torrie's travels

WHERE WILL I GO NEXT?

Vacation from Vacation September 19, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Torrie Schneider @ 8:41 pm

So I’ve been back to work from vacation for three days.  It feels like an eternity.  And I don’t know why I am writing this instead of going to bed.  I am so tired.  I can’t seem to go to bed early enough this week.  I was talking to a defense attorney in court today and we both agreed that we should get a vacation from vacation before having to go back to work.

I think it has also been difficult because it was such an incredible trip, that I didn’t want it to end.  I don’t want to be back in Minnesota, back at home, back at work.  It was really an idyllic vacation and I could see myself living there.  Sort of.  I still can’t figure out how to be a lawyer, a prosecutor specifically, there.  I need to do a few more Google searches!

I definitely enjoyed the travel and want to travel internationally again soon!  So I will have to decide where my heart is taking me next.  But don’t worry, Ireland, I will be back!  And there will be some domestic travel between now and then, so I will use this place to document those trips as well!

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Belfast and the Antrim Coast September 16, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Torrie Schneider @ 10:10 pm

Belfast was the last stop of our vacation.  It was a stop I was really looking forward to, but also dreading because it meant the end of an incredible time.  But we had no time to waste.  We arrived in Belfast around 1:45pm on Wednesday and had a tour arranged with our concierge by 2:00pm.  The first item on the itinerary?  A black taxi tour.  In a yellow taxi.  But whatever.

Black taxi tours are tours of the political murals in the Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods of Falls Road and Shankhill Road, respectively.  Although the Troubles are over and there has been a truce for over 15 years, it is still a very sensitive subject.  I was really interested in this because although Ireland is rich in history, the history of my youth is the Troubles.  Tourists are advised not to talk to randoms about the Troubles, but to ask questions of your cab driver on these tours.

It was incredible.  We started in the Protestant neighborhood and our cabbie gave us the rundown of the history and described some of the murals.  Then he let us go off on our own and take photos.  When we were finished, he brought us through the gates that separate the neighborhoods (which are still closed by 10pm each night) and to the Peace Wall.  I think this was one of the most powerful things we did in Ireland.  Seeing how long and tall the wall is (much larger than the Berlin Wall was) and how many signatures are on it is overwhelming.  We each signed the wall and left a message of peace for the residents.  The cabbie said the wall will never come down.  Neither side wants it down.  It is so unfortunate, but at least there is peace, I guess.

Then we went to the Catholic side and visited Bombay Street and the Clonard Martyrs Memorial Garden.  This memorial is not only for those killed in the Troubles, but for all Catholics who died over the years fighting for Ireland’s independence from Britain.  The cabbie then brought us to the largest monastery in Northern Ireland, which was very beautiful.  Again, the cabbie told us about it and let us go inside on our own.  I was speculating that the cabbie was Protestant, but then realized that he let us go on our own each time.  So the fact that he did not enter the church wasn’t necessarily proof either way.

Finally, he brought us to one of the Catholic murals, the one of Bobby Sands.  He said the Catholics’ murals change often, unlike the Protestants’, so this was the main one.  But then he brought us to the International Wall and showed us the Catholic murals there.  There was one mural that was done by both Catholics and Protestants…they believed that if they could work together on one small thing, they could start working together on other things.

One of the most interesting things I learned here, was that the Catholics are pro-Palestinian and the Protestants are pro-Israeli.  I had to ask the cabbie to repeat himself because I thought I had heard wrong.  But I guess when you think of it in terms of land, it makes sense.  The Catholics in Northern Ireland believe that Ireland belongs to them and the British are squatters and took what was theirs.  Which is how the Palestinians feel.  Whereas the Protestants in Northern Ireland believe that Britain rightfully owns the land (properly through the treaty), much like Israel believes the land rightfully belongs to them.

