Fifteenth Email- Haven't I been here before?

Sent 13.3.06


My three week spring break has just begun, and here I am writing an email. What am I thinking, doing anything that involves effort? The last two weeks have been pretty fun (besides being sick), even though I was still attending class. I'll try to do a quick rundown into what I've been doing, and also tell you my spring break plans (and the fact that I still have stuff to plan).

I managed to catch the flu two weekends ago so I was pretty much out of commission for a 4 day span. Friday night was the first indication that something was up; I would wake up throughout the night either being freezing cold or sweating. Saturday night I slept for 12 hours, was awake for 8 on Sunday, then slept another 12 hours that night. By this point I was feeling better, but the flu is not a whole lot of fun to go through. Figures that the one year I don't get a flu shot, I manage to catch the darn thing. Luckily I hadn't planned any big trip this weekend so was able to spend a lot of time sleeping and resting it off.

As I said in the last email, I decided to get a bit adventurous and take a bus to London. The price of it (€34, or $40) convinced me that I could take sitting in a coach and ferry for an overnight journey between islands. I also realized that I had been to London once before, so giving a little more time to travelling wouldn't be a big deal. It even saved me the price of two nights in a hostel. I left Dublin on a Thursday night at 8 pm after I finished class for the week, and arrived in London Friday morning a little before 8 am. Overall it wasn't too bad of a trip there- only 3 people got kicked off the rather full bus immediately after we arrived in Holyhead, the ferry port in Wales directly across the Irish Sea from Dublin. I say that more jokingly than anything; I expected some weird things to happen so this fit well with that. It was very similar to my first Greyhound experience: I didn't really know what to expect, but it ended up being a lot like what I expected. (That really didn't make any sense, did it.) The ferry ride portion of the trip was a little over 3 hours, with another 6 hours on a bus with about another hour of rest stop time mixed in.

I did get a reasonable amount of sleep on the bus, so after arriving in central London, I headed out near Hyde Park where the hostel I booked was located. It was about an hour walk, but I picked a good route that took me around the front of Buckingham Palace, and through a good part of Hyde Park. Hyde Park is quite large; not quite as big as Phoenix Park here in Dublin but much more centrally located. I would compare it more to a Central Park, but with fewer trees and not surrounded by skyscrapers as most of the buildings in London don't exceed 10 storeys. I dropped my bag at my hostel and quickly decided I would get a tube pass for the rest of my day's travels, as I didn't want to spend another hour walking into central London. My next stop was the Houses of Parliament in Westminster. I knew in advance that the House of Commons usually meets on Friday in a more low-key session, so I decided to check that out. I only had to wait about 20 minutes to go in and see Parliament in session. It was pretty interesting to see and I stayed for almost an hour listening to the debate. To be honest, it wasn't exactly full on the floor: only about 20 to 30 MP's were there (and no Tony Blair), but they were discussing real bills that would eventually come before all the members. Earlier days in the week attract both more MP's and a much bigger visiting crowd, so seeing it on Friday was not such a bad idea if you don't want to wait. It is rather ironic that I have now seen more of British government in action than Irish, US, or even Michigan government.

I next headed over to the Tate Modern museum to meet up with my friend Blake who is studying in London this semester. He actually visited Ireland a week or so before my trip by coach to London, and was the one who gave me the crazy idea to take the bus. Tate Modern is a relatively new museum in London, opened in an old power station. The art, as the museum name implies, is modern. I don't quite have an eye for that stuff, so we stayed for a while and looked at a lot of the work, but found most of it pretty weird. We then took a walk along the south bank of the Thames, passing the reconstructed Globe Theatre, the London city hall, and eventually reaching and crossing the Tower Bridge. We then headed over the ND flats (same place as the kids there stayed last semester, but a whole new group) and watched some TV before heading out to a Thai restaurant for the night to enjoy some good ethnic food. I went out with Blake, Kyle (my roommate from last year), and one of their friends from the London programme. The prices in London still deceive me- dinner was something like £8 for a huge dish. Single digits sound great for a price when you are used to dollar or euro, but pounds are a different story since that dinner worked out to be around $14.

I got tired pretty quickly that night because of my limited sleep on the bus the night before, so after hanging out for a bit in the flats, I headed back to my hostel to crash and do some more sightseeing the next day. Me, Blake, and another friend of his headed out to Camden Town to check out the rather sizeable markets that are open seven days a week. It was pretty much the largest market area I've ever seen by a factor of 10- I don't even know if we found every nook and cranny where the stalls and shops were. All sorts of crazy stuff was sold there: clothes (for any occasion and type of person), shoes, tourist junk, puzzles and games, books, furniture and other house wares, and a large variety of food. We walked around for over 2 hours taking it all in. After we got some food of our own at the market, Blake and his friend had some stuff to do so I headed over to the British Museum. This is pretty much the museum of everything not British: a lot of stuff they managed to pillage while conquering and colonizing the world, including the original Parthenon friezes and the Rosetta stone. There is a lot of stuff to take in, but I tried to see a lot of the more interesting things. The building itself is quite impressive as well. I then took a few rides around on the tube, and eventually headed back to Blake and Kyle's place to meet up with them. Kyle & I along with some of his friends headed out to a pub to get some food and have a drink or two while watching soccer on TV.

