Italian Adventure: Monte Piana and the Dolomites

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I am now entering into my final week in Dublin 😦 I am sad to leave, but I’ve met so many wonderful people and experienced so many new things. I’ve grown so much from this experience, both as a person and a traveller.

However It’s hard to remain too sad, because I’m spending Christmas and New Years with my adopted family in Italy!

The story is long, but I’ll try to summarize it. 4 years ago (July 2008) I went on a group tour with a travel organization for high school students. The trip was a disaster for several reasons, but part of the program was that we got to stay with a host family for a few days and the rest is history 🙂 I kept in contact with them over the course of the 4 years and when I found out I was going to Dublin in August I asked if I could stay with them for a few days, and they said YES! So the week before I was meant to be in Dublin I spent in Italy reuniting with them. Now I get to go back to spend the holidays with them as well. I’m so fortunate to have such amazing people in my life, who treat me like a member of their family.

Well when I was there this summer (8/27) we went on an interesting little trip to the Italian Alps! The area we visited was called the Dolomites. It is a mountain range that borders Austria and Switzerland, and is also a location of a battle between the Italians and Austrians in WWI. I love historical sites so I was really excited to see it.

Misurina Photoset

The area where the battle took place is an open air museum, so you can walk around the grounds through the trenches and shelters that remain and the sites are marked with info about the events that took place. My brochure tells me that roughly 14,000 people died during the battles here. To get there you either have to walk about 5 km uphill (O_O) or take a jeep shuttle, which is what we did :). However it was a little horrific. 11-12 people squeezed into a now top-heavy jeep winding up the side of a hill. It was a one car road and the turns were extremely tight and there was nothing other than the driver’s expertise to keep us from tumbling down the side of this mountain (Railings are for sissies apparently) ;).

We made it to the top of the mountain and the view was incredibly breathtaking.

A view from the top.

A view from the top. Monte Piana.

The area at the top of the mountain was enormous! There were no trees or any obstructions so you could really get a 360 view of the Dolomites. It looked almost like something out of Tolkien. We hiked up to the central area where most of the trenches and memorials were located.

Mountains Photoset

I was really glad that I got to see this part of Italy, because it’s not your typical Italian tourism location. After we traversed back down the mountain we took a detour to this little alpine town called Cortina. It’s a ski and winter resort town for people with $$$$$. It was a really cute area with Chalet style buildings and houses. There was also an Olympic ski jump practice area, which was cool looking not covered in snow.


Cortina, IT

Stay tuned for My Christmas and New Years post, which I’ll probably be doing during my 23 hours of flight time home! 😀


Adventure in Northern Ireland: Belfast Weekend Pt. 2!

My last post was more about the tourist locations in Northern Ireland. This post will focus more on the tourist attractions and fun places to visit within the city.

Titanic Experience The Titanic was built in Belfast. On the area where the Titanic was physically built years ago, there is an experience center, and it is definitely an experience! The building was enormous and I think there were 5 floors, but don’t quote me. It was a walk-through, self-guided tour so you could go at your own pace, which was great for me because I wanted to play with all of the interactive displays. The place was full of them! Touch screen monitors of info about the shipyard in the early years, A model telegraph that taught you about Morse Code (fun!), and the best one was in a separate room and projected images of the ship blueprints on the floor and adjacent wall. It would  zoom in and out of different areas and show the ships creation from the bottom up. If you stood on the quote bubbles that appeared they would give you info about that specific space, it was really neat.

Directly after that display you take an elevator up to the top floor and there is a RIDE! No joke! You get into a little bucket and it takes you around in a “U” shape and shows how the ship was fitted together, giving a little info on how they put the rivets in and how many people it took (3-4, per rivet I think), it was the coolest. After that, the next section was about the interior design and the cabins and so forth. Then they talked about some of the passengers both notable and some not, from various positions as passengers and crew etc.

The display about the sinking was really simple. It was all painted dark blue and the lights projected rippling water on the floor to make you feel submerged. On panels they displayed some of the last Telegraph correspondence between the Titanic and other ships, just before they hit the iceberg and after. There were two separate projected animations of how the ship would have sunk. I thought the simplicity was a really nice touch. After that we did some Titanic “Myths & Legends” Quiz on one of the TV monitors. I was really impressed by the whole thing, I’m so glad I went.

Top>Bottom/Left>Right: 1) Sign in front. 2) Exterior of the Building. 3)Interior. 4) Walk-on Interactive display. 5) Telegraph Model Display. 6) The Shipyard Ride. 7) Last telegraph messages from the Titanic and surrounding ships. 8) Animated video of the sinking.

