here for the Carmelites by Adam de Staunton, possibly on the site of an earlier monastery. It was abandoned before 1383, but was re-founded as an Augustinian friary in 1413. It was burned around 1430 but repaired shortly afterwards. The repairs, additions to and insertions in the 13th century church probably date from this rebuilding. There is a 14th century parish church in the same field." The best part about signs in Ireland is that they're first in Irish Gaelic, then in English. Though Irish isn't a mother tongue for many, everybody learns it in school and it's enjoying quite a renaissance.
There's also a cemetery, with "new" gravestones dating from the 18th century to the 20th, plus really old eroded gravestones that are obviously much older.
Here I am in front of the church building:
One of my favorite discoveries were some tiny stalactites growing on one of the limestone walls! They were about half an inch long, so they're several decades old.
Kristen and I have visited lots of old buildings, and most of them come with entry fees and guards saying "No photography" and signs warning not to breathe on anything, let alone touch it. This is different. We could explore to our hearts' content, touch anything we wanted, climb through the short doors, go up the stairs, take as many pictures as we want... so much fun. Here's my favorite picture of Kristen, peeking through a tiny little (cat?) door.
At the top of these stairs you can look down into what must have been a very slim chimney of sorts.
Here's the side of the Abbey, with those very ancient grave markers:
Our next stop was a few kilometers farther, to Moore Hall. A short ways from Burriscarra Abbey, a dog ran out from her yard to say hi, and after running excitedly around us for a moment she dashed off up the road. When she saw that we weren't going very fast, she darted off into a field to run around, then ran back to the road, checking that we were following before running forward another fifty feet. We expected her to go back, but she didn't! She followed (well, led us and followed us at the same time) for the hour-long walk to Moore Hall, running through every field we passed along the way. Moore Hall was the home of an English landlord family who did a lot for the area during the famine. They really protected their people, and Mayo likes them for it. The house was abandoned in the 1800s, and now has no roof or floors. You can't go in because of instability and because it's now home to a very rare species of bats, but it's nice to walk around it and there are fun things to see in the woods. Here's me in front of Moore Hall, plus our traveling companion:
The Moores really tried to make their home English. They planted trees in rows to make the forest, and had a huge English walled garden (none of the original plants are left, since they weren't native to Ireland and didn't survive well). It's such a neat area! In this photo, you can see the carriage way, which goes under the ground. There's a doorway in the middle to the courtyard (kitchenyard perhaps?) and bottom floor of the house.
While we were exploring this area, we heard the dog, whom we'd christened Maddie (short for Madra, which means dog in Irish) barking and crying. She could evidently hear us but couldn't find us. She caught up with us by the walled garden, and didn't stray far after that. She stuck right by our sides while we walked through Kiltoom Woods, and climbed all over the Moore family grave site.
Not looking forward to the long walk home, and worried about what would happen if we continued to lead the dog away from her home, Kristen called Sean and asked if his offer to give us a lift still stood. He had been under the impression that we were crazy to go on such a long walk, and gladly picked us up. After we explained about Maddie, who really did seem to have no idea where she was, he put her in the back of the truck and we dropped her off at home. She seemed happy to be back, and Kristen and I wonder what happened to her that evening. After spending two hours in our company, running around and exploring, she must have been exhausted. Kristen can imagine her family saying, "Come on, you lazy dog! Time to go herd sheep. Why are you so tired? You haven't done anything today..." Her secret adventure!
After a delicious homemade soup, we watched Singin' in the Rain (bought in Hungary) with the kids. Kristen and I tried not to sing along too much! We spent a fun evening baking chocolate chip cookies and playing cards with the kids. It's amazing, the kinds of things Irish kids have never eaten and would never consider appetizing... chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (perhaps because jelly is Jell-O for them?), macaroni and cheese, s'mores, and so on. The loved the cookies though! We taught them Spoons, and Spam, and other games that need four people to play. They'll have to go back to old standards now that I'm gone.
So all in all, Friday was about as perfect a day as could be. I've been living in quite an urban environment for a long time, and all my vacations have been urban. Hiking around in a peaceful, nature-filled environment and spending time with kids was ideal. When studying abroad, people always ask you what you miss most. Family, a particular food... I miss dill pickles and babysitting. French pickles are horrible, and there's nothing like spending time playing with kids to give me energy and cheer!
Saturday we slept in very late, and had a full Irish breakfast (fried egg, bangers, pudding, toast) at lunchtime. Then we played with the kids for a while, card games inside and Mother, May I? outside. In the early afternoon, Kristen's advisor Diane, who had arrived from the States in the morning (minus her mom, who was supposed to come for a holiday but got sick, and her luggage, which didn't make it out of Newark) came to pick us up. She's a lot like Kristen: a great storyteller, very intelligent but not in-your-face about it, and lots of fun to talk with.
Saturday was as windy as Friday, but with a constant drizzle to make it more miserable. So we had to scratch our plans to climb Croagh Patrick, a tall (for Ireland) mountain where people go for pilgrimages.
We climbed only as far as the statue of St. Patrick, but, fearing that we would be literally blown off the mountain, we went back down to the warm car. Here's the view from his statue. Under the grey of the sky, you can see a slightly different shade of grey, which is the Atlantic Ocean. This was the first time I'd seen the Atlantic from this angle, before I'd only seen it from planes!
Across the road is Murrisk Friary, which is like a seaside friary version of Burriscarra Abbey. According to the sign, only the church is still standing, it was built in 1457, and the name means "sea-marsh" in Irish.
