Trips around Ireland, and more Life in General…
It’s been over a week since I’ve written again – you might be wondering, ‘What is Claire doing over there?’ And in all honesty, I’m wondering the same thing – I really am uncertain about how time passes so quickly when I seem to do so little…but let me bring you up to speed!
Wednesday, November 16, was a pretty important day for me – not only was it the day for registration for next semester’s classes (all of which I managed to get enrolled in), it was also my orchestra concert! The build-up to the concert was fairly time consuming: we had rehearsal for three hours each night on Monday and Tuesday, as well as rehearsal from 4:30 – 7 on Wednesday, with the concert starting around 8:30 pm. It was one of the most fun concerts I have ever played in – nearly all of our songs were accompanied by videos showing on a screen behind the orchestra (which meant that we were in darkness, solely using lights on our stands – a new experience for me!). To start the concert, we played the soundtrack to “There They Go Go Go!”, a Roadrunner cartoon (you can find it by googling – that’s how I practiced!). I played the piece without the other oboist (Becky) because it was very open and the conductor wanted each woodwind part to be played solo; that was a pretty terrifying thing because we did not play through the piece a single time straight-through (without errors) once before the concert! However – we managed it for the concert! I really hope there is a recording of some kind because I’m pretty proud of how it worked out. The next song was the soudtrack to a Laurel and Hardy short film, “Big Business;” Becky played that whole song by herself, so I got to breathe and get my heart rate back down to normal after the insanity of the Roadrunner…the last piece before intermission was music from Harry Potter, with a movie showing scenes from the 2001 movie, Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone – I felt so old watching the film! All the characters were so little!!
After intermission, a violin soloist played a piece Arvo Part and then music from the film Schindler’s List, both with video playing – Becky and I sat in the back of the hall and watched the first of the two, as there were no oboe parts for either piece. We went back on to play “A Night on Bare Mountain,” a piece you might be familiar from because of the movie Fantasia – I really want to watch it again, after playing the song. At the completion of the piece (which was the last one listed on the program), the conductor pretended that we were done and walked out of the concert hall. He soon returned, however, wielding a lightsaber – with which he conducted the final piece, “The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme).” At this point, a faux-Star Wars credit screen rolled up on the screen behind us, telling the audience about the orchestra (and, at one point, announcing that “Music Played By: University College Dublin Symphony Orchestra” – as if they didn’t know already!!) and concluding the concert. It really was a neat concert – one of a kind – and I’m glad I got to take part in it (even if my family is visiting a week too late to see the finished product).
At this point I feel like I should backtrack a bit and share what I did during the last two weekends – that of November 11, and that of November 18.
The weekend of November 11 I wasn’t actually planning on doing anything, but you know how things change – Sarah & Stephanie & I ended up going on a two-day Paddywagon Tour to Connemara, Galway, and the Aran Islands. The first day was spent driving to Galway, and stopping at a few sites of interest – including Cong Abbey and a stop at a lake, where Sarah attempted to catch some sheep (with minimal success, unfortunately) – on the way. We made it to Galway in time for dinner with Stephanie (who had actually missed the bus in the morning, but took a city bus over to meet us); afterward, we hung out at The Skeff Bar for a while before calling it a night. The next morning we headed out to the Aran Islands in a very small group – it was just Sarah, Stephanie, myself, and an Austrian man named Sam. Seeing the island was definitely worth the incredibly wavy/rocky/uncomfortable ferry ride. Note: I hear “ferry” and think “Port Jefferson Ferry” – the boat that we actually rode on was not nearly big enough to deal with the Atlantic Ocean – sized waves. I felt pretty sick after that ride, but walking over to our tour guide’s bus made my stomach settle down – and the beauty of the island, Inis Mór, definitely took my mind off of my stomach. After driving around for a while, we arrived at Dún Aonghasa, a large prehistoric stone fort atop a hill. When I say hill, I mean something between a hill and a mountain – the cliffs along that part of the island are about 100 meters (328 feet) high! I’m not a huge fan of heights, so I stayed pretty far back from the edge – but Sarah, my crazy roommate/daredevil sat right at the edge with her legs hanging over! Sam took pictures for us, and we reciprocated, and then we walked back down to where the tour guide had let us out to get some lunch. We learned all about Sam being in Dublin for an fast-paced English class, and how his daughter had studied in Ireland for a year or so in college – he was a really great guy! He’s supposed to email me pictures he took from Dún Aonghasa…hopefully he figures out how to do that!
