Travelling through Greece: Part 1

Growing up, I was always that kid who desperately sought attention and reassurance from other individuals. I would often create these stories in my mind that people inherently did not like me even when I was reassured otherwise. As a result, this fear created a strong dependency on the few people I trusted, but resulted in a loss of independence. As I became older, the fear of everyone disliking me began to diminish and I realized that I could not ask my friends and loved ones to be there with me at every step of the way holding my hand. It was time to find the independence I had lost and to learn to do things I enjoyed on my own. And so, this is where the story of Greece begins…

The story begins in June 2016. I was in the final term of my undergraduate degree, and only had two online summer school courses to complete in order to graduate. To say I was stressed is the understatement of the year. The final year of my undergraduate degree was a tough one as I often found myself spending hours sitting in a carrel desk reading scholarly articles and making notes until my hands went numb. It was a stressful time, and despite knowing the end was near it could not come soon enough. By June, I was fed up and due to the nature of my last two courses being online I made a choice for my sanity to leave the country in hopes of finding some sense of peace. With joy in my heart, I began to ask around to see which one of my friends would accompany me on my next adventure. However, the more people I asked, the more rejections I received. You see, when you plan on leaving for a trip no more then two weeks away, not many people are actually able to jump on board with you. And so I was faced with two options: scrap the idea or go alone.

At this point I had already done the research for this trip and made an excel spreadsheet detailing the cost of this excursion including tour prices, food, flight costs, and accommodations for my first and last two nights. Despite having made the spontaneous decision to go to London a few years ago with classmates, this was different. My trip to London was the result of a study abroad experience, and I was given a month prior to the trip to get to know my classmates in my home country. We spent countless hours together after class planning our time in London, and so I got the chance to know them. On the other hand, I knew no one prior to my trip and I would be all alone during two stopovers and three plane rides to my first destination: Mykonos,Greece.  

Like I said at the beginning of this post, it was time to be independent and after slowly learning to become a more independent person, this was like my final test. It was like going into the final boss battle of a videogame, and I was going in with guns blazing. So on June 16, 2016, I kissed my parents goodbye and boarded my first plane out of three to the United States.

Now I’m going to admit, the journey to Mykonos was not an overall pleasant one. After being “randomly selected” for a security scan in the States, having my bag aggressively searched in Athens on my way to Mykonos, having my contact lense solution thrown out despite it being travel sized, and being told at the departure gate in Athens I would have to pay for the amount of luggage I was bringing onto the plane to Mykonos, I was about to call it quits. While the security inspection in the States was actually quite simple and only required I stand in a scanner for about five seconds,  it was the treatment in Athens that made me want to call it quits. While I understand that a girl of small stature like myself travelling alone may raise suspicions it was frustrating that my first solo adventure had gone off to such a rough start. Now, please note that while my experience in the Athen’s airport was terrible it is not an accurate depiction of how Greek people are at all. In fact, despite having my bag aggressively searched, acceptable contents being tossed out, and being told I would be charged for my extra luggage it was another Greek employee at the airport who helped console me and sorted all my issues, resulting in my luggage being stowed on the plane at no extra cost. It is this simple act of kindness and reassurance that I remember one and half years later that reestablished the tone of my trip to be one of positivity.

Once I arrived in Mykonos, I was determined to shake the rocky start of my trip and was greeted at the airport by my ride to the beach hostel by one of the workers. Upon meeting him, the anger began to dissolve as he began to cheerfully ask about my travels and what I was planning on doing during my time in Mykonos. He was absolutely precious, and it reminded me again that basing my trip solely on the experience at the airport was unfair to the people of Greece and people like him and the lady at the airport served as better representations of the people as a whole. As I checked into cabin, I was thankful for the moment of reprieve and began to read a book by Mindy Kaling. It was the night before my tour and if I was going to enjoy my tour, I needed this moment to feel sorry for myself and the rough journey I had along this way. After reading Kaling’s books, I realized it was time to pen a few words of my own. As I wrote furiously into my travel journal and the fan whirred above me, each word penned into my journal released my pent up frustration and anger and was replaced with a sense of peace. The girl who thought she could never do anything this bold on her own had made it, and no way in hell was she about to give up now. And so after a quick shower, it was time for this traveller to go to bed. Tomorrow would be a better day, and goddamn I would make sure of it.


