Hiking through Howth

Going full nerd, I walked down the street to visit the James Joyce Centre–how was I supposed to pass it up when it was practically right next to our hostel? As I relived my ENGL 381 final, I also flashbacked to the good old weeks when we read and discussed A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man spring semester of senior year.

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Following a professor’s recommendation, I then hopped aboard the DART to Howth, a little coastal village where I may or may not have taken way too many pictures. (Un?)Wisely, I followed the longest hiking path, Bog of the Frogs, along the peninsula. But those 12 km/7.5 miles along the coast and through the mountains were absolutely worth it: the scenery was strikingly beautiful, and practically every five minutes, it changed and became even more stunning.

Though my photos will never do the blues or greens of the water justice, at times it felt like I was walking through a fairy tale–I kid you not, at one point, I even crossed a babbling brook and walked past a wall embedded with purple seashells.

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The Internet claims the hike should have taken three hours, but I was so distracted by absorbing the view and attempting to capture it on camera that I took five hours to complete it. Okay, the fact that I stole unhealthy amounts of sea glass from the beach probably didn’t help. (Look, they were so easy to find and I couldn’t resist the different colors. I’m basically a kid attracted to shiny things.)

It began to rain as I cut through the mountainside, and I grumbled at the humidity until, at long last, I came full circle and reached the train station. Once tired, sweaty, and starving, and now clean and fed and ready to curl up in bed for our 6am flight, I write this apologetic note to France: sorry, I promise I still love you, but Howth has officially stolen my heart.

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The City, the Country, and the Sea

I fed my inner literary nerd at the National Library, where there was a nifty exhibition on Yeats. As the soothing sound of poetry echoed throughout the room, I peered at various poem drafts, though sadly couldn’t decipher any of the cursive. I also gazed in awe at the reading room, which I’d happily turn into my new home. (I wasn’t brave enough to disobey the “no photography” signs due to all the warnings of CCTVs, so I stole a pic from Google.)

I then trekked over to the Irish Museum of Modern Art, (ab)using my R-MC student ID to see an exhibition for free before meeting up with A in the café.

We braved the Irish bus system over to Bray, a little coastal town, where J, one of the teachers that A works with, and her son picked us up from the bus stop. At her mother-in-law’s house, we talked a bit with J and her husband, who’s Irish and has an entire collection of beer pint glasses he’s stolen from bars, before climbing into J’s car. She took us on an incredibly scenic drive, all rolling hills and pops of yellow flowers, to Glendalough.

The main attraction there, a Monastic City built in the 6th century, is a now set of ruins, thanks to the Normans. (Really? Did they have to ruin everything?) Nestled among the mountains and a nearby lake, the entire site radiates a lovely calm, disturbed only by a little dog named Rosie who wanted a duck so badly, she waded straight into the water.

Back in the car, we drove along a winding road so narrow, two cars could barely fit side-by-side. Pausing briefly at a stunning, rocky waterfall, we proceeded to drive deep into the countryside, so far from civilization that at points there was no cell service.

J explained that landscape resembled Scotland’s, and that during the summer, it turns pink and purple because it becomes awash with heather. Though the moors were currently gold and brown, they remained nonetheless stunning. There in the middle of Irish nowheresville, nature stretching as far as the eye could see, I got to experience the kind of beauty that makes you want to shake your fist at humanity for accelerating global warming.

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Eventually, we made it out of Glendalough and back into Bray, where J drove us to the seafront. She handed A and me half a bagel to feed some disturbingly fearless swans and ducks, and then brought us to the beach, full of pebbles reminiscent of Nice’s beaches, even if the water wasn’t quite as blue.

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I may or may not have pocketed a few pebbles before J dropped us off at the station to take the DART, a sort of aboveground metro, back to Dublin.

Experiencing Irish Culture

Now jaywalking with the best of the locals, we fell prey to The Rolling Donut again before dropping by the National Photographic Archive. (Hey, how are we supposed to resist flavors like pistachio salted caramel?)

Anyways, the National Archive houses a fascinating exhibition on the history of the magazine Hot Press, along with some exceedingly salty commentary such as “to keep them (ho, ho) straight” and “Built them up like the wall that Donald Trump has been promising.”

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The rest of the national (free) museums are closed on Mondays, but luckily we had a backup plan: the Cruinniú na Cásca, or the Creative Ireland initiative. A free festival to celebrate contemporary Irish culture and creativity, in Dublin, the event was split into four parts and scattered throughout the city center.

