Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Civilized Country

Dear Ireland,

Thank you for having accessible toilets that I never had to pay for. Thank you for not letting your dogs poo on the streets. Thank you for calling me 'love' and hiring only the friendliest bus drivers. Thank you for having gentle rain. Hope to see you again one day!

Don't throw things at Queen E-II when she visits this week.


St. Patrick's Cathedral
This weekend, Anna and I packed up our little backpacks, took a train to Nantes, and flew to Dublin. Hooray! First English-speaking country since I left the States, though English is the operative word here. I honestly thought that most of the Irish people around me were speaking Gaelic for a good, long while until I realized, that if I listened closely, it was English. Or at least the same vocabulary and sentence structure.

On Friday, we piddled around for the most part, checked into our hostel, and toured Dublin on foot. It reminded me a lot of Brussels, lots of brick and brownstone town houses, easy city-layout, not very touristy, so there were no obnoxious street vendors, and lots of double decker buses (not in Brussels, though). The food in Dublin ended up being much, much better than I could have hoped (sorry, I've eaten at lots of Highland Games with traditional Celtic fare, and it's blander than your grandma's trip to Martha's Vineyard). We ate fish 'n' chips in Dublin's oldest fish 'n' chips shop, delicious Victorian sponge cake, and my ultimate favorite, a massive, thick, Guiness 'n' beef (the Irish don't believe in ampersands) stew with soda bread. OM NOM NOM. (In Gaelic, nomma nomma omm).

Saturday was the game-topper, though. On the suggestion of a friend of Anna, we quit the city for the countryside, taking two buses out to Newgrange, one site of a long series of ancient passageway tombs. Easily the best decision I've made on a vacation in Europe. We got to see book-Ireland, and it was just as pretty as I could have dared hope. Lush green hills were sweetly parceled out between dark hedgerows, but with a wilder, more forested feel than the carefully manicured fields and woods of France. When we got off the bus at the tomb, we were way up on a hill, and could see out to the misty horizon. It was windy, fresh, and we could smells cows, green, and rain. Both of us girls were blissfully content. I think we would have settled down if some farmer had opened his house to us.

Entrance, Newgrange
Beautiful. Newgrange, the tomb itself, ought not be overlooked either. I wish I could take the time to describe it for you, because it surely doesn't look like much, but 5,000 years of staying power and ingenuity in the field of astrological engineering is quite impressive. Our group went way into the tomb to see a simulation of what happens on the day of the Winter solstice. The guide cut the lights, and it was the darkest dark I've ever been in, just like people describe when they go into mines. You open your eyes, and there's an altogether unnerving and exhilarating feeling of having absolutely no depth perception. I have lots of respect for my way-way-way-way back ancestors, now, who built all these megaliths even before the pyramids. You'd think they'd have enough to worry about what with mini ice-ages and all. Guess not.

Back in Dublin, we saw the National Gallery (got my Vermeer fix), ate too much (bliss), the Dublin Writer's Museum (in case you didn't see it while you were in Dublin, James Joyce wrote about it. Occasionally.) where C.S. Lewis was painfully absent (not Irish enough for you, Dublin?), lots of neat gardens, and your general European city sights, like churches, the castle, etc. Unfortunately did not get to see Trinity College, as it was closed for the Queen's upcoming visit. Sigh.

Finished reading The Poisonwood Bible on the trip. Excellent book. We landed in Tours to take the train back to Angers, and planned our trip to give us a few hours in Tours before making it back in time for translation class. After being in Tours, I came to a realization: if you have ever been in a French city, I can tell you exactly what it looked like, even without being there myself. See below:
Didn't look like that? Okay. See below:
Cities that fit this rubric: Angers, Paris (Louvre used to be the castle, remember?), Tours, Nantes, Nice, etc. Saumur, too, probably. It's at least handy, because when we got to Tours, we really wanted to see the castle, and I knew that if we could head towards the easily visible huge cathedral (gorgeous, too, PS), we'd end up by the river (we did) and the castle would be nearby (it was). So there you have it, you'll never get lost in France again.
Next week marks my last week at CIDEF before exams, and Sunday marks my parents arrival. HOORAY! Then, I'll be having one last grand adventure before readventuring in the beautiful, hot, summertime South (of the States, not France). Hopefully everything goes well, especially studying. Ick. One of my Chinese roommates was nice enough to come warn me not to get sick, because Clopinette's sleeping on my bed. Apparently, Clopinette was in the other girl's room, and sneezed a lot, and now the other girl is sick, too. I didn't laugh, but I wanted to. I knew that if I laughed at their cat-human transmissible cold, France's gypsy magic would strike me with an even worse cold. 

See the whole batch of photos via my Facebook. The album is labeled, surprisingly enough, "Dublin."

PS: Michelle from Texas, who will be arriving in Angers May 20, let me know if you'd like to get a coffee sometime! Or at least a croissant. I'm always down for a croissant.

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