Accommodations during my first night in Mykonos (roughing it since Day 1 and yet I slept like a baby that night)

The Next Day

Soo…remember how I said I was determined to make the next day better, well let’s just say the gods took it upon themselves to challenge me. The next day, I woke up bright and early with a smile on my face. It was the first day of my tour and it was time to head to the port where our sailboat would be departing from. The beach hostel I stayed at provided free transport every couple of hours to the port where my sailboat would be departing from and so rather than paying from transportation, I opted to take the shuttle to the port two hours prior to the arrival of the sailboat I was scheduled to get on. Now I’m going to let you in on a little secret, where the sailboats dock and where the ferries dock are on opposite sides of a very large port. If you are ever planning on going on a sailboat excursion, it may benefit you to ask your tour operating group about this prior to your travels. As the time of departure creeped closer, I began to keep a lookout for my sailboat. Thirty minutes before. Twenty minutes before. Fifteen minutes before. Finally, at ten minutes before my departure time I decided it was time to take action into my own hands in ask one of the ladies at the port for help. After trying to explain to her that I was waiting for a sailboat, she explained in with the little English she knew that the sailboats were docked on the other side of the port and pointed far into the distance at what I could now see was the boat I was supposed to be boarding looking like a mere speck in the distance. After inquiring about how long it would take to get to the other side walking she broke the news: twenty minutes at least. Now, during this time I wasn’t a fully seasoned travel veteran and had one full sized luggage, a carry on, and a backpack. To make matters worse, the streets were a mix of cobblestone and pavement and I now had to run with all these luggages to the other side of the port in an attempt to catch my sailboat. With the sun beating down against my skin and sweat dripping from every pore of my body, I ran as fast I could, my luggages bouncing aggressively behind me and my arms aching from the motion of pulling my overly packed luggages. At last, I arrived on the other side of the port and found a few more travellers looking equally confused. After confirming that they were part of the same tour group, we managed to locate our sailboat and were finally able to start our adventure. We were also informed once we arrived that the check in time was from 2-3 pm, and that I did not have to run like a gazelle being chased like a cheetah. To add salt to the injury, my tourmates also told me that a water taxi ran from one side of the port to the other for the cost of two Euros. Therefore, that run….. totally unnecessary!  At that moment all I could do was laugh at my misadventures so far, and was grateful that I finally made it to my destination.

Now up to this point, I had never been on a boat for longer than a few hours let alone more than a week and I was a bit shocked about what it meant to live on a sailboat. For starters, the word “shower” was entirely different from my definition. As I soon discovered, the “shower” in the sailboat was nothing but a mere shower hose in the bathroom with a drain in the center of the bathroom. Meaning when you showered, everything from the sink to the toilet got wet in the process. Furthermore, the drain was a slow one and so in order to avoid five inches of water on the bathroom floor, it was best to keep your shower short. Afterall, the next person needing to use the toilet would have to stand in five inches of your shower water if you didn’t.  If this shock was not enough, I was also told I would be sharing the room with a tourmate which was definitely not conveyed beforehand. Despite these shocks, and trust me when I say I was shocked I was fortunate enough to have such a great, chill bunk buddy and quickly got over the fact I would be showering with a glorified hose for a week.  After settling in and having moussaka for lunch served by our ship crew, it was time to start our tour of Mykonos.

As we walked around Mykonos, I finally let myself truly relax. I was settled in for the long haul and so I allowed myself to embrace the sun beating down on my skin and admired the white painted houses of Greece. I’ve often wondered why the houses in most of the Cyclades are painted white, and as I learned it originally started off as means to reflect the harsh summer sun.  Although this is simply a vestige of its past, and houses today in Greece do not necessarily require the white colour to reflect the sun, the standard of white houses has remained and new houses by law are required to be painted white;  with some exceptions.  And so, I appreciated the stark white walls and walked down the cobblestone streets taking it all in. As we walked through Mykonos, small vendors and shops selling souvenirs and crafts from Mykonos lined the streets. The winding cobblestone paths were mesmerizing and it was the kind of place that if you got lost, it would be something you would simply accept and slowly peruse through each store until you have found your way out. As we walked along Mykonos, our guide informed us that apparently there are 365 churches in Mykonos, one for every day of the year. As he did so,  we passed by several churches and witnessed a bride taking her wedding photos in a nearby church. As we continued our tour, we stopped in Little Venice; a small group of restaurants and shops sitting precariously at the edge of the sea. This cluster of shops and restaurants screams romance, and you can almost picture young and old couple alike drinking a glass of wine, holding hands while the waves crash against the stone walls around them.


Little Venice in broad daylight

After our stroll in Little Venice, our tour finished off with one of Mykonos most famous landmarks: The Windmills. Mykonos’ windmills date back to the 16th century where they were once used to grind grain. Although they are no longer operational, they serve as a reminder of Mykonos history.  Upon reaching the top of the hill, the view is spectacular and one could see the entire island around them. After a short moment to capture photos, the officially tour of Mykonos was over and we returned to our boat to get ready for the night ahead. Afterall, Mykonos is known for its crazy beach party atmosphere and it was time to see if it lived up to the hype.