In St. Stephen’s Green, the tents were mostly geared towards children, as we should have guessed by the massive playground, but we did get to see a tinsmith at work. Strolling through the park, pink flower petals strewn across the grass like spring snow, we also stumbled across a giant community drum where children were having the time of their lives.

On our way to Smithfield Square, we happened upon the Georges Street Arcade, a gorgeous indoor street market.

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A weirdly fancy Spar grocery store allowed me to do some people-watching as we consumed lunch, and then our journey  to our next destination helped us realize that Dublin is pleasantly walkable because all the main points are so close to each other. At Smithfield, we listened to the music for a bit before poking around the tents, which featured hands-on science, slap poetry, and graffiti.

Confusion greeted us at Dublin Castle, where we wondered why three separate lines were gathered outside one tent. It turns out that you could printmake one of three designs onto a free tote bag, so A and I promptly joined a line for a free Irish souvenir, waiting about half an hour to discover the struggle of making art. Printmaking session complete, we joined the new fashion trend of the draping the tote bags around our necks to dry like sad aprons.

Finally, we watched some incredibly enthusiastic people dancing to Irish music at Custom House Quay, including a girl casually Irish dancing her way down the street. Inside the dance tent, others attempted the tango, though the highlight occurred outside the tent, where a security guard happily danced away with an imaginary partner. Guess they have to do something to relieve the boredom?

Old Books and New Chips

Since Easter had emptied half the streets and closed half the shops, the native Dubliners off doing whatever they do to celebrate the holiday, A and I happily slept in and had a late start to our day.

It was about time to cross off #1 on our things to do list, so we returned to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells and the library. Except we took one look at the line of dedicated tourists, went NOPE, and shelled out an extra 2.5€ to purchase our tickets online and skip the queue.

To pass the time, we dropped by the Chester Beatty Library, a museum with a misleading misnomer. I delighted in the Arts of the Book exhibition, because books are always lovely, and got to see some of the most incredible illuminated books and intricate Qu’rans. (For once, like a good tourist, I obeyed the “no photography” sign, so you all will just have to make do with creating your own books in your imagination. To make up for it, have a picture of the Dubh Linn Gardens as viewed from the museum terrace.)

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We returned to Trinity College, bypassing a line that had shrunken considerably due to the rain, and joined the flood of tourists  in the museum exhibition. Trying to get to the glass case housing the Book of Kells was like being a salmon swimming upstream against the current, so I only glanced at the book briefly; I was more interested in the library, anyways. (Again, I behaved myself, so unfortunately you don’t get any illegal photos of the manuscript.)

Ah, the Long Room of the Old Library. I’ve found my new home. Welcome to a book lover’s paradise, where you inhale the scent of old books with every breath and gaze at more books than you could ever read.

Reluctantly, I kicked myself out of the library, and then we took advantage of the National Gallery’s free admission. Most of the place was being renovated, but we did get to see student imaginings of future Ireland that ranged from adorable to impressive, and numerous European paintings influenced by French artists.

Grumbling at the winds that stopped us in our tracks, we popped into a restaurant to grab dinner, where I had an introvert moment that ultimately turned out to be successful: I wanted chips but didn’t want to stand there reading the flavors, so I grabbed a bag at random. “Mature Irish cheese and red onion flavor” sounds odd, but it actually ended up being surprisingly tasty.

PS. Madeline agrees that we should move to the library. I’m a terrible influence.

(Me: Let’s move there illegally. Our new home.”

Madeline: oh fuck yes.)

Dear Dirty Dublin

Dodging a multitude of people attempting to hand hapless tourists bus tour flyers, we began our day with a proper power breakfast: donuts.

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We then joined a free 3-hour walking tour, which covered the highlights of the northern Dublin: the Spire, O’Connell Bridge, Trinity College, College Green, the Bank of Ireland, Temple Bar, Dublin Castle, Dubb Linn Gardens, Christ Church Cathedral, and Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.