After lunch, we finished our drive around the island and then wandered through a gigantic sweater store – but the sweaters, while being made of sheep’s wool (which she wants), didn’t fit Sarah in the right way so we all left empty-handed. Just a side note – sweaters made from the wool of sheep smell like sheep. And sheep don’t smell that great…so good luck, if you really want one of those sweaters. You may need to plug your nose. We went into the American Bar (not owned by an American, oddly enough) to get some tea and then back onto the ferry for the rockin’/rollin’ ride back to the mainland. All four of us got back on the bus with our driver and we drove straight back across the island to Dublin, getting back a bit after 9 pm. It was a long day, but really amazing – the Aran Islands are a must-see for anyone in Ireland longer than a week. So beautiful…just pray for good weather!
After my week following the Galway/Aran Islands trip, I headed up to Northern Ireland with IFSA! We spent Thursday evening through Sunday morning in Belfast (which is a part of the UK, meaning that our money – Euros – was useless…helpful), learning about the history of “The Troubles” and seeing some amazing places.
Thursday was our travel day, with dinner at the hotel – Jury’s Inn – already paid for! Love when that happens…real food without financial insanity is something of a rarity here. Friday morning we drove around to a few different sites in County Antrim; the first of which was the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. After a 2 km (1.2 miles) walk along the coastline, we arrived at a rope bridge. Remember that I am terrified of heights…I walked across the bridge behind Sarah, who decided it would be awesome to bounce as much as possible. Not cool. After making it to the other side, we discovered that there was nowhere to go – it’s a teensy island that you can’t even walk around. Basically, the rope bridge exists so that people can walk over it and feel awesome…and not to get anywhere. I wish I had known that in the first place – I would have stayed on solid land! On the way back, I again followed Sarah – once she had placed her feet securely on the other side of the bridge, that is. I wasn’t about to make that mistake twice…the view really was beautiful, though, with the cliffs and the beautiful green/blue sea to look out on during the walk. After braving the rope bridge, we drove to Dunluce Castle – a 13th century castle on the edge of the sea. Sarah and Stephanie took a wrong turn and started leading Alex, Hillary, and me down a long, winding set of stairs – however, I balked at the thought of having to climb back up said stairs, and led Alex and Hillary to the opening I had seen other IFSA students go through. Once we got into the castle, we realized that Steph and Sarah were effectively under the castle – we saw them walking around down there (see the pictures – you’ll understand) while we actually were in the ruins. Whoopsies! Finally, we headed over to the Giant’s Causeway to learn about the Irish giant Finn MacCool, who built the causeway so he could fight the Scottish giant Benandonner (or so the legend goes). The stone formations at the Causeway are really interesting, so I would recommend it to visitors…although it was something of a let-down because it is so built-up by everyone who has seen it that I was expecting something of gigantic proportions (after all, a giant built it!)…overall a good day! We had dinner at Robinson’s Bar Bistro, which is a block down from our hotel, and then we attended their karaoke later in the evening – the crowd was quite a bit older than us, but we rocked out to the songs and enjoyed ourselves regardless!
The next day started with a “Black Taxi Tour” of west Belfast to learn about “The Troubles” – the conflict between the Protestants and Catholics that led to walls being built between the two sections of the city. The walls are still up today, and it doesn’t look like they’ll be taken down any time soon – they were resurrected by the request of the citizens, and the citizens want them to remain (for now). I learned some interesting things on that tour, most of which were very dark – however, I also learned at least once interesting/not terrifying fact: Liam is a nickname for William! Meaning that Liam Neeson is actually William Neeson…I never knew that! Apparently, both Catholics and Protestants name their children William, but the difference is that Catholics use the nickname Liam while protestants use Billy! Yay for random facts…Sarah, Stephanie and I spent the rest of the day exploring the Christmas Market outside of the City Hall (fudge and welders and Matryoshka dolls, oh my!), and then headed to the Victoria Square shopping center for dinner at TGI Friday’s, subsidized by IFSA. Yum! Sunday was our trip back to Dublin; we got back to campus around 1 pm.
Life has been pretty busy here in Ireland for the past couple of weeks…more updates about Thanksgiving will follow shortly, I promise!