After returning to our sailboat and getting ready for the night ahead, it was time to start this boat party. As part of our tour package, we were given free Ouzo shots to get the party started. After many Ouzo shots, we were ready for a night out on the town. Next stop: Paradise Club. The club is located directly on the beach front and after dancing in the club, one could carry this party out on the sand. The experience was interesting to say the least and it is a  very popular spot for tourists. After dancing the night away it was time to catch a bus back to the docks. The only problem: the last bus left long time ago. And so, after about an hour of waiting for a cab we managed to hail one and go back to our boat. It had been a hell of a day, and despite the hiccups I knew I had made the right decision to embark on the trip alone. The next day in Paros would only validate this; I needed this trip and it couldn’t have come at a better moment in time.

Irish Travels : The Final Chapter

Cliffs of Moher

It has been a pleasure sharing my experience of Ireland with you all and I appreciate your patience in sticking with me along the way. While there is so much more to say,  it is time to bring this story to an end to allow for new ones to be told. With this in mind, I would like to spend the rest of this post discussing some of my final stops in Ireland. As you have probably noted so far, Ireland is the land of rugged landscapes and so a visit to Ireland would not be complete without visiting one of the greatest beauties of all; The Cliffs of Moher.  The Cliffs of Moher lie on the southwestern edge of the Burren region in County Clare, Ireland and are 702 feet at its highest point.  As I stood there looking at the waters crashing against the cliffs below, my mind was taken back to an English course during my undergraduate studies where I encountered Edmund Burke’s definition of the sublime.  

Burke believed that the sublime was something that could provoke terror in the audience, for terror and pain were the strongest emotions. However, there was an inherent “pleasure” in this emotion. Anything that is great, infinite or obscure could be an object of terror and sublime, as there was an element of the unknown about them. He regarded nature as the most sublime object, capable of evoking strong sensations in those beholding it.1

As the waves crashed against the the cliffs, I could only think about how standing upon these precarious cliffs, I too felt this sense of awe and terror at this terrible beauty. As I watched the waters crash below, I was reminded of my own mortality despite the fact that these precarious cliffs also served as the home for thousands of birds in Ireland; including the Atlantic Puffin.  These cliffs were the definition of the sublime. They were beautiful yet terrifying, and as I laid down to take a photo near the cliff’s edge I was grateful for the opportunity to be there and experience the flood of emotions. I was healthy and alive and grateful all of it.


Blarney Castle

The final stop on our tour: Blarney Castle.  According to their official website, Blarney Castle was built nearly six hundred years ago by one of Ireland’s greatest chieftains, Cormac MacCarthy.  The castle has been attracting attention for hundreds of years, and is famous for the “Blarney Stone.” It is said that if you kiss the stone, you will never again be lost for words.  Now I am going to be honest with you, I kissed the Blarney Stone because I mean everyone was doing it and I could use some help in being a little more eloquent. Did it work? You tell me. Regardless of whether it worked or not, it was fun to get into the spirit of the legend and march up a tower to kiss some stone that requires some serious acrobatics to reach. I mean I’m going to be honest in that I’m still not 100% sure I even kissed the right stone. For all I know, I could have made out with a regular old stone (please note I did not actually make out with the stone, a simple peck was more than sufficient).  You know that saying “it is not about the destination, but the journey” that is what Blarney Castle was. It was about more about getting overly hyped about some stone with your tour mates and marching up the tower like a military troop and imagining battle scenes, rather than actually reaching the top to kiss the stone. So yes, kiss the stone but enjoy the time waiting with your friends and the adventure on your way up.

After kissing the stone, it was time to explore the rest of the castle and so my friend and I walked through the gardens to see what other pleasant surprises the castle held and so we discovered The Poison Garden of the castle. The Poison Garden is kind of what it sounds like; it is a garden in which deadly plants from around the globe are housed in large cage like structures due to their toxicity to people. As we walked through the garden, we encountered hemlock plants, wolfsbane, opium, and cannabis. Beside each plant were small plaques describing their toxicity and side effects to humans as well as their uses during medieval times. It was fascinating to see how these incredibly poisonous plants were once seen as a cure, and made me think of how far we had come medically in curing ailments. After seeing the macabre nature of the plant world, my friend and I carried on and finished our visit of the castle walking through some of the other gardens in the castle where the plants were much more kid friendly.