Fun facts from the guide:

  • Ireland is a neutral country, which sounds like a good thing, except for when the soldiers were clearing out the remains of a statue to make way for The Spire. They grossly overestimated the amount of munitions they’d need, and blew out every window along O’Connell Street
  • Ireland’s most famous feminist is Constance Markievicz
  • Trinity College’s first dean said that women would only study there over his dead body, and a year after he died, the first woman enrolled. Rumor has it that women then proceeded to fulfill the dean’s wishes by marching right over his grave whenever they entered or exited the college. You go, ladies!
  • Vikings introduced the Irish to toilets; Vikings did not actually have horns on their helmets–credit for that goes to Christianity, who attempted to portray them as devils; and Dublin was actually a Viking settlement
  • the Irish word for whiskey, uisce beatha, does not help stereotypes because it translates directly into “the water of life”
  • Tom and Jerry gave Christ Church Cathedral its fame, aka a guy found a  mummified cat and rat in an organ pipe
  • Though it was illegal to be gay in Ireland until 1990, at least the country was the first in the world to legalize gay marriage through popular vote

Previously, my knowledge of Ireland came from spring-semester English lit class, where we sadly only got to cover the Easter Uprising, Joyce, and Bowen. But, I ended up loving Irish literature so much that I turned in a 12-page final when the max page limit was 10…no, I don’t have a problem.

Our noses helped us retrace our steps to the Temple Bar food market, where we were tempted to consume everything in sight. I ended up getting chicken dumplings to revive the Asian in me, remembering my manners enough to tell the guy “thank you” in Chinese.

Since the sun was gracing us with its presence, we strolled along the River Liffey for a bit and poked around the Ha’penny Market and a bookstore, and I fed myself bubble tea.

I then spent a solid two hours exploring the city, getting to know “dear dirty Dublin,” as Joyce called it. The city’s architecture is honestly fascinating, a seemingly bizarre mixture of brightly brick and brightly colored facades that somehow manage to merge seamlessly together.

Finally, thanks to a recommendation from one of my professors, A and I met up again and enjoyed dinner at Cornucopia, a vegan restaurant with salads that I seriously need to learn how to make.

Dawdling in Dublin

After bussing over from Galway, A and I climbed four steep flights of stairs to our hostel room, deposited our belongings, and then headed for the Ambassador Cinema. We repeatedly looked the wrong way while crossing the streets (they drive on the right side here, like England) and jaywalked numerous times, but reached our destination unscathed and successfully met up with another assistant, Sy. (Also, shout-out to Dublin for having lovely, queer-friendly and feminist street art!)

The three of us sat down in a pub and ordered hefty lunches, and then Sy, who’d already been in Dublin a few days ago, led us to Merrion Square. There, my inner English nerd delighted in seeing the outside of Oscar Wilde’s house, along with  his most famous statue and several little structures bearing his quotes, including, “There is no sin except stupidity.” Hard to argue that one, given the current political climate.

Since we had no other plans, we strolled through the park for a while, noticing a fancy Cadbury Easter event for children and briefly wondering whether we were small enough to pass ourselves off as kids. The things we consider doing for chocolate.

Soon, the weather decided to give us a proper Irish welcome; seeking shelter from the rain, A and I followed Sy to the building that houses the Irish Emigration museum. We parted ways there, since she had to catch a bus to her Airbnb and A had to deal with French bureaucracy, but we shared several delightful literary conversations (and a moment where I nearly wept with jealousy because Sy gets to see David Tennant perform in theater).

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After the salty pub food, A and I gave in to our sweet teeth and, like true adults, decided to have crêpes for dinner. Shh, don’t tell our mothers. Besides, mine had strawberries. That’s healthy, right?

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At the entrance of a little pedestrian street, I had a brief fangirl moment over a James Joyce statue before we turned in for the night.

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We ended the day by braving the basement bathrooms, which were actually less frightening than they sounded. While we emerged unharmed from that adventure, we may not survive the night. For some unfathomable reason, the window in our room is purposely designed to stay open, with a gap large enough for a small creature to fit through. If I don’t update this blog again, then blame whatever bird or squirrel that invades our room in the dead of the night.

The Burren

Ireland, what’s your secret? How do you stay so green despite rarely seeing the sun? As A and I embarked on our tour of the Burren, the karst landscape of the west, I stared out the bus window at grass so lush, I’d happily roll around in it–the cows, sheep, and horses here must be living the life.

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Like he promised, the driver did not get lost in the roundabout, or give up like other cars and create a hole in the short little stone wall bordering the highway. We stopped first at Dunguaire Castle, and soon the greenery surrendered to the rugged, though equally stunning, landscape of the Burren.

Terrifyingly huge cows and adorably tiny lambs grazed in abundance as we approached the Poulnabrone Dolmen, a famous portal tomb. We also stopped briefly at the ruins of Kilfanora Cathedral, trying not to step on anything important as we traversed the cemetery to see what remains of the structure.