The cabbie then dropped us at the Titanic Exhibit.  Disclaimer: I have never seen the movie.  Ever.  And I never will.  (That is a story for another day.)  But because we were in Ireland in 2012, i.e. the 100th anniversary of the Titanic, I felt it only appropriate that we visit.  Plus, the Exhibit was just opened this spring in honor of the anniversary.  It was pretty neat.  It was a great mix of mediums.  There was even a ride in it!  But if I have to hear that song one more time…

We caught a different cab back into city centre and ate dinner at Robinson’s, a pub across from our hotel.  The Europa.  Which is also known as the most bombed hotel in the world (during the Troubles).  It was a lovely hotel and I even had a celebrity sighting!  As we went up to our room after dinner, we rode in the elevator with Thomas Sangster, the actor who played Sam in Love Actually!  He looked exactly the same, just older.  I had to try not to stare and Loren did not know what was going on or why I whispered to her, “we have to get on this elevator!”  I also resisted the urge to quote the move to him.  I was thinking something along the lines of, “you really want to know?”  “I really want to know.”  “well, the truth is, actually, I’m in love.”  But I didn’t want him to call the police on me or something!

We stayed in that night because Loren wasn’t feeling well and I caught up on some internet stuff.  Though, again, like my hotel in SF, we stay at a nice hotel and get nickel and dimed.  No free wifi.  So frustrating.

The next day we got up and drove north to the Antrim Coast.  We visited Giant’s Causeway first.  So incredibly beautiful.  The basalt columns are so interesting.  To think that a volcano made them.  Ok, so really it was Finn McCool, but whatever.  (I told my little brother all about Finn McCool tonight and showed him pictures to go along with his souvenirs…toward the end of the night, he asked our dad, “Is the giant just a myth?”)  I also learned that it is the windiest place in Ireland, and man, I don’t doubt it.  The wind was unreal.  And though it started out overcast, the sun was out before we left.

From there we went to the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge.  You have to hike in about 1km, but by this point the sun was out in full force.  It was amazing.  The water was so blue and green, it almost looked tropical!  Ireland really is blue and green.  (Well, for us…we had very little rain, so perhaps it’s not as blue and green at other times!)  The bridge was so cool.  It was windy, but the island on the other side was neat.  The ground was so spongy you could actually see the impression your foot was making in the ground.  The cliffs, the islands, and the water was so awesome.

We had lunch in Bushmill’s and walked around the little town a bit before heading to the distillery.  We were too late for a tour, but got to hit the gift shop.  And we took a few photos.  Then we headed back into Belfast and had dinner at Robinson’s again.  This time upstairs in the bistro.  My lasagna came with chips.  Seriously, everything comes with chips.  Everything.

Then we went to the Crown Bar next door, which is the oldest pub in Belfast.  The owner was Catholic and his wife was Protestant.  She won out when it came to naming the place (Crown), but he placed the crown logo on the ground at the front door so everyone would have to step on it to enter!  It is outfitted with snugs and old-fashioned gun-metal plates for lighting matches and antique bells for letting the staff know when you were ready for another.  Unfortunately they are no longer in service!

We didn’t have too much luck with the men in Belfast, but we did meet a New Yorker at the Crown.  He came into our snug and asked if he could sit down.  He was clearly inebriated and told us that we looked like soap opera stars.  Um, thank you?  He told us all about his former love, a Swedish girl he met on Farmville (because Loren told him her ancestry was Swedish).  He told us that we had excellent teeth and that I looked like I took “no shit from anybody.”  I guess he really can read people!  Someone came to get him, thankfully, but he still became weirdo #3.

The last stop of the evening was back to the piano bar in our hotel.  We sat mulling over the trip and I had to fight back the tears.  If I dwelled on the trip or the impending flight home, I think I would’ve lost it.  I held it together until my dad’s wife picked me up at the airport.  Then I cried.

I will be back, Ireland.