Final Thoughts

As we finished our tour of Blarney castle, it was time to head back to Dublin and finish our adventure. My adventure had gotten off to a rough start with a hotel in what might as well have been Narnia, a room that was colder than a freezer, and a stressful run to try and get to our tour bus on time on our first day. However, since that initial hiccup everything that happens onwards was more than I could ever expect. Not only do I reminisce about the places I was blessed to visit, but I often look back on the memories made with the people I met during that trip. I think back on how one of my tour mates pretended to be a dementor during an especially long bus ride and my tour guide’s story about one very special sheep named Trevor. It is all these things together which made this trip one I will tell my kids about when I’m older. I am thankful for everyone who was on this journey with me and may we meet again some day. It was great craic!

Works Referenced

1.Burke, Edmund. A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. trans. Abraham Mills. New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1856, p. 51.

 

Irish Folklore

Now readers, we’ve been through alot together. At the beginning of my journey I was ready to head back straight to Canada and be reunited with my cozy bed and a hot cup of chicken noodle soup. However, instead I embarked on the adventure of  a lifetime. In doing so, I encountered people from all walks of life, stood where innocent civilians were gunned down, where druids performed ceremonial rights, where the collision of tectonic plates created mountains, and where the spewing of lava and erosion resulted in stunning hexagonal columns. I have sat inside pubs listening to locals sing their tunes, walked down cobblestone streets with a skip in my step, stuffed my face late at night, and tried honey mead for the first time. I have listened to individuals jokingly mention feuds between family houses, laughed about one truly horrifying music video, learned how to say hello in Gaelic, and met a Boston man with a dog named Peanut who found his true love in Ireland.

While my story so far has been about the places I visited in Ireland, I do want to reflect on the fact that while it was a beautiful country it was the memories that were associated with it that make it all the better. It was the Irish folklore of fairies and leprechauns, the ghost stories of old castles, rubbing the engraving of fertility goddesses in church walls, leaving a part of  my soul in the Dingle Peninsula, and learning how to use the term “craic” which made all the difference. It is at this time I want to take a step back to elaborate on these memories and small things I learned throughout my trip.  So bear with me and take a moment to enjoy the legends and folklore of Ireland. I promise you, you will not be disappointed.

***

During one of our lengthy bus rides, our tour guide began to educate us on the folklore and legends of the Irish. He told of us of fairies, fairy circles, and fairy trees. There are  many different kinds of fairies and spirits, and one kind of spirit was known as the Púca. In folklore, the Púca is a shape-changing trickster. While there are accounts of them being helpful, our guide informed us that they are often seen as a hindrance rather than being a helping hand. So much in fact, that if you fell flat on your face or tripped on a crack, one often deemed it to be the work of these beings.  You see, these little buggers love to cause mayhem and thrive off of it. However, the púca isn’t the only mischievous creature capable of causing mayhem.  The next creature is one which is often associated with Ireland: the leprechaun.  It is said that if you steal a leprechaun’s lucky coin, one is able to barter with it to grant you wishes in exchange for their freedom. However, before you go out seeking leprechauns, be advised that the likelihood of getting your wishes fulfilled are slim, as these crafty little beings are great at manipulating your words in order to cause more mayhem. To make matters worse, if you manage to catch one and let it escape, luck will not be on your sides friends. These stories were riveting and whether or not I saw truth in them, it was great to hear about magical creatures and mischievous beings. We are often so caught up in our own lives and trying to explain things logically, as adults we have lost that sense of imagination and wonder. As our guide carried on his story, he spoke of the dwellings where some of these magical creatures resided; fairy trees. These trees are so important, that an entire road in Ireland was once diverted in order to avoid cutting a fairy tree. Even more interesting, was learning about the significance of fairy circles. These naturally occurring ring of mushrooms were places in which fairies sung and celebrated. Mortals who entered the circle, would be punished for trespassing on their grounds.  These punishments ranged from broken limbs to other serious injuries or misfortune.  As someone who studied history in university, it was refreshing to learn an alternative kind of history beyond epic battles and political struggles. It taught me to see the world in a less black and white kind of way.


(not my photo, taken from google images, please see hyperlink)

Now, if the fairies and leprechaun stories aren’t your cup of tea, then perhaps a ghost story may be more to your liking, As a child, I spent an unreasonable amount of time watching paranormal investigation shows. I liked to imagine a world in which the people who had passed on were still looking out for us from beyond this mortal plane. As I got older this obsession would go to watching shows about mediums talking to people’s loved ones from beyond the grave. And so, when our tour guide began the story of the ghost of Red Mary, I was already hooked.  In the outskirts of County Clare, Ireland sits a ruined castle called Leamaneh castle. As the story goes, this castle once belonged to a woman named Mary and her husband Conor O’ Brien. The couple lived there together, however far from happily.  You see Mary was known for her flaming red hair, but even hotter temper. And so, one day after an especially heated argument it is said she planned the murder of her husband Conor O’Brien. During a battle, he was mortally wounded and while laying on his deathbed, she began the search for a new suitor in order to keep her inheritance. One by one men lined up to marry her, and each time she would tire of one suitor is is said she would murder them or get rid of them. After about twenty five men, she was finally punished for her actions. One night, she was taken from her quarters and was buried in the hollow of a tree where she slowly starved to death. Since that day, the castle has slowly fallen to ruins and it said Red Mary can be seen walking the halls and haunting the surrounding land of the castle.


