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July 27, 2015

Galway Week 4

July 21 - July 26

This week went by super fast! We spent the majority of the week working on homework and getting ready for finals, which are already next week. It is starting to hit everyone that we only have a few days left, which is pretty sad.

Tuesday and Wednesday were spent mainly recuperating from the weekend trip to Cork and trying to stay on top of school work.  We have one 8 page paper, one 12 page paper, and a final all due next week, and the work is starting to catch up with us all.

Thursday we headed downtown and did a little shopping.  We spent some time down around the shops, enjoying the small amounts of time we have left here in Galway.  We went to class in the afternoon, and then later that night headed back to town with a group of friends.  It was surprisingly sunny out, and so we sat down by the water for a little bit enjoying the weather and the people out and about.

We headed to a good pub, the Kings Head, which is pretty well known around Galway.  We stayed there for awhile, enjoying our time and the live music that was playing.  This pub is a lot bigger than some we have been to so it was fun to find a good table and not be squished into a tiny bar.

Friday we spent working on some more homework and attending classes.  That night we visited Erin's french friend again, who made us delicious crepes for dinner. First we had savory crepes with eggs, ham, and cheese, which I had never had before.  Afterwards we had dessert crepes, which were so good.  It was fun talking to her about Paris, since we will be there in a few weeks.  She taught us a few french phrases we should know and told us some of the places we should visit, such as Versailles and the Louvre. I was so full coming home that night!

The rest of the weekend went by in a blur.  Saturday night we went down to the Kings Head again, but this time we went for dinner at the restaurant in the pub called the Chop House.  I got a delicious burger and a brownie with ice cream for dessert. It was delicious! (Side note - for some reason all of their burgers here taste like meatloaf...not sure why, but they're still pretty good)

We sat in the pub for a few hours afterwards, enjoying our time together.  Because our last week here is also finals week, we haven't been sure how much more time we'll have to spend with other people in the program so we are trying to take advantage of the rest of the time we have.

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July 25, 2015

Galway Week 3

July 13 - July 20

The Monday of our third week we visited the beautiful Aran Islands.  This was one of my favorite trips we have had thus far. We were all expecting another rainy day, and the start didn't look promising as it was pouring rain in Galway.  We packed extra clothes, lots of food, and a towel or two, ready to take on the rain yet again. We boarded the ferry at around 10 in the morning, road for about 45 minutes through the choppy Atlantic Ocean, and arrived to a dry Inis Mor.  The sky was still cloudy, but already our hopes were up.  Our group walked around the small town for a little bit before boarding the buses and driving deeper into the island.  We ended up in a small little patch of beautiful houses, with miles of stone walls wrapping around us in all directions like a slightly confused maze.

We started off on our first adventure, a hike across the limestone to the Worm Hole.  By then the skies had cleared up and we saw the beautiful sun, which we hadn't spotted for quite some time.  We eventually got to a large cliff and hiked along it until we were able to look down and see the worm hole.  This natural landmark was essentially a very large, rectangular hole carved into the rocks down near the ocean.  It looked perfectly carved out, but it wasn't man-made; it occurred from the combined effects of a sea cave collapsing inward and erosion from the water. Ocean water was able to connect from the ocean to the worm hole and fill it up to resemble a swimming pool. Apparently it's popular for people to cliff dive into it.

After spending some time up on the cliffs, we headed back down to find some lunch.  We walked along the small roads through the rolling hills, spotting occasional cows and horses.  We made it to a little village of a few restaurants and stores, ready to eat some good food. For the first time in a while we were able to sit and relax in the sun, soaking up the Rays and recharging for the remainder of the day,

Our next trip was up to Dun Aonghasa, a semicircular stone fort at the highest point of Inis Mor that is more than 3000 years old.  It has stunning views of the beautiful Atlantic Ocean, with cliffs that drop straight down and resemble the Cliffs of Moher.  Our tour guide told us much about the fort, such as that there are some theories that instead of a fort it was actually an amphitheater of sorts where masses of people sat on the bench-like formations in the stone walls.  [find source]

After this trip, we boarded the buses again and headed back to the part of the island where we began. There we were able to shop around some and relax for a little before our ferry set off again.  We enjoyed a delicious Irish coffee and sat back as the beautiful day on Inis Mor came to a close.