They also had props and costumes from the James Cameron film as well. I couldn’t resist:

Just me and Jack 🙂

Black Taxi Tour We took a trip to some of the prominent sites of the Troubles in Belfast, where we got a bit of history about how the Troubles began and “ended” (but are still kind of happening today, just not to the same extent). I won’t get too much into the history 1) because I don’t know it well and 2) because it’s a really touchy subject and I don’t want this post to become and ideological battle ground over right and wrong. As one of our guides said “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”

Our first stop was in an area that is home to mainly unionists (people who believe that Northern Ireland should remain within the UK). This was plain enough based on the large amount of Union Jack’s within the area and these murals of high up figures of the various pseudo-military organizations. Many of which are probably not well-known outside the UK. There were a lot of murals in the area with tons of pro-union and protestant symbolism. The image of the sniper is interesting because from wherever you are it looks like he’s pointing at you. So as you walk by it, it looks like he’s tracking you.

Murals on the sides of houses in a Protestant/Unionist area of town.

Murals on the sides of houses in a Protestant/Unionist area of town.

Below is an image of the Peace Wall that was erected between the sections of town separating the Catholics/Nationalists from the Protestants/Unionists. On the opposite side of the wall is the Catholic/Nationalist area. The wall has been added to in oder to make it taller (25 ft.), because many people would throw things over on to the houses on the other side…and I don’t mean trash.

Peace Wall

Peace Wall

Below are pictures of murals and Memorials opposite the wall. The images on the banner are members of the IRA and civilians who died/killed during the Bombay St. Riot. The memorial is the names of members of the IRA and civilians who were killed in various altercations between the two sides. The various murals are depictions of various current and past events in Belfast. Some draw parallels between other similar feuds.

Murals and Memorials on the Catholic/Republican part of Belfast

Murals and Memorials on the Catholic/Republican part of Belfast

After the Taxi tour a few of us decided to go check out the Christmas Market! There were tons a food vendors and some interesting gifts. The picture doesn’t make it look as good, but It was tons of fun

Christmas Market!

Christmas Market!

So that was Belfast! Hope you all enjoyed the post.

Northern Ireland: Belfast Weekend! Pt. 1

**I’m breaking my Belfast trip into 2 parts. This post will focus on activities and attractions in Northern Ireland, but not in Belfast.**

My last IFSA-Butler Weekend Excursion took us to Belfast in Northern Ireland (11/15-11/18), which is in the UK. Northern Ireland has seen its fair share of turmoil since the split of the Ireland in the 20’s, mostly surrounding the Troubles during the late 60’s. While in Belfast we visited the Giants Causeway, Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge, and Dunluce Castle. A friend and I took it upon ourselves to visit the Titanic Experience (The Titanic was built in Belfast…which may not necessarily be something to brag about) and the Christmas Market, which opened that Saturday. Of course, since we are visiting Belfast, we couldn’t pass up doing a political/historical Black Taxi Tour (I’ll explain later).  First Stop:

Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge After driving for what felt like forever we made it to the rope bridge just in time for the rain…and I didn’t bring my coat…or any rain gear, because I’m dumb. Luckily my arms went numb in the first 20 mins. The rope bridge connects the mainland to a small rocky island where local fisherman hang nets to catch Salmon. The bridge used to be far more rickety and dangerous, but now since it’s a tourist attraction, it’s more secure, but doesn’t really feel that way. I was hauling it across that bridge, because it was so bouncy and windy I thought it was going to break. I was relieved when I finally got to the other side, then realized I had to go back over it.

My hair was looking all sorts of good this day, too bad it had to rain.

Dunluce Castle After lunch I went into a thrift store and bought a coat for £3, the best £3 I ever spent. We then set off for the Castle ruins. Like most castles, Dunluce passed into several different hands throughout the 16th and 17th Century. By the mid 17th century the castle was left to ruins.

Giants Causeway Saving the best for last. By this time everyone was pretty much soaked. The Visitor Center is on top of a hill and from the Visitor Center you have to walk down to the causeway which is about  half a mile. I think that there is usually a bus or tram that takes you down, but there was construction on the road, so we walked. The causeway was created from volcanic activity in the area, according to my pamphlet, “An epic 60-million year-old legacy to the cooling and shrinking of successive lava flows.” The pillars of basalt are all in a similar hexagonal shape, which gives them their unique appearance. That’s the science part, but there is also a story behind the creation.

Fionn MacCumhaill (pronounced Finn McCool), a giant, saw another giant over in Scotland and wanted to fight him. He built the causeway to go over to Scotland, but when he did, he realized the Giant was way bigger than him so he ran back across the causeway and the other giant followed. Fionn ran home and his wife wrapped him up to look like a baby. The Giant saw Fionn assuming that he was the child of the giant he saw from across the ocean. If the child was that big, the Giant didn’t want to meet the father so he ran back across the causeway breaking it as he went, and Fionn outsmarted the Scottish giant.