You have now heard about mischievous magical beings and angry sceptres, and with that I would like to finish this post on a positive note. During my trip, our bus took a drive down the Dingle Peninsula. This peninsula lies on Ireland’s southwest Atlantic coast, and consists of sandy beaches and sharp precarious cliffs.  During our drive, our tour guide made up stop at Inch Beach which is a small beach known for its incredibly dangerous ocean waters. If I haven’t mentioned before, it was September when I visited Ireland and I was not about to take a full dip into the waters despite the incredible temptation to do. However, our guide let us know that if we were to dip our toes in the waters a piece of our soul would be left behind. In order to obtain it, we would have to return to the same spot within twenty years or lose that piece of our soul forever. While, the notion of losing a piece of your soul might be alarming, it was easy to see how even without dipping my toes in these icy waters, a piece of my soul would remain in Ireland. It is a beautiful place full of great adventures and if dipping my feet in these waters, made me make a pact to come back for sure one day then I sure as hell was going to dip my feet in those waters.  So I rolled up my pants, removed my boots and embraced the waves rolling into the shore and the water beneath my feet. I couldn’t think of a better place to leave a part of my soul behind.

Stay tuned for the final part of the Ireland series coming soon!

 

 

 

 

Irish Travels: Part Five

So I’m going to admit that Part 4 of my adventures was a little rough and could benefit from a little bit of revision, however for the sake of getting on with the show I will do my best and repent for the sins of my past by ensuring the quality of this post is that much better. And so, we set the stage for our next adventure: Inis Mor.

If you are looking to travel back in time, then Inis Mor is the place for you. Inis Mor is a large island amidst a group of islands referred to as the “Aran Islands.” The island is accessible by ferry from Galway, and has everything from prehistoric forts to lush green pastures. It is a history buff’s dream come true! The one catch when visiting this island was its unpredictable weather. Prior to our arrival, we were warned by our tour guide to dress for weather ranging from sunny skies to torrential downpours, and everything in between.  You see, the weather on this island apparently had a mind of its own. Bearing this in mind we layered up in preparation to whatever weather this grand island would bring.  Luckily for us, the gods were on our side. As we stepped off the ferry and onto the port, our fears were calmed as the partially cloudy skies informed us that today the weather would be on our side. You see, during my time in Ireland, I had learned that Ireland was not a very sunny place and cloudy skies were pretty much the equivalent of a sunny day anywhere else in the world. Unless the clouds were dark and menacing you were in the clear. And so, with the weather on our side we began our bike tour with our guide throughout the island.

As we rode across the island, our guide spoke of the prehistoric forts around us and the civilizations that built them. As we passed by these massive stone forts, it was astounding to see how well preserved some of these walls remained and their grandeur. Although I have never seen the pyramids in Egypt, I would like to think that my reaction upon seeing these fortresses would be similar to someone seeing the Great Pyramids of Egypt. To see these forts up close and touch the rock slabs, makes you feel connected to all those before you. It boggles my mind that before modern technology was available, civilizations were able to create such grand structures in attempts to defend their lands and establish their dwellings. Interestingly enough, these forts were more than military structures and often acted as spaces for ancient druids. It is said that the most famous fort Dun Aengus was used for seasonal rites of druids and is believed to have been where bonfires were held that could be seen from the mainland of Ireland.

After we spent lunch amidst the land  where the ancient druids once performed ceremonies on and soaked in some sun (you heard me right, there was actually a clearing in the sky for a brief moment), our tour guide deemed the bike tour complete and let us roam free across the rest of the island for a couple of hours on our own. As everyone slowly dispersed, my friend and I decided to continue biking and see what other beautiful sights we would see. As we continued to ride along rugged roads, we came across a small inlet beach at the island. While it may have not been a beach from Cuba, I was grateful for a moment to give my legs a rest and feel the sand beneath my toes. As someone whose only fitness routine at the time was getting out of bed, I was absolutely exhausted. After a much needed rest of walking down the shoreline and dipping my feet in the waters, I was ready to head to the ferry back to Galway.

