Saturday, March 12, 2016

Diary of a World Traveler

Dublin  Cork: Fairy Trees

Today is the day we say goodbye to Dublin and drive into the west of Ireland. Though I am more than ready to be in Cork, I can’t help but miss Dublin a little bit. This city is great—shopping, coffee shops, and lots of great restaurants. Our hotel is gorgeous, even if our rooms are a little small. Plus, we are finally going to get to explore nature a little bit. Outdoor exercise is the best part of any trip. But Dublin will always be there waiting for us, and I can’t wait to go back in a few weeks!

We got up and went down to one last breakfast and loaded the truck. Then, at exactly 9:02, we set off for Cork. I knew that the drive would be beautiful, but I had no idea that it would be as absolutely amazing as it was. The green saturates the landscape so effortlessly—the grass seems to glow, even in the little light offered by the clouds that settled over the sky by the end of our drive. The coach swept on through Kildare, the Curragh, and then on to Cashel on M7 and M8. One of our professors told us to be on the lookout for “Fairy Trees”, which are solitary trees in the middle of fields used for grazing animals. We found a few, and it felt great to connect to the mythological influences in this country. I drifted in and out of sleep, sadly, but I saw so many sheep and horses and cows and mountains and trees, and I can’t wait to see more as we continue westward.

Our first cultural stop outside Dublin was the Rock of Cashel. This is a very old cathedral, graveyard, and castle complex at the top of the hill in Cashel, Co. Tipperary. The castle was first used to house the Kings of Munster, historic kings in Ireland, including the famous Brian Boru. As soon as we arrived, we encountered many animals: cows, sheep, and beautiful black birds called Jackdaws. Because of the building process for these large old buildings, the areas previously filled with wood scaffolding have rotten out, leaving tiny square holes on the inside and outsides of buildings. These black birds inhabited basically every one of these holes, chirping and clamoring away while the incredibly knowledgeable tour guide tried to tell us about historical facts.

There are various buildings, including Cormac’s Chapel (which has beautifully preserved frescos from the 12th century). During the reformation, the fresco was actually covered over with plaster, and it has taken years to carefully remove the plaster without harming the fresco. For our biology class, we learned that the chapel is also under restoration because the waterlogged sandstone walls were housing mold that was threatening the remaining paint. Thus, the entire building was waterproofed and the fresco is left to dry out before further work is performed. Also on the grounds are the remains of the cathedral, a fully intact round tower (complete with conical tip), the amazing cemetery, and a restored living area where the old choir would have lived.

The entire site is fascinating and impressive, but my favorite part had to be the amazing structure of the cathedral. It is such a huge, commanding building that I forget that it was built so long ago. The Gothic style makes it even more impressive, since the vaulted ceilings and tall windows reached at least four stories high. And the views… absolutely stunning. The wind blew all of us away, but it felt liberating to be swept off our feet while looking out at an entire town and valley below us. This is a stop I will never forget. 

After a quick lunch of French fries and chocolate (shh it’s okay, I ate grapes once we got to Cork), we drove for another hour before arriving in Cork town, Co. Cork. We checked into our rooms (which are small, but it is a very old hotel) and then had the rest of the afternoon to wander around. Our acclimation tour isn’t until tomorrow, so we did not really know where anything was. Diana and I decided to just walk around, and we somehow managed to cross the river and find shop street. We went to Debenhams, Dunnes, Boots in the mall, and then down the street toward Penney’s and many other small shops and restaurants. I also popped into a music store to pick up my own tin whistle, which I have not put down since. It was extremely busy because it was Saturday afternoon in the city, but we plan to go back to Penney’s and Debenhams when there aren’t as many people. Considering it is less than a ten-minute walk there, I feel that this mall will be a major stopping point for all of us at some point. Plus, there is a Spar convenience store right across the street from our hotel! We will not be without food ever, like we sometimes could have been in Dublin. Awesome.

And speaking of food, the hotel serves a lovely dinner. We had vegetable soup much like the others we’ve had so far, then a delicious plate of salmon and mash with lemon garlic sauce, and a dessert of either profiteroles or apple pie for dessert. I had the apple pie with ice cream, but I had one of the cream puffs and they were stellar as well. We will not be underfed here, that’s for sure.

Not much done today, but for some reason, I am incredibly tired and ready for some rest. I practiced my tin whistle enough to send my love and well-wishes to the band, who are performing their home concert tonight back in Rock Island. I probably drove our neighbors mad with all of the noise, but it was worth it. Maybe if I keep practicing, I’ll be able to play Danny Boy for them when I get back. A mighty good luck to them all the way from Ireland. Though I would not trade this amazing adventure for the world, band and my fellow players would be the one thing to keep me home. But music has proved to connect us all, even from across an ocean. “And I shall hear, tho' soft you tread above me. And all my dreams will warm and sweeter be. If you'll not fail to tell me that you love me. I'll simply sleep in peace until you come to me.”

photo credit Helen Offerman, Alex Watts, & Diana Cleveland

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