Next post will be about the things I did in the city 🙂 Stay tuned 🙂

Kilkenny Day Trip

The Study Abroad office at UCD offers some free trips and activities for students throughout the semester. So on Saturday the 10th we went on a day trip to Kilkenny. Kilkenny is about an 1.5 hours south of Dublin. Our first stop was Kilkenny Castle, however we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside. I would have totally snuck some photos, but our group was so small it would be pretty obvious. After our guided tour we had a few hours of free time to check out the city so a friend and I went to the Cathedral. It was a pretty short trip but I figured you all would enjoy the pictures.

Kilkenny Castle and the grounds

Kilkenny Cathedral

2 days in Galway

***Sorry these pictures are so small I accidentially changed my camera resolution to a poor quality so the images are small. 😦

A couple weekends ago (10/26 – 10/27) a friend and I made a quick trip to Galway for two days. We grabbed a bus from UCD to the Hueston Station in Dublin to catch the 9:30 am train. It was my first time riding the Irish Rail and it was great because they had free WiFi! The trip took about 2 1/2 hours and made it to Dublin just in time for lunch. We got lunch at this restaurant called The Skeff and then killed some time on shop street before we had to check into our hostel. Galway was the main port for trade with Spain and France during the Middle Ages.

Cathedral in Galway

Our first day was packed with stuff because we were taking a day tour the next day. We caught a cab to the Galway Atlantaquarium, which was interesting, but a bit smaller than I was expected. And then came back to town and visited some churches and Galway’s oldest castle that they turned into a Allied Irish Bank. :/

A little Nemo fish and A huge eel!!!

Since it was Halloween weekend there was a Ghost Bus tour it took us around to all the haunted sites in Galway. The tour was more funny than scary, but we had so much fun and were laughing the entire time.

The next day we got breakfast and went on a tour to the Cliffs of Moher. We booked a tour through the Healy tour company that said it would return at approx. 5 pm, which was great for us because we had to catch the last train from Galway to Dublin at 6:05 pm. However the tour didn’t finish until 6:00 and we missed our train. Needless to say we were not pleased that the tour company lied on their website! I would not recommend them to anyone especially if you have a time constraint. There were several of us who had pay 12 Euro for a bus back to Dublin after we had already paid for a train ticket. That was the only  drawback of the Galway trip.

Killary Adventure Weekend!!!

Sorry this post has taken such a long time, but I had a busy few weeks for assignments and essays. Sometimes I forget I still have to go to school.

On 10/5-10/7 as part of our IFSA-Butler Study Abroad program we got go to the Killary Adventure Center. The Adventure center is located right on Ireland’s only Fjord, creating a beautiful back drop for us to have some fun!

View of the Fjord

It took a while to get there (5 hours) but it was totally worth it! Friday night we got into groups and had a trivia competition, which my team totally won (because we are awesome) and since we won we got a free drink! Woohoo, I knew my useless trivia knowledge would come in handy.

Bright and early the next morning we had breakfast and then headed off to our first activities. Everyone got to choose 2 sets of activities, one for the morning and then one for the afternoon. We could choose between Kayaking and Gorge Walking, Giant Swing (a winch pulls really high up and back and then drops you and you swing really far), Abseiling (Repelling), Rock climbing, Archery and Clay Pigeon Shooting, Tubing, Ropes Course and Zip Line, Turf Challenge…which I will explain later, and some others that I can’t remember, but we had a big selection. I chose to do Archery and Clay Pigeon Shooting for my morning activities. For the first hour and a half we did archery 🙂 and then the second hour and a half we did shooting. I shot 3 out of my 20 clays which I thought was really good!

Me doing some Archery and Shooting. Look at that perfect form…ha

After we finished our morning activities we had lunch and then signed up for our afternoon activities, so me and a few friends did Kayaking and Gorge Walking. Sadly I couldn’t bring my camera on this event, so I don’t have any pictures. We got to wear wetsuits the whole time, which was great, because the water was COLD! The kayaking was good but the Gorge Walking (Which is essentially just waking up a creek bed with waterfalls and deep pools etc) was really fun!! The first thing we got to do before we did the gorge walk was a cliff jump. I think someone said it was like 5 meters high (about 16 ft) but the tide was out so it was a little bit higher. It was definitely a rush jumping off, I ended up doing it twice :). After that we walked/climbed up a creek which doesn’t sound that fun, but I really enjoyed it.