 

Aran Islands

Filed under: Uncategorized — Torrie Schneider @ 8:13 pm

On our second day in Galway, we booked a tour out to the Aran Islands.  The islands are another gaeltacht.  We visited the largest island, Inis Mor (pronounced, Inish More). We took a coach bus about 45 minutes to the ferry and another 45 minute ferry ride to the island.  We hired bikes, which was recommended to us.  What was NOT recommended to us?  Which way to go to get to Dun Aengus, the prehistoric fort on the island.  We wanted to see both Dun Aengus and the seal colony on the island.  We skipped the route that said, “Dun Aengus via Seal Colony” because we thought we were on the most direct route.  That may have been the case, but it was also the hilliest.  Wow.  We got a workout in!

It was all worth it, though.  We arrived at the base and then had to hike up 1k to the fort itself.  The fort was created to act as a protector from invaders, dating back to the Iron Age, perhaps the 2nd century BC.   The fort is situated on cliffs.  The cliffs are twice as high as the Cliffs of Moher.  If you can believe that!  Here, though, you are allowed to lay on your stomach and look out.  I did that in one place and then we went higher up.  I stood too close to the edge and got yelled at!  This reminded me of Palisade Head on Lake Superior…aka my favorite place on earth.  It is so peaceful (yeah yeah, hanging over the edge of a cliff really IS peaceful!) and I loved hearing the waves crashing below me.  The water was beautifully colored and there were pretty flowers growing on the side of the cliff.

On our way to the seal colony, it started raining, so we didn’t stop to look for the seals.  But it quickly passed.  We ate lunch at a great little place on the island, even though we had to inhale our lunch and get a move on so that I could shop!

The Aran Islands are known for their wool and sweaters.  I was planning on buying a sweater for myself and some as gifts.  They are great!  To think that they are all hand-knitted from wool from the sheep on the island.  It was definitely a tourist attraction, but it still felt good to be shopping so locally.  They really have a different way of life on that island, which seems quite attractive at times!

We dropped off our bikes and made to the ferry for the trip back.  I wish I had had more time to spend on the island and I think on a future visit, I would like to stay out there at one of the B&Bs.  There is a lot we did not have time to explore and enjoy!

 

Galway

Filed under: Uncategorized — Torrie Schneider @ 9:55 am

We left Lisdoonvarna and drove to Galway by way of the Burren.  As Melanie instilled in us, “The Burren means Rocky Place!”  It is a limestone cropping that is something like 123 kilometers large.  In the Burren stands a prehistoric tomb called the Poulnabrone Dolmen.  It predates the pyramids.  It is quite small in person, but pretty incredible to think it’s been there for something like 5000 years.  That is so hard for me to grasp, coming from the US.  Here, if something is 200 years old, it’s old.  5000 years old is kind of hard to comprehend.

Unfortunately, it was raining.  But, as a sneak preview, this was the ONLY excursion we had where it rained while we were there.  Pretty incredible, if you think about it.  I would love to go back there in summer.  The Burren is also home to hundreds of types of wildflowers, some of which are not indigenous to the area.  They have no idea how the flowers got there.  But because it was fall, most of the flowers were not in bloom.  I can only imagine how beautiful it would be in summer.  All those flowers sprouting up between all the limestone rocks.

We then made our way to Galway and found a place to stay.  As I stated in a previous post, the first item of business was getting me a Claddagh ring.  I love it!!  I love that I bought it from a local jeweler who made it himself.  And that I met him and got a picture with him!  So cool.

It was neat being in Galway on Monday because the All-Ireland Hurling Finals were the day before.  It was Galway vs. Kilkenny.  Everyone had been talking about it around the country, so when we rolled into Galway, we asked how it went.  It was a draw.  I learned that they do not do OT or anything.  So they will play again two weeks from now.  The flags were out everywhere, as were the banners wishing Galway luck.  It was a fun time!