The rest of the week flew by as we worked on homework, visited a few pubs, and spent more time with each other.  On Thursday morning we decided to take better advantage of the time we have left in beautiful Galway and decided to head to town for breakfast. We ate some delicious food at Griffins bakery, then walked around town for a little bit.  It was so nice to just enjoy the little quirks of Galway and not worry too much about the schoolwork we had.

The weekend after the third week of classes was the exciting time when many of us took off on trips throughout Europe.  Many people decided to travel to places like Paris, London, or Amsterdam, but Erin and I are traveling through Europe after this program so we decided to stay a little more local.  Saturday morning we boarded an early train to Cork.  My aunt is good friends with someone who lived in Galway for some time and recommended that I travel to cork at some point, so we decided to take her advice and venture off into this fun southern city.
We booked a beautiful house through AirBnB in the heart of the city.  We had a bedroom and bathroom on the top floor of the house with a very kind, welcoming family.  We got to cork around noon on Saturday, giving us two and a half days to spend exploring this city. Saturday we spent time walking around the main street, Saint Patrick's street, and some of the side streets as well.  We walked through the English market, which was a wonderful mix of bakeries, butchers, and other vendors selling wide arranges of things.  We went to a pub for dinner and ate some delicious Irish food.  

Sunday we headed to blarney castle.  I wasn't so sure that I wanted to cave into this particular tourist attraction, but Erin convinced me and I'm glad we went.  We took a bus up to blarney, and headed straight for the castle.  I'm not very fond of heights, and walking up the steep staircase in the castle that got progressively narrower was not very fun. My mind was changed one we arrived at the top, though, because the views were incredible.  Kissing the stone happened in a second.  Once we snapped a few pictures from the top we headed down to the beautiful grounds surrounding the castle and ate our lunches. We spent the rest of the afternoon strolling through the grounds and enjoying the beautiful gardens.

That night for dinner we are a delicious Asian street food restaurant, and then headed to a pub I had heard about called Sin É. Rumor has it that it is the oldest pub in Cork, and once we walked through the doors it definitely fit that title.  It was dark and old looking, with old posters and pictures covering every surface. There was hardly anywhere to sit, with a tiny bar, and a group of men sitting around a table in the corner playing traditional Irish music.  We got to stay for a little and enjoy the wonderful culture in the bar, but we decided to move on after a while because there was no where for us to sit.  We moved on to a different bar with a similar reputation around the town called Mutton Lane.  This bar was much more laid back and we found seats right away. It was fun to be in a small group and just enjoy our time in this new city.

For Monday, our last day in Cork, we decided to explore the city more.  We got a delicious and filling breakfast at a place called the Liberty Grill.  afterwards, feeling full and satisfied, we hiked up into the hills of cork in search of Saint Anne's Cathedral.  We had heard of the Shandon bells before and decided we wanted to ring them.  

We found the beautiful church tucked in between the rows and rows of houses on the hillside. Erin and I paid the small admission and headed up stairs towards the bells.  We decided to trek all the way up to the top of the bell tower first to see the views of cork from the top.  After climbing up another steep, claustrophobic staircase, we made it to the highest part of the tower and were able to see 360 degrees of cork from the top. The views were breathtaking.  

After taking a few pictures and enjoying the beautiful scene before us, we headed downstairs and took our turn to ring the bells.  They have a whole book of songs you can play with the enormous bells [source here], and I chose to play "here comes the sun". It was such a fun experience and I was really happy we decided to search for the special church.