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The little fishing village of Doolin served as our lunch stop, though I do wish we’d gotten some time to explore the brightly colored shops. Guess we can’t have everything.

Anyways, four hours later, we finally reached the Cliffs of Moher! They were even more breathtaking than I’d imagined, and my photos simply don’t do the water justice. (Fun fact: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, along with The Princess Bride, were filmed here!)

On the way back to Galway, we drove along the Wild Atlantic Way, which offered endless views of the ocean. We even got to briefly hop off the bus, and a few brave, or recklessly dangerous, souls like myself picked our way through the treacherous rocks to the view of the coastline.

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I wish I could say that I stayed awake for the entire return trip, but a half-hour nap snuck up on me. After we stumbled off the bus, though, a crisp wind woke us right back up like a slap to the face, ensuring we completed our mission to find dinner. The day ended with me nearly choking on my mouthful of “aromatic duck wrap” as I laughed at a guy in the hostel’s common room loudly proclaiming, “I don’t care about Donald Trump!” Same, bro. Same.

Gallivanting through Galway

Day 1:

Helped a poor, bewildered girl from El Salvador use the Parisian metro for the first time. Sat at an airport charging station where none of the sockets or USB ports worked, crushing the hopes and dreams of innocent travelers wishing to charge their phones.

Finally met up with A, and managed to catch our flight even though the boarding gate was changed without warning. Arrived in Dublin two hours later, took a three-hour bus ride to Galway. Scenery consisted of fields of trees and grass, and occasional clusters of cows, horses, and sheep.

imageFound our hostel, learned that the horde of people in the city center were hoping to catch a glimpse of Ed Sheeran. Booked a tour to the Cliffs of Moher and other Galway highlights. Took a brief walk, stumbled upon an A+ example of LGBTQ representation (the ad still has quite a ways to go when it comes to objectifying and sexualizing women, but at least they put a same-sex couple in a window for all passersby to see.)

Too tired to write a proper post, much less complete sentences, though I can say that I’ve discovered a terrible habit of falling in love with towns and cities. It started with Nice, but now I’ve gone and cheated on my study abroad home, embarking on a never-ending polyamorous relationship.

Day 2:

A weak drizzle, cold wind, and persistent sun battled for dominance as A and I crossed the Corrib River to the Galway Cathedral. By the time we left the structure, our necks hurt from staring up at the soaring buttresses and the intricate stained-glass windows. The cathedral was also the site of friendly native encounter #1: an elderly man named John told A and I that we were both lovely young ladies, and wished us the best with teaching.

We then took a leisurely stroll along Eglinton Canal, drinking in the pretty, peaceful view.

Friendly native encounter #2: we stared in confusion at what appeared to be a ferret on a leash, and the woman walking her dog and ferret asked if we wanted to say hi. Well, I can officially cross petting a friendly ferret named Minalos off my bucket list.

FNE #3: while we were marveling at some street art, a man stopped to explain that the entire community had come together to honor his friend who’d committed suicide last year, and that it’s their way of raising awareness, which I found quite touching.

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FNE #4: a man on a bike noticed us frowning at our map, and remarked, “That map is actually useless, I don’t know who came up with it. It’s some Lord of the Rings crap.” He then gave us proper directions and suggested we visit the City Museum since it’s free.

That sounded like good advice, so we headed for the Spanish Arch and City Museum, which was full of Galway history. After lunch, A decided to nap, so I spent nearly two hours exploring the city’s nooks and crannies, making pit stops at the Charles Byrne Bookstore (where I saw a copy of The Last September and experienced intense spring semester English flashbacks), Hall of the Red Earl, St.Nicholas Church, the Nora Barnacle house (where James Joyce’s wife lived), and a shopping mall.

We reconvened at an Oscar Wilde statue, admiring the dock before retracing our steps along the Eglinton Canal. To be honest, I’d 100% consider living here if it weren’t for my ongoing love affair with France. (Also, you have no idea how tempted I was to tell that café I was an unattended child. Sign me up for free kittens.)

Mont Saint-Michel

While the travel logistics to the famed UNESCO site were as needlessly complicated as French bureaucracy, the trip was totally worth it. Wisps of sunrise and a crisp wind accompanied me on my way to my BlaBlaCar, and an hour and twenty minutes later, I arrived in tiny Pontorson. As I was waiting for the Navette to the famed island commune, I worked up the introvert courage to strike up a conversation with a group of Americans who, it turns out, were on a college history class trip. (Jealous. I want to go to France with my professors.)