Loren and I walked around a bit after getting our rings.  Galway is really beautiful (are you noticing a theme?  I think I need to utilize my thesaurus a bit more because “beautiful” is getting way old!).  The River Corrib, which is the shortest river in Europe, runs through the city.  It has two little tributaries, for lack of a better word, running beside it with two cute stone bridges.  The Spanish Arch is at one end, which reflects Galway’s history when the Spanish Armada landed there.  That is where the term “Galway Girl” comes from.  The dark (black) hair of the Spanish mixed with the blue eyes of the Irish.  My Irish ancestors come from County Galway, so with my hair and eyes, Galway Girl is my favorite song!

Galway is also home to Eyre Square, which Loren and I checked out.  There’s not much there, but it’s a cute little green space in the middle of the city.  We also spent a lot of time during the evenings in the pedestrian mall area.  Lots of cool pubs and restaurants.  We had a nice Italian dinner (Loren’s treat, thank you!) one night and an incredible seafood dinner the next.  I had the lobster.  So fresh!

We also did a bit of shopping in Galway.  We checked out this amazing store, called TK Maxx.  Haha!  Yes, it’s TJ Maxx, but we’re not sure why it’s “TK” in Europe.  And it seemed a LOT more expensive than TJ.  We tried, unsuccessfully to shop at Topshop.  See my previous post…it was always CLOSED by the time we got around to it!  I did get to experience some of the stores I read about in my British chick lit novels, though: Boots, Marks and Spencer, Selfridge (window shopping).  We found two new stores that we hadn’t heard of, too: Dunnes and Penneys (not JC).  I got a pair of ballet flats (12 euro) and a cute pair of black heels (3 euro…no joke!).  I also thought I scored a great pair of tannish-grayish Mary Jane heels for 50 cents!!!…but it turned out at the register that they were both left shoes.  What the what now?  Why anyone would purchase one left shoe was beyond us.  But before we realized that, I had the sales clerk check the price because it didn’t seem right.  She didn’t think so, either.  She came back and said, “would you believe it, they ARE 50 cents!”  She was about as excited as I was!

 

The most beautiful sight in Ireland September 15, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Torrie Schneider @ 8:09 am

On Sunday morning, we got up after about 4+ hours of sleep and with one of the longest drives of the trip ahead of us.  No bueno.  I walked around Dingle a little bit, taking it all in and taking photos while Loren napped.  Then we set off for County Clare.  It was all slower, narrow roads and we had a 30 min stoppage in Tralee.  Frustrating.  It took about 4 hours and we arrived at the Cliffs of Moher.

I can’t tell you how beautiful this is.  I just can’t.  A photo of the cliffs has been my desktop background on my work laptop for months as inspiration.  It doesn’t hold a candle to the real thing!  It brought me to tears.  I think at this location, more than any other, I was awestruck with God’s beauty.  They are just magnificent.  We got some excellent photos here, but as we told each other the entire trip, we had to take it in ourselves while we were there because it will inevitably come across flat in pictures.

We had some fun with some of our photos here and I can’t wait to post some of them (or for my FB friends to see them all!).  It had rained off and on the entirety of our drive that day (the first day of rain we encountered, actually…we couldn’t complain.  Day 6 was the first day of rain?  In Ireland?  Nope.  No complaints here!)  But by the time we got to the cliffs, the rain had stopped.  It was still partially overcast, but the sun peaked out at times.  It was perfect.

Those of you who know me, know how much I love the north shore.  Lake Superior just speaks to me.  Well, much of Ireland reminded me of Minnesota and the north shore.  The Cliffs of Moher was one of those places.  It dwarfs the north shore, don’t get me wrong, but I felt connected to the place like I do up on Lake Superior.

We had planned to hit the Burren that evening, but it was late and we were exhausted.  So we made for Lisdoonvarna…home of the Matchmaking Festival that is held there each September.  I was not really in the mood for it, after having the best. Night. Ever. The night before.  But Loren convinced me to go out.  I was not impressed.  But it was a Sunday, after all.  We spoke to a bartender who told us that everywhere closed early on Sundays and that the festival hadn’t drawn as many people as in the past in general.  That it drew fewer and fewer people each year.