Now, for the adventurous individuals out there, I urge you to check out the wormhole in Inis Mor. It is a natural rectangular shaped pool of water in which you are able to cliff dive into.  Be warned: the waters are icy but the experience is worth it. Although I did not visit the wormhole (as my swimming skills are mediocre, and I refused to bike anymore), some of my tourmates did take the plunge and expressed great enthusiasm over doing so. As we headed back to onto the ferry, it was time for a nap. After being out until the wee hours of the morning and sleeping for a brief hour or two the night before, I quickly fell asleep for the rest of the journey back to our hostel in Galway. The next day would be full of new adventures, and so with the promise of tomorrow being great, I gave into my exhaustion and turned in early.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Irish Travels: Part Four

After a late night out with the locals and tourmates the night before , it was time to bid Derry farewell. That morning we were headed to our next destination: Galway, Ireland. Contrary to popular belief,  Galway was actually made famous by Steve Earle’s song titled “Galway Girl” long before Ed Sheeran came around. After Earle’s song was featured in the film “P.S I Love You” it became a sensation and can often be heard in pubs around Ireland. That being said: For the love of God, do not ask them to play this song. Despite truly enjoying this song, it becomes significantly less enjoyable after hearing it five times in one night. Rest assured, there will always be a tourist who will request it and you will get your fix.

Now before we arrived in Galway, there was one very important stop on the way: The Mountains of Connemara, specifically, “The Twelve Bens.”  As the name suggests, it is a mountain range consisting of twelve mountains with a water filled valley in the centre. These mountains captivate your attention and snap you out of the haze that is brought upon by only sleeping for two hours the night before. They demand your full attention. Wrapping my scarf tightly to my neck, I was overcome with a sense of tranquility. With the mountains as our only companions, time stood still and the stresses of every day life dissolved. Life was good. It is moments such as these that I come back to during times of hardship to remind myself that total tranquility is possible and that they will come again.

Galway, Ireland

After being cleansed all of life’s troubles in the mountains and sleeping the rest of the way, we arrived in Galway, Ireland at last.  Out of all the cities in Ireland, I have to say that Derry and Galway are two of my favourites. What drew me in most about Galway was it’s Latin Quarter. This section of the city is beautiful with it’s cobblestoned streets, tiny boutiques, pubs, and great restaurants. As you walk down the cobblestone streets, shop signs command your attention with their bright shop faces in bright assortments of yellows, blues, greens, and every colour of the rainbow you could think of. One cannot help but be cheery when walking in Galway. In addition bright coloured shops and cobble stone streets, there is often street entertainment to be found in Galway as individuals sit perform in the middle of these walkways for all those passing by. During the warmer weather, patio seating is opened up so that individuals may enjoy the entertainment going on around them. Whereas, The Connemara Mountains provided me with the tranquility I needed, Galway was waiting in arms reach with all the entertainment and joy I could possibly imagine. Regardless of whatever mood you may have been in prior to entering Galway, you are sure to leave Galway with a smile on your face. For those looking to learn some of Galway’s history, take a moment to visit Galway’s City Museum. Within the museums’s walls you can learn about archaeology, art, natural history, along with Galway’s maritime history.  Galway is a place for adults and children alike and is a city that should not be overlooked when planning a trip to Ireland. Stay tuned for my trip to Inis Mor.


(Above: Latin Quarter- Taken from Trip Advisor page about Latin Quarter)


Art found in Galway City Museum 


Spanish Arch in Galway

Irish Travels: Part Three

Next stop: The Giant’s Causeway.  I repeat next stop…. The Giant’s Causeway.

Forced from under the warm protective layers of blankets, I was assaulted by the Irish  cold that morning. I grudgingly fumbled onto our tour bus half asleep, almost certain I had forgotten to pack some of my belongings in the commotion to get on the bus.   It was way too early for any sane human being to be awake, and yet it had to be done.  By sacrificing my sleep, I would be earning something much more valuable, the chance to visit The Giant’s Causeway. For those who are reading this and have no idea what The Giant’s Causeway is, let me give you a brief background on this wonder.  The Giant’s Causeway is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is made up of thousands of hexagonal basalt columns which are the result of ancient volcanic eruptions and erosion. As lava emerged from the depths of the earth’s core,  it cooled and hardened and would go on to make the spectacular hexagonal columns you see today.

However, this isn’t the only story regarding the formation of The Giant’s Causeway. As the name of the heritage site suggests it was created by giants! Yes, you read that correctly. As the legend goes, The Giant’s Causeway was the result of a feud between between two giants: Finn MacCool (of Ireland) and Benandonner (of Scotland). You see, these two giants had it in for each other and after fighting for many years, Finn had enough! Finn was determined to fight Benandonner once and for all, and so he created a causeway of stepping stones connecting the two lands together.  However, Finn’s bravado was soon deflated. As he inched closer to Benandonner, Finn realized that Benandonner was a lot larger than he originally thought and hastily ran back home in terror.   With Benandonner hot on his trail, MacCool’s wife had to think quickly and using her quick wit she disguised her husband as a baby in an attempt to hide him from Benandonner.  At last Benandonner arrives demanding to see Finn, however upon seeing Finn’s “baby”, he decides that if the baby is that giant how big is the father! It is now Benandonner’s turn to flee and upon running back to his homeland of Scotland, he destroys the causeway behind him, severing the only path to one another once and for all.