Later on we walked around town, doing some shopping and eating some delicious food.  We had seen the top of a beautiful cathedral over the tops of houses around town, and since we had all afternoon free we decided to search for this beautiful building as well.  We eventually found it hidden on the outskirts of Cork as well, and discovered that it was Saint Fin Barre's Cathedral.  This was one of the most beautiful churches I have seen here. There was an immense amount of detail on the front face of the cathedral, and we spent a lot of time taking it all in and enjoying the artistry.  Sadly you had to pay an admission to enter the church, so we decided to just enjoy the view from the outside.

The rest of the day we spent walking around the city, eating good food, and having one last pint at Mutton lane again. We headed back pretty early, as our train was leaving at 7 the next morning and we had to walk to the train station.  Overall Cork was a wonderful city, and while it isn’t as great in my eyes as Galway it was still really fun.

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July 17, 2015

Galway Week 2

July 6 - July 12

Our second week in beautiful Galway started with an extremely soggy field trip.  On Monday we traveled by bus to the beautiful Connemara, a large area of rolling hills and emerald mountains outside of Galway.  We knew that there was rain in the forecast, but we had no idea how drenched we would really be.

We started off on a hike up a mountain pass to a place called Saint Patrick's Bed. Most of the path we used seemed to be a rocky creek bed, and at some point we were basically trudging through miniature rivers. We eventually got up to our destination, which was a little church perched up on the mountainside, with a statue of Saint Patrick and a covered shrine nearby.  The place we had hiked along was an ancient pilgrimage path that people have been hiking along for centuries.  Our destination was supposedly a place where St. Patrick had slept overnight at some point during his life.  While we were soaking wet and the rain was pouring down, there was still an incredible beauty that the place we were standing held.  The clouds floated low over the mountaintops and the greenery of the mountains surrounding us was astounding

We eventually made our way back down from the sacred site to the bus awaiting us.  By the time we got back to our ride, every part of our body was soaking wet, and most of us had nothing to dry off with on the bus.  Our program directors didn't really prepare us well for how wet we would be the whole day.  Luckily our next stop was lunch, and we got a chance to dry off while scarfing down some warm food.

The last stop we made for the day was another very historical spot.  We parked near an unassuming bed and breakfast and started up a hill towards a rocky path along a lake.  We hiked over and around lots of rocks, sheep poop, and puddles.  After walking for awhile our tour guide stopped us and gave us some historical background on where we were.  The path we had been walking was a road carved out of the hillside during the Great Famine.  The government of Ireland during this terrible time realized that even though there were no jobs for anyone, they needed to create some because giving these people a job gave them more will to keep fighting.  They commissioned Irish men to create this long road through the countryside to give them something to work on even though there was no need for such road. 

It was really an interesting experience on this day, hiking over paths that have been traveled for hundreds, even thousands of years.  We were complaining the whole time about the weather, how wet we were, and how we just wanted to go back to our houses.  The people who traveled these paths many years ago didn't have the luxury of waterproof jackets and warm homes to return to, though.

The rest of the week was spent mainly in class and doing home work.  Tuesday night we went to this fun thing called the Silent Disco.  You walk into the bar and they hand you headphones, and everyone's set is tuned to the same station. So you're dancing with people who are all listening to the same music, but to onlookers it appears as though you are dancing in silence.

Thursday night for our history class we had a walking tour of Galway city. We visited the Galway Cathedral, St. Nicholas' Cathedral, the Spanish Arch down by the river, and then up in the city we looked at a few other spots.  Similar to most days in Ireland, it was raining the majority of the time.  Everyone headed back after the tour except for Erin and me.  We decided to go to a cozy little restaurant called the Pie Maker, and ended up having a wonderful night.  They serve savory dinner pies, such as chicken and mushroom and a beef and Galway stout pie.  We both got our own pies and then shared an apple pie for dessert. It was by far one of the best meals I've had in this beautiful town.