So what did that mean for us?  It meant we were fending off drunken elderly Irishmen and drunken juvenile Irish boys.  It was annoying for me.  I think Loren had fun because that’s her personality.  She can make the best of things and go out and have a good time regardless.  I had to gruff with one guy, though.  He approached me for the third time (barely standing on his own) as I was taping a rendition of “Galway Girl” and I growled at him to Do. Not. Touch. Me.

All of that aside, Lisdoonvarna was a cute little town.  The woman working at the hotel we stayed at was awesome.  She told us to “believe nothing” and “you get what you give.”  Good words of wisdom!

We got up Monday morning and had our complimentary breakfast at the hotel (I was surprised to learn that almost everywhere we stayed…save the hostel…provided free breakfast even if it wasn’t a B&B).  The waitress was adorable and asked us if we had come to Ireland for the matchmaking festival.  We said no and she said, “I didn’t think so, you don’t seem like the type!”  We talked to her about it a little and she said that she knows many people, generations even, who have met their spouse that way, though.  She said that if we should partake in it, to require “8 cows, minimum.”  HA!  Loren and I both thought we were worth more than 8 cows, we should shoot for 10.

 

What I learned in Ireland September 14, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Torrie Schneider @ 6:22 am

Here is a list of things I learned in Ireland, be they oddities, surprises, or just interesting tidbits!

1. There does not appear to be grilled chicken breast anywhere on the island.  All chicken is breaded and fried.

2. There are no outlets in bathrooms.  Do the Irish not do their hair in the bathroom?  Apparently not.  They do have shaver outlets, but that’s it.

3. There is little recycling here.

4. Both skeleton keys and internet cafes appear to still be all the rage.  We had at least two skeleton keys for our different accommodations.  And we actually used an internet cafe to get online for 15 minutes before realizing that our hotel had internet.  The internet cafes are everywhere!

5. There is a disproportionate number of cute bartenders here!

6. Everything closes VERY early.  Shops and malls are closed by 6:30-7:00pm.  Food is finished being served by about 9:30-10:00pm.

7. On that note, apparently when a restaurant’s sign indicates that it will be serving food until 10, it can decide to stop by 9:30.  So frustrating.  Loren and I frequently did not eat lunch until 2:00-4:00, so we didn’t want dinner or weren’t ready to go out until after 10:00.  This necessitated a lot of take aways for dinner!

8. They say, “safe home” instead of “goodbye”.

9. The Irish are well-versed in American politics.  Almost everyone we encountered asked us about Obama, the election, or the economy.  They all wanted to know who was going to win the election.  I mean everyone.  Loren and I were walking down the street after 10:00pm in Dingle and observed a Ron Paul bumper sticker on an Irish vehicle.  I pointed it out and a random man walking down the street saw us, so he stopped to ask us who was going to win the election.  He also had this advice to our politicians: “They both have good ideas, they all need to grow up and set aside their differences.  They are running a country and they need to grow up.”  But it was very obvious that they realize the impact that our country has on the world at large and they know a lot about our politics.  More than most Americans.  Which is sad.

10. Finally, one does not wear a hat in Ireland.  I wore one twice.  And I got so much crap for it.  Basically, the comments were, “what are you hiding?”, “why are you hiding your eyes,” “you are a beautiful girl, you need to show off your face!”  But the general consensus was, what are you hiding?  I can’t even tell you how many times that I was asked that.  A female I met said she loved my hat, but that one just does not wear a hat in Ireland.  She wished that the trend would change, though!  It was the most eye-opening thing, I think, for me.

 

Leaving Ireland

Filed under: Uncategorized — Torrie Schneider @ 5:52 am

I’m sitting in the airport in Dublin waiting to board our plane. It’s a sad day. I hope to get drafts of blog posts done while on the plane, so I can post them when I get home.

Suffice it to say, my departure is very bittersweet. I am definitely leaving part of my heart here. I will have to come back to get it some day!!!!