Saturday, April 30, 2016

Diary of a World Traveler

Navan Day 1: "Two world wonders in one day. What a time to be alive."

What another amazing day here in Ireland! I say that too much, but it seems to be true every time. We were given absolutely perfect weather to go see the hexagonal rock formations of Giants Causeway, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. What a beautiful and humbling place to roam around for a few hours. When we got back home to Navan, we had a quick dinner and then went to see Captain America: Civil War. For those in the States who have to wait another two weeks for it to come out… prepare yourselves and get pumped!

The drive to Bushmills from Navan was somewhat uneventful, if long. It takes approximately three hours to get to the Causeway with a quick pass through Belfast, and it definitely felt like three hours. Though we could not see much of Belfast from the bus, we did get to see the ship lifters that put the Titanic into the water. That was a pretty great piece of history to see, even if our trip to Belfast proper was cancelled.

From there, we arrived at Bushmills and then drove up to the Giants Causeway visitors’ center. The staff booked us in record time and we were off to go see the rock formations. But first, we got to watch a short video about what cultural purpose the Causeway serves. Finn McCool, one of the famous heroes of Ireland (and one that we studied in our class here!), was challenged to fight a Scottish giant. He built the Causeway between Ireland and Scotland so that they could meet and fight there. When Finn saw the size of the Scottish giant, he was afraid and set out on a plot to get rid of him.

When the giant came knocking on Finn’s door, his wife answered and said Finn was gone, but the baby was home—Finn had dressed as a baby to scare him away by the supposed size of the “real” Finn. The giant looked and saw how big Finn’s baby was and marveled at how big Finn himself must be. Successfully scared away, the giant ran across the Causeway and based the rocks away so that Finn could never return to Scotland. The bridge was broken from then on. I thought that was a really cool mythological explanation for an already supernatural formation.

To get to the rocks, visitors have to walk through the center and then walk an extra ten minutes along the coast. There is a bus available, but the walk is scenic enough to do and enjoy. We got to experience the Windy Gap, the windiest spot in Ireland. I can confirm this, based on the rat nest that my hair was by the time we had made it to the Causeway. The hexagonal rocks do not start until later up the path, but there is a lovely little mountain, a few cliffs, and some tide pools on the way there that smelled like the sea. The sun was shining off of the water and down onto the mountains. We could see the Isle of Skye clear as day. It was going to be a great afternoon, I could already tell.

The hexagonal rocks are basalt columns caused by ancient volcanic eruptions. Today, the columns make hills, slides, stepping stones, and chairs for people who come from all over the world to witness it. There is almost nothing else like it in the whole world that has been completely naturally formed (or built by a giant, you know). We walked around and saw the Giant’s Gate, walked down to the sea, climbed all over the columns, and even saw the “boot” that the giant left behind—a huge boulder shaped like a shoe.

Toward the last half hour of our time at the Causeway, we decided to climb up one of the cliff paths and look out from there. There is a spire on the other side of the cliff that we wanted to get a look at before leaving. The trail did not take long and actually gave us a view at the next set of cliffs, atop which sat this magnificent singular column called the spire. From our high spot around the corner, we could also see the very tip of Scotland. I tried to get a picture of it and I think it just barely comes out. It was honestly incredible to be there on a day so clear that I could see another country from across the water. The wind almost blew us away on our way back down, but it was completely and totally worth it.

I stopped by the gift shop quickly to buy some awesome souvenirs. Then we all clambered back onto the bus and watched Northern Ireland go by for the last time. The entry to and from this time was more evident, since we were on a motorway instead of a back road, but it was still like just passing through a state line. As an outsider, to think that simple boundary has caused so much trouble amazes me. I feel asleep on and off during the ride because I had such a satisfying afternoon. By the time I woke up, we were already fifteen minutes away from the hotel. Back to our home for the next two nights.

We had to leave dinner early to get to the showing of Captain America: Civil War over at the Diamond Theater. I can say that it was completely worth it. But before I start a rant about the movie, here’s a fun cultural story about movie theaters in Ireland. When we walked in, the lady knew us because we had come in the night previous to buy the tickets. Premiere night, I might add. We showed up a half hour early at 7:30 and she said, “You all are very early!” I was afraid that we wouldn’t get a seat if we didn’t show up that early. It astonished me that we could walk in and the theater was completely empty. By the time everyone got there, seats were still empty. On opening night. For a Marvel movie. I really couldn’t believe it. We had our pick of the entire theater. It was amazing.

The movie itself was great. I really do need to see it again to get all the facts straight, but from what I can tell so far, this is more of a stepping stone into more movies than a standalone. It relies heavily on previous films and also sets up multiple options for plots in the future. “Teams” did not really matter as much as I was anticipating, either. But there are new characters—both to the Avengers and to the universe—that I think are going to be great additions to the cast. As far as the Sokovia Accords go… I’m still not so sure. Only later movies can tell what will happen with that mess.

Overall, I give it a high rating for invested Marvel fans. Others might not enjoy it as much, but I thought it was a stellar example of how politics can often get involved in any private entity and how there can be a battle—sometimes literally—over how to handle that transition. In that way, I enjoyed this plot almost more than any other Marvel movie in quite some time. Is it the best movie ever made? No. There were some things that made me cringe. But it does have a lot of good jokes and comedic moments that happen between newly formed friendships. I would recommend any Marvel fan to see this film as a prequel to all of the next generation movies that are inevitably coming soon. Get exited for May 9th when it comes to the States!

As for now, I am tired and in need of rest. Tomorrow is a full work day, which means a day full of papers, presentations, map making, and general academic swamping. Can’t wait. But the day after we drive back to Dublin via Tara and a bunch of other ancient cites! Then we head to Newgrange on Tuesday and catch a plane to Norway on Wednesday. What an amazing week we have planned. Stay tuned for a lot of excitement coming soon!

photo credit Katie Walker & Diana Cleveland

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