Whether you believe this was caused by giants or volcanic eruptions, the fact remains that a trip to Ireland is not complete without visiting The Giant’s Causeway. I am always blown away by what nature is capable of and the raw beauty found within it. Standing amongst these hexagonal columns makes one feel so small and yet simultaneously part of something so big. Nature truly is a force to be reckoned with. Pair this with the folklore of the formation of the causeway itself, it reminds me of the stories that have come from those before me and the stories that will be written after I am gone. Up to this point, it seems like I have been saying every single place I have visited is my favourite. I would like to take a moment that the places I have visited before and the places I have visited after although beautiful in their own right cannot compare to Ireland.  With its rich folklore and raw beauty, it is like glimpsing into the past, present and future all at once. It truly is a magical place.

(Once again I would like to apologize for the quality of my photos, at this moment in my life I barely knew how to hold a camera. I mean to be fair, I still have trouble)

Derry, Ireland

After journeying from the land of giants, the next stop was Derry, Ireland which we would call home for the night. It is at this point that we leave the land of mystical beings, and return to the Ireland’s darker past once again. You see, just as Belfast was heavily affected during “The Troubles” conflict of the late 60s until the late 90s,  so was Derry.  Upon arrival, our tour guide informed us that we were scheduled for a walking tour with one of the locals to learn about it’s complicated past. As we walked along the streets, the tour guide spoke of fights that broke out within the very streets we walked through and the casualties that ensued.  Just as the black cabbie driver in Belfast teared up, so did our local guide in Derry. It was evident that this was not simply their past but their present and that they lived with these memories in their mind every day.  As we walked through the streets, our tour guide explained mural after mural and the people depicted in them. He spoke of an event called Bloody Sunday in which a civil rights protest would become a massacre, killing many innocent civilians in its wake. He spoke of those that had been lost and the personal connection he had to one of the deceased. As we continued on our tour, we stopped in front of a mural of a little girl who had become a casualty during this turbulent period in Derry’s history. Our guide informed us that she was simply walking down the street when a stray bullet struck her down and killed her. More heartbreaking was how after her death, her father would sit on a bench near the spot she was killed and talked to her as if she was still alive.  One thing I really appreciated about Ireland was the fact that they do not try to hide their history.  Living in a country that is stereotyped as being kind and nice, we often forget about the atrocities that were committed in my own country’s past. I think all countries could stand to benefit from being open about their past, in order to recognize what was done wrong and how to bring change into the future.

Irish Travels: Part Two

So after many weeks, I have resurfaced from my cave to continue the story about Ireland. I apologize for the delay, with the start of a new job I have been quite busy trying to balance work, family, friends and workouts once again. However, the show must go on! And without an understudy to fill in, I must find the time to carry on this show. So, lets continue!

Belfast

After the first day of Ireland almost had me running for the hills and back to Canada, the ending of that day provided me with enough reason to be hopeful for the week ahead. That next morning around 6 am, my friend and I were getting ready for the week of a lifetime. After walking twenty minutes to get to their transit system in frustration we managed to find our way to the meeting spot to board our tour bus. It was there we reunited with our tour mates from the day before, as well as met new people who would be joining us on our adventure. At around 8:30 am, we were off to Belfast. For those who do not know about Ireland’s history,  starting in the late 1960’s conflict began to brew in Northern Ireland.  I cannot do justice in explaining the conflict, so I will only provide a short synopsis and urge you to do your own independent research on the conflict. Simply put, the conflict arose out of the way people living in Ireland identified themselves. For some, they identified as British, and believed that Ireland should remain part of the United Kingdom (as Northern Ireland remains today). On the other side, there was those who identified themselves as Irish nationalists, and believed that Northern Ireland should join the rest of Ireland and sever ties with the United Kingdom. To complicate matters, these divisions were made worse by the differing religious beliefs amongst people and political affiliations. This conflict led to a bloody period in Ireland’s history with mass civilian casualties and one which impacts Irish citizens to this day. As a result, I urge you to resist commenting on the conflict and your personal ideologies with the citizens. Instead, I ask you to recognize the beauty that surrounds the country and the warmth of its people. I have fallen in love with Ireland and I hope you do too.