Saturday we went on another field trip for our history class.  We went to the Burren National Park and did a little hike, and checked out a few other monuments around Galway. This day was just as rainy as the last field trip though, which was pretty unfortunate.  Luckily our teacher cut the day short and brought us to a delicious place for lunch and then we headed back to our homes.

Sunday Erin and I decided to go to a Catholic mass in the Cathedral here in Galway. It is a beautiful church, and we were lucky to have experienced our first mass here. We went with two of our friends who are both Catholic and they showed us the ropes.  While it was a very different experience than what I am used to at my home church, it was really fascinating to see how people worship differently and to be apart of that.
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July 10, 2015

Galway Week 1

June 28 - July 5

Its been more than a week now that I have been in beautiful Galway. I cannot believe it! This town is so beautiful and unique. I am extremely lucky that I get to explore it for four more weeks :)

Last Sunday we packed our bags and left Dublin at around 10 in the morning.  We loaded all 39 of us into a big bus and headed westward towards our destination.  Along the way we stopped at Bunratty Castle, which was a bit of a tourist destination but fun all the same. They had petting zoos, a little town with shops and restaurants, and of course the castle to explore.

After Bunratty, we traveled onwards to the west coast of Ireland.  After about an hours drive we finally arrived at the one place I'd always wanted to visit: the Cliffs of Moher.  This is one of the most beautiful, picturesque places in the world, and I am so incredibly lucky to have gotten to visit it. Somehow we ended up going on a rare sunny day also, which made the experience all the better.

At the end of the day we ended up in Galway, heading directly to the place we are staying. Its essentially on campus housing, as we are studying on the National University of Ireland, Galway's campus.  We spent some time unpacking, then did a quick little walking tour through the town.

This past week we started classes, which are definitely harder than I imagined they would be. Im taking an Art History and an Irish History class, both of which are not that simply. I'm not very interested in history to begin with, which makes these classes a little harder.  I'm hoping going into this week, though, that once I get into the hang of it they won't seem as daunting.

When we weren't in class or working on homework this past week, we were probably downtown. Its about a twenty minute walk into town from where we are staying, but there is shuttle that runs from our housing to the city center for part of the day. The first day in Galway we went downtown and got some delicious breakfast at a cafe, then went shopping for some groceries.  The next day we went back into town and explored a little more.

There is a main street in Galway that is called Shop street. You can walk down it and find all sorts of restaurants, stores, coffee shops, and more.  There are side streets branching off of this that are cool and a little less traveled then the main street. If you walk all the way down to the end of the street you hit the River Corrib, which flows in the Atlantic ocean.  Down by the river is the famous Spanish Arch, which was constructed in 1584 and stands today in perfect condition.

A few nights this past week we went into town to find pubs to relax in.  There is one that we've been to a few time called Taffes (pronounced "toffs"), which has great music.  A lot of the people in Galway are very nice and friendly, and we've met some pretty cool people.  We've gone downtown for dinner a few times as well, which is expensive but a great experience.

One of my favorite days was this past Saturday.  Erin and I went downtown and got breakfast at a bakery.  She had pancakes (which were actually crepes), I had a chocolate croissant, and we both got americanos. After breakfast we visited a cute little market that wraps around an old church in the city center.  There were stands with jewelry, delicious food, fruits and vegetables, baked goods, and fish.  We strolled through there for awhile, then went down to the water and sat for awhile soaking in the sun.

Later on, we decided to have a barbecue in celebration of the Fourth of July.  We found a barbecue in our housing complex, and after about an hour of struggling with the coals we finally got to cooking. We listened to some music, hung out for awhile, and celebrated with each other.

It is such a cool and different experience to be able to 'live' somewhere abroad. While we aren't actually staying here for that long, five weeks is a lot longer than most people get to stay somewhere.  The adjustment from the craziness of Dublin to the relaxed nature of Galway and our lives here has been a little hard, but I have found that I am adjusting well.  It was hard at first figuring out how to balance the responsibility of school work with the desire to take advantage of the beautiful city I am in, but I think I am slowly getting there.
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