If you climb a little spirally staircase, you can see a portion of the roof that's intact:
And at the base of the stairs is a very short door. It was probably a bit taller before they filled in the gravel, but not much! You can't tell, but per Kristen's orders I am smiling for the camera.
On our way back, Kristen's boss/advisor in Ireland, Sister Maureen, called to invite us to dinner. She's a really sweet lady, I enjoyed getting to meet her. Very gentle and welcoming, but she's clearly a take-charge person as well! After we all shared tea and homemade scones, we were put into the living room to sit by the fire while she made dinner. This "stay out of the kitchen while I cook" attitude is a part of Irish culture, along with the fact that you don't have to take off your shoes when you go inside someone's house, the frequency of tea drinking, and the prevalence of potatoes. She made us well-seasoned steaks and caramelized onions (the steaks were seasoned with salt and pepper and finished cooking with the onions to give them that great flavor) with the usual carrots and potatoes, which I ate quite politely.
After dinner we went to Ballintubber Abbey, which isn't in ruins and has a Saturday evening Mass. We had been warned that the Mass would be a long one, since it included a mime of the Gospel performed by the First Communion class. It was a long Mass, by Irish standards: nearly 45 minutes long. Irish Masses don't have music, have very short homilies, and are sped through. Kristen thinks this goes back to the era when Masses were celebrated in secret at Mass rocks in the middle of fields, and priests were beheaded if they were caught. You wouldn't want things to drag out. A normal Mass is less than half an hour long. It was wonderful to go to Mass in English again. I enjoyed it so much, even though there was no music. The mime was very well done as well! I didn't take any pictures of the Abbey, but it was a medium-sized stone church with a little bit of stained glass and a warm feeling. Part of that was probably due to the radiators under the pews, which were particularly welcome because of the weather outdoors!
After Mass, Diane drove us back to the Gilligans', and by the time we arrived the sky was clear enough to see a sky full of stars. Angers has far too many street lights to see any at all, and it was magical. Kristen lent her some clothes, and then we hung out with Sheila and the kids for a while before heading upstairs to transfer our photos to each other's computers and go to sleep.
Sunday we had to get up very early, since my train was at 8:22. I got into Dublin a bit before noon, and made it to the airport in time for my 2:20 flight. [The ladies at the tourist information desk were quite bemused when I came up to pay for a little guidebook that we'd picked up on Tuesday, not realizing that it wasn't free. We hadn't noticed the tiny price tag until we were in the bus. So I gave them the two Euros and fifty cents that we should have paid.]
All the walking of the past week caught up to me for my travel day, and I had no difficulty sleeping on the train ride, on the flight to Paris, and on the train to Angers. I finished reading Stardust in French in between, and read a bit of academic stuff too.
Surprisingly, the best part of the day was my cab ride home from the train station. The driver asked me where I had gone on vacation, and when I said Ireland he asked if I had gone home. I explained that I was American, and he was glad to hear that. He said he thought the elections were really interesting, and that he'd been following them. He asked my opinions, and (strange for a European) agreed with me. When I asked who he would vote for if he were American, he said he would vote for McCain, since he can appeal to the liberals more than either Obama or Clinton could appeal to the conservatives, so he would have a better chance of helping unity. He said that one of the reasons he was so glad to follow the American elections was that it was a good example for the world: what with what happened in Kenya, and the "elections" in Russia, it's good to see a true democratic process. When we arrived, he refused to take a tip, saying that it had been a pleasure to talk with an intelligent American and that he didn't have that privilege every day! Such a pleasant surprise to have a cheerful discussion about American politics.
I'd gotten home at just a bit before midnight, and gone to sleep less than an hour afterwards, but Monday I was totally exhausted. I decided to skip my translation class to catch up on brain function (and internet needs). In fact, I've decided to move down a level, since the one I'm in is too tough for me. I'll start a new first-year class this week, with the same teacher. Monday evening we worked on sentence structure in Dutch, which was very useful. It seems to make perfect sense, but it's hard to use. I'm sure I did other things on Monday, but I honestly don't remember what, I was so tired!
The big event of today (after my didactics class, which was interesting as usual) was going to the International Relations office to see if my grades were in. All but one are, so I can happily report my grades from first semester! The first number is the grade out of 20. This varies by professor. Some give 13-14 to those who do best, and occasionally would grant a 15. Some give 16-17 for the great students, and an 18 if someone's extraordinary. No one gives 19 or 20, those are too perfect to be possible. The second is a letter, which is part of the ECTS system:
A (Excellent): best 10% of class
B (Very good): next 25%
C (Good): next 30%
D (Satisfactory): next 25%
E (Sufficient): next 10%
FX, F: fail grades
- Choir: 16/A
- Dutch: 17.2/B
- Anthropology: 15/B
- Translation (French-English): 16.5/B+
- General Linguistics: 16/A
- Comparative Linguistics: 15/A
- French as a foreign language: 17.5/A
So I'm incredibly proud of how I did! Especially that I got A's in both of my linguistics courses: not only did I do well, I was in the top 10% of a class of masters-level French students, who didn't have the same language barrier as I did. If I was the bragging type, I'd brag about that :) But of course, except for those who read this blog, I'll be keeping that to myself.
A final note: I wrote this blog post in the university, since the wifi at home wasn't working. And for the first hour of me sitting here, there was a moderately creepy girl sitting next to me. She was listening to music on her headphones, but didn't appear to be waiting for anything or anyone. She didn't have a computer like most people who hang out here at this hour, she wasn't reading anything, she didn't have a purse with her, she didn't have or consult a phone or watch. After an hour, she just got up and left. Very strange.