It was on the black cab tours in Belfast that I was made privy of this information and the conflict that ensued. These men who run the black cab tours are individuals who during the conflict were there to get people to where they had to go.  If you are in  Belfast, I am not suggesting that you should go on a black cab tour, rather I am demanding that do. The way these drivers spoke about Ireland’s turbulent history with tears in their eyes and sorrow in their hearts, only serves as a reminder that we as outsiders cannot pass judgement on a nation’s conflict. Rather all we can do is try to be understanding and listen to their stories. When we often think of heroes we think of firefighters and paramedics. However, these individuals should not be dismissed as it was their efforts which allowed citizens to arrive safely to their destinations. As we went on our tour, the cabbie drivers took us to on a tour through Belfast stopping in front of buildings covered in murals depicting the conflict. These murals commemorated the fallen and the fighters in the conflict. After seeing the political murals, we visited a memorial which listed the names of civilians killed as well as those who died for their political beliefs. It is one thing to hear about the conflict that occurred, but to see these murals and the names of actual individuals who perished left me speechless. It made me grateful that I have not had to deal with real political conflict in my own home country and made me grateful for the safety that my homeland has brought me.

 

During our tour, we were also informed that during this conflict many walls which are referred to as “Peace Walls” were put up to separate communities with opposing beliefs. In Belfast today, many of these walls remain and we were taken to a location where one of these walls stood. Upon arrival, I was speechless that such divisions occur today.  It is one thing to hear about political strife in countries, but to physically see the impact is disheartening. With tears in his eyes, our cabbie driver expressed his sorrow that people in these opposing communities cannot even say “Merry Christmas” to one another with this wall of cement keeping them apart.  It touched me to my core that even during  a time of the year known for bringing people together, people remained divided.  Looking at the peace wall, I was also struck by a particular piece of artwork which stated “it…is…cold…and we…are…tired.” To this day, I still think about this piece of artwork. While I cannot bring change to conflict overseas, I can attempt to dissolve barriers in my own country and try to understand those with differing opinions than my own. It is here that our tour of Belfast ended leaving us to reflect on our own situations and hardships.

Dark Hedges and Ballintoy

After the somber tour in Ireland, our next destination was the Dark Hedges. For those who do not know what this is, it is a tunnel like path of intertwined beech trees which was made famous after being used in a scene of the HBO Series: Game of Thrones. Now I am going to be honest in that while I do watch Game of Thrones, I still do not know which scene was filmed here nor do I really care for that matter. Rather, what struck me about this place was the silence. I have heard that this area can get quite crowded with tourists but when we arrived it was as though the whole path was just for our tour group. As a result, this moment allowed for a moment of reflection of everything I had just learned during our black cabbie tour and allowed me to take stock of everything I was grateful for in life. With the sounds of my tour mates in the background, I allowed myself to be happy with the present moment I was in and that I could face whatever the future holds. It was a scene out of a fairytale, and I was the protagonist of my own story.  I realized it is up to me to decide how my story plays out.

After the moment of reflection down the path of beech trees, it was time to drive to the village where we would settle for the night: Ballintoy.  The village is very small, housing a population of about 160 people. No that is not a typo, however what it lacks in population it makes up for in charm. We stayed at the Sheep Island View Independent Holiday Hostel and set off to explore the little village. If you have time, I urge you to visit the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. Although I did not get the chance to visit it,  some of my tourmates did and had quite a good time doing so. While some of my tourmates visited the bridge, my friend and I explored the surrounding hills and had our own photoshoot near the water and caves in the village instead.  For those who live in Ballintoy, I can only say that you must have some seriously strong legs and glutes. Those hills were no joke, and walking uphill after my photoshoot was a full body workout. Joking aside, coming from a big city, this small village offered a temporary relief to the stresses of city life and those photos reflected this. I was recently told I should smile more, but I assure you that at this moment my smile reached from ear to ear.

As night dawned upon Ballintoy it was time to go out and enjoy a drink at their bar. As I mentioned earlier, I used to be a shy kid. As my friend decided to turn in early, I was left to my own devices and was determined to be social. With much hesitation, I put on my big kid pants and headed to the bar. It was there that I had a great conversation with one of my tour mates and her husband. While it may have been an alcohol induced discussion, it was great to be amongst two people much wiser than myself and discuss our passions in life and dreams. It made me realize that just because our dreams are unconventional does not mean we should give up on them. It may be idealistic I’m sure but I refuse to give up on what I love. With the conversation dying down and the exhaustion setting in, I decided to turn in for the night. I had pushed myself out of my comfort zone and was made better because of it. Tomorrow would be a new day full of adventures and new experiences and it was time to get some rest before our next day of travelling in Northern Ireland.