We all piled onto the bus, passing tiny homes; lush, rolling hills; and bright yellow canola flowers until we reached the bay. In person, Mont Saint-Michel was even more breathtaking and impressionnant–it’s essentially everything excessive af about France compressed onto an island.

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Despite the ridiculous amounts of steps you have to climb to get to the abbey, I told my grumbling legs that the workout was worth it–the abbey is probably one of the most incredible structures I’ve seen in Europe. Plus, I got in for free! (Perks of being under 25, even if I’ll eternally be mistaken for a high schooler.)

And the views of the surrounding saltwater marshes…incroyable.

Reluctantly leaving the abbey, which could house a small village, I wound my way through narrow streets and along the ramparts, finally sitting to eat and admire the view.

While I was checking in online for my Ireland flight tomorrow, one of the Americans approached me, and we started talking…and kept going for another three hours. Turns out she’s a Korean international student, and we even exchanged phone numbers and email addresses since she won’t be too far from me when I’m in DC. Then the wind picked up full force, to the point that I shoved my glasses on to protect my sad eyes…though there was nothing I could do to shield the rest of my poor body.

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While we were waiting for the Navette back to Pontorson, the chill Americans from Howard Community College in Maryland adopted me as an honorary member. C, the lead professor, provided some highly amusing entertainment: “I’m a history professor, I lie for a living” and “I already know which crime each of you would commit.”

Sitting on my train back to Caen, all in all, I’d say today was a successful day trip: I saw one of the most impressive sites in France and picked up a new friend. Onward to Ireland!

A Sunday sous le soleil

My lazy Sunday in Caen began with me nearly sitting on the cat that my Airbnb host is babysitting (look, I didn’t expect anything to be curled up on one of the dining room chairs) and clapping my hand over my mouth after I accidentally used tutoiement with F (luckily, she said I didn’t have to worry about vuvoiement).

Language blunder of the day completed, I crossed the city in search of the Sunday street market. The hustle and bustle stretched from the port to the Place de Courtonne, and I swear those few streets were more alive than the entirety of Laon at any given time. I drank in the sights and smells of everything portable you could imagine, from a rainbow of clothes and shoes, to fresh fruit and vegetables and seafood, to books I forbid myself from buying, to sundry belts and wallets and makeup, to jewelry and glassware sparkling beneath the sun, to bright flowers and baskets, to enticing food from every corner of the Eastern hemisphere (Spain, India, la Réunion, China, and Morocco, just to name a few).

Everyone and their dogs appeared to be roaming the market, and I will say that the one benefit of being Asian in France is that everyone thinks I’m a tourist, so I get to avoid people handing out flyers. Well, except for when I turned to stare after the fattest, fluffiest Chow Chow I’d ever seen and made direct eye contact with a guy handing out Emmanuel Marcon leaflets. (France, don’t you dare screw up your election like we did.)

Since I’ve forbidden myself from buying any more books, my grand market haul consisted of three apples, three pendants for my mom and two friends, and then one Vietnamese spring roll. Munching on an apple, I stumbled upon the Salle de sépulcre on my way to see L’Abbaye aux Dames.

Both buildings were lovely respites from the heat, although I spent much of my time at the abbey avoiding any contact with the priest. One person shouldn’t be so scary, but my knowledge of Christianity amounts to what I remember from The Prince of Egypt, so I definitely did not want to begin any conversations. Although I successfully managed that mission, as I left the abbey, two men walked past, one remarking, “Une petite chinoise!” Please, what is it with white people assuming POC can’t speak a country’s native language? Damn right I’m going to turn and glare at you. Ugh, white men. Someone please remind me why we need them, again?

In the serene, colorful oasis of the Jardin des plantes, I probably violated the sanctity of the public space by sitting on a bench and stripping off my leggings and button-down. Before you judge, it was 80 degrees, and I had, in no way whatsoever, packed for hot weather.

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Lunch safely in my stomach, I trekked over to explore the vast L’Abbaye aux Hommes, which–surprise!–is much more grandiose than the Women’s Abbey.

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I decided to end my day early–by 4:30, the sun, while much appreciated, had become too draining. In fact, my watch tan has restored itself to its former glory and has even acquired a friend in the form of a newly developed ring tan. Thank goodness I don’t sunburn, though on an unrelated note, I’m now brushing off extensive amounts of fur from a friendly stranger on the streets and F’s cat.