I had quite a bit of time left on Sunday to walk around the city before my bus left at 6 pm, so soon after waking up I headed over to meet up with Blake and Kyle and do some walking around the city. We stopped by speaker's corner in Hyde Park for a bit, which is an interesting experience. I went to it in the fall as well for a bit; it is basically just random people coming and preaching their often "oppressed" views to the public. (I was trying to be as neutral there as possible, but I don't know if that worked.) After listening in for a bit, we continued on into the city walking by St. James's Park and past Buckingham Palace. We caught the end of the changing of the guard, so we saw some of the bands marching out of the palace gates. We then continued on across the river and walked along it for a bit, passing the London Eye and some more parkland. Eventually we hit up the Pizza Hut buffet for lunch (all you can eat for only £4, or $7), and I headed out to catch my bus. The ride back to Dublin was uneventful and only about half-full. I got quite a bit of sleep, and took another hour nap once I got back to my dorm room at 7:30 am the next morning, with plenty of time to wait before my first class of the week at 4 pm. Overall it was a pretty good way to spend a weekend, and not too bad on the wallet.

This past weekend was another ND class trip, this time out to the Aran Islands. These are west of Galway, just off the Atlantic coast of Ireland. I haven't been out to the islands yet, but I had been out west on a ND trip last semester, and I also visited Galway about a month ago. So the area is quite familiar, and I've taken quite a few bus rides across the middle of Ireland. This wasn't your trip to Paris or London, but is definitely one of the more spectacular trips I've taken. The views of everything on the island were awesome. The trip started with a bus ride out to a rainy Galway, where we stopped for a long lunch break and watched some rugby while eating food in a pub. We then headed out to the ferry port about an hour further west along Galway bay, where we boarded the ferry for the largest of the Aran Islands. It was a nice ferry ride out to the island, especially for those of us that braved the elements a bit and stood up top out of the warm cabin. The wind was pretty strong, but it was cool to see us coming into Aran even though it didn't appear until we were on top of the island.

That night we attended a mass in Irish, which was my second foreign language mass (first was a German mass over Christmas) since being here. We then walked across the village (about a 10 minute ordeal) to a restaurant where we ate a nice 3 course dinner. We eventually headed to the local pub where I heard more Irish than English being spoken if our group was excluded. It was pretty cool to see the language used in everyday conversation on the island. All of the signs are in Irish as well, with only about half having an English translation.

The next day was a long day of hiking and exploring the island. We were led by an archaeologist that Kevin, our program director, knows quite well. We first headed to an old church perched on a hillside next to a holy well. We then walked through numerous fields, seeing other Christian and pre-Christian monuments and sites. At times, we had to knock down and rebuild the rock gates built into the rock walls so we could move from field to field. At one point, we managed to just come across a cow giving birth to a calf, which is an interesting sight to see. We then headed around the back of the island to some beautiful cliffs that offered some amazing views. The entire day was quite picturesque, even though the sun was hidden behind the clouds the entire time. Eventually we headed down into a small village to get some lunch before heading up to even higher cliffs on the island, located very close to Dún Aonghasa, an old Celtic fort on the island. This is the best-preserved and largest Celtic fort in Europe, and was pretty cool to see perched up on a cliff wall. It was a pretty tiring day and the majority of us were asleep on the bus ride back to Dublin after hiking all day. It was well worth it to be on our feet all day though; definitely some of the cooler sights I have seen in Ireland.

Today is the start of a pretty busy week, even without school. Kyle from London is coming in Wednesday to take part in the St. Patrick's Day celebrations here in Dublin, and I will be experiencing the day in its home country as well. Saturday Tom (another ND guy here) and I take off for Rome for our 10 day trip through Italy. We plan on spending around 2 to 3 days in Rome, around 2 in Florence, and 2 in Venice. We then split with Tom eventually getting to Salzburg for his flight home, while I go west to Marseille on the French coast to fly back to Dublin. Most of the trip will be roughly scheduled, but we haven't set anything in stone so we can be a bit flexible with our sightseeing.

This is likely the last email for the month of March. Another quick series should come out in April after I return from break, talking about St. Patrick's Day and my trip through Italy. It is pretty crazy to realize how fast time has flown by this semester; it seems like school just started up again after winter break about 3 weeks ago. I'm already halfway through this semester, but the trips coming up should be fun. There are quite a few new pictures up on my website, so be sure to check those out.

Keep in touch,

Dan McGee
Mobile: +353 87 056 4163