Left to Right: Part of the ropes course, kayaking, Giant Swing, Rock Climbing

The next morning we got to do a half day of activities so I decided to do the Turf Challenge.  The Turf challenge is basically a mud obstacle course. So you go to different stations crawling through mud and climbing over obstacles and occasionally getting chest deep into muddy bogs, and chest deep mud puddles. It was a lot of fun, but I definitely have some bruises and battle scars…mostly just from me being really clumsy and falling of tree stumps and grabbing on to what I thought were roots of a tree, but really a sticker bush! Yeah that hurt. I didn’t really take into consideration that I would be doing the event at 10 in the morning, so it was a really cold/dirty way to start the morning. By the end I was so exhausted and muddy that I ended up taking two showers just to get all of the mud out of my hair. Again I didn’t have my camera on this event, but some of the other IFSA people took pictures of the event, just so you get the idea 🙂

Turf Challenge!!! Just imagine obstacle like this and that’s the Turf Challenge. SO FUN

Needless to say when we left that afternoon I was so tired I didn’t even notice the 5 hour ride back to Dublin, because I slept just about the whole way home.

P.S. Thanks IFSA-Butler for letting me use your photos 😀

Westward Ho! Cliffs of Moher, Buratty Castle, Aran Islands and The Burren

Last weekend (9/28/12-9/30/12) I decided to head west and check out the Cliffs of Moher and some other great sites in Western Ireland. I found a really affordable 3 day tour from a company called a 3-day tour to several tourist attractions for €99 and accommodation was included. So I took the bus from Dublin to Limerick where the Quick Tours driver picked me up. Apparently the weekend I chose wasn’t a very popular travel time because I was the ONLY person on the tour. So I basically got a personal tour of west Ireland with Rita (the driver). It was actually really nice because we got to talk a lot in between attractions! My first stop was…

Bunratty Castle and Folk Park

It was a total blast from the past. Several old buildings, like homes, farms etc. had been restored to how they would’ve been back in the day so you could see how people used to live. The first stop was Bunratty Castle the old home of the Earl of Thomond. I don’t think all of the stuff was restored from the period, but they did a great job of replicating how the Earl’s would have lived. However, castles equal a ton of stairs! Not to mention medieval folk were tiny! All of the doorways were really short and the stairways were really narrow, but it was a lot of fun just to explore the old castle.

After that I went and explored some of the replica homes of farmers weavers etc. As you go further (in the direction shown on the map) the buildings begin to get more modern, but I skipped from medieval thatch roof to 19th Century dentists home…I think I took the wrong path, but oh well. There were also farm animals like geese and chickens just running about and I stopped by this horse and pet him for like 20 min before I moved on. 

Next stop the Cliffs of Moher. Breathtaking to say least!! There’s really not much to say so I’ll let the picture do the talking. 🙂

Then after the Cliffs we went to the Burren which is a really pretty area, but we went specifically to this old Neolithic tomb from around 4200 BC. It’s made out of Limestone and there are several more tombs in the area, but a bit hard to locate. The landscape in the area was fairly bare in comparison to the other places, but beautiful none the less. And I found this one limestone rock that looked like a face!!

After a full day of attractions I finally got to go to my hostel in Ennis, Co. Clare. I stayed at the Rowan Tree hostel and it was really great. It was my first experience staying in a hostel and it sets the standard pretty high already. One of the really nice things was that they served a little continental breakfast to guests for free. It was just dry cereal with milk, toast, coffee, tea and OJ, but still it was a free meal! The facilities were very clean and the people at reception were really helpful. The next day (Saturday) I got to sleep in a little, then was picked up at noon to head to the Aran Islands.

My Hostel!!

A mural on the way to my room

In Ennis

The Aran Islands are 3 islands off the coast of Doolin (Near the Cliffs) and Galway. My tour guide told me that on the Island the people speak Gaelic as their first language and English as a second language. We took a ferry to the island from Doolin, which took about 30 minutes. We stopped at the first island, Inis Oírr, for a few hours to have a look around. There really wasn’t much on the island except for the local residences and some old stone ruins on the top of a hill. There was the option to get a horse drawn carriage tour around the island, but I thought I’d save some cash instead. I headed off to go check out the ruins at the top of the hill and get some nice scenic pictures. On my way back I stopped at a little cafe and had a really nice slice of Bailey’s Cheesecake 🙂 Then it was back to the docks to catch the ferry back.I ended up getting back to the hostel at about 6 pm and went to bed at 8 pm. I guess the sea air just makes you tired ;). At 10 am on Sunday, Rita came and picked me back up and dropped me off at the bus stop in Limerick to head back to Dublin. Since I had some time in Limerick I went and visited King John’s Castle. Here are a few good pictures I took.

King John’s Castle

This last bit doesn’t have anything to do with my trip to western ireland but on Thursday (10/4/12) I went to Dún Laoghaire (pronounced Dun Leary) to take some pictures for a photography project. I figure they might interest some of you so here they are:

Here’s a crappy panoramic that I tried to make in photoshop, but I’m sure you get the idea 🙂

Stay tuned for more awesome adventures!!