With the semester halfway through, I am getting less and less excited to go back home. One of those reasons? The friends I have made here. I am a mid-west girl already planning my travels to the New England area to see my friends once we’re back in the States. Luckily, IFSA Butler provided us with an excursion as part of IFSA Ireland. And although not all of the Galway Gang could make it, the group of Galway Girls were great to hang out with and get to know better. A girls weekend down in the books! Here are some of my favorite moments from the three day weekend in Kilkenny! Read More »
Student Blogs & Vlogs | College Study Abroad Programs, IFSA-Butler
My second weekend in Ireland, a group of American students, including myself, set off for Kilkee. I honestly had no idea why we were going or what of interest we were supposed to find there, but with a name like “Kilkee,” the town had potential from the get-go. Five hours of bus later, we arrived in the emptiest town I have ever seen. It was a Friday evening, and the streets and buildings were dark and desolate. We dropped our bags at the adorable bed and breakfast and walked down to the beach, listening to but not seeing the waves crash on the bay.
In the morning, we went over our plans for the day at breakfast. I have fallen in love with breakfast in Ireland, where cheese, soda bread, scrambled eggs, and smoked salmon have been the norm in many places I’ve visited. Once we were all very full, we set out to the cliffs.
Kilkee is shaped a bit like a horseshoe, with ocean in the middle and cliffs branching off on either side. Every set of cliffs we approached, we stopped to take pictures; each set was more grand than the last. Torrential rain and biting wind whipped around us, and we grasped the handrail to avoid being blown over the edge. The steep drop-offs were slate grey and shear, with dark turquoise waves beating against their bases as if to tear them down. Our group was spread thin across the cliffs, everyone pausing in their own time to take in the enormity of what lay before them.
By the end, I felt very very small. I knew that moments like these were what people were talking about when they say studying abroad is a life-changing experience.
We walked down the middle of a country road back into town, running into no one and gazing upon rows and rows of stone walls and grass so green it looked fake. My walking partner and I decided Kilkee was an entirely different planet on its own.
Back in town, we found a spa that did seaweed therapy, a popular type of treatment in Kilkee. I would’ve never thought a seaweed bath would be so refreshing. We returned to the B&B afterward, sat by the fireplace, and rested and talked. Dinner was fish and chips and seafood chowder and lamb stew (which seem to be on the menu nearly everywhere), and drinks were at the Greyhound, one of very few pubs open during the winter in Kilkee. The locals there told us about 900 people lived there, meaning our small group of 10 increased the town’s population by about 1% for the time of our visit. They further shared that the summers in Kilkee are crazy busy, with about 20,000 tourists coming to swim and gaze upon the cliffs and go to the seaweed spas. They were excited to hear that we were American (another common theme I’ve found in Ireland), and welcomed us eagerly to their lovely town.
Another day of cliffs and hearty food and soul searching followed, along with another five hours of bus back to Cork. Kilkee is a place I will absolutely visit again in my life, during the frigid winter, with its whistling winds and weird seaweed baths and lonely beaches and friendly people.
This weekend, IFSA Butler took all of us to Northern Ireland, which (confusingly) is actually a region of Great Britain. Our first day, we got up early and made our way to the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge which connected a small island to the mainland. We were able to walk across and get some beautiful views on the island (and look at how blue the water is! I promise I didn’t do anything to enhance it!)
After this we drive to Giant’s Causeway, which is the most visited attraction in Northern Ireland. It is most famous for it’s ‘hexagonal’ (read: pentagonal, hexagonal, and many other variations of sides) pillars that make up the shoreline. Lucky for us, it was an absolutely gorgeous day outside, so the pictures below show the real beauty of the area.
The next day, we took a Black Taxi Tour of Belfast, where we learned about the violence that’s taken place there in the last 50 years over whether Northern Ireland belongs to the UK or Ireland. We saw murals honoring those who fought for their beliefs, and also the Peace Wall that separates the two factions. We each got to sign the wall and I got some great shots of my friends writing.
After this we had the afternoon to ourselves, so my friends and I walked to the Titanic museum (the Titanic was built in Belfast). Unfortunately it was closed by the time we got there, but you can see below how beautiful the building is.
This was definitely the most educational trip I’ve taken during my time abroad, and I’m really glad that IFSA brought us here together, because I don’t think I would have taken the time to explore this part of Belfast otherwise.
This weekend was fantastic! Friday morning I boarded a plane in Dublin City to visit Brussels in Belgium. Brussels was an amazing city and it’s quite easy to get around on foot if one has the patience. The center of town is a dense, bustling place packed with incredible architecture, which is much of what I was after seeing. I also had a good time sampling some of the region’s plentiful varieties of beer.
Of course, when people talk about Belgium there are a couple of things that instantly come to mind: chocolate and waffles. Something I wasn’t aware of is that french fries also have a history in Belgium. The french fries were quite good, but the chocolate and waffles were the main focus in the food spectrum. I had a tour, with my traveling companions, of the Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate. It was interesting to learn how chocolate is molded by the chocolatiers, but the best part was chatting with the chocolatier, an older woman who was incredibly sweet and funny. She must have enjoyed chatting with us because she gave us a fair number of special samples after the rest of the audience had left; the samples were of the specially filled chocolates called “pralines”. Incredible. We did not find a waffle museum or receive any free samples, but we enjoyed them nonetheless. The waffles were noticeably different from the waffles I make at home in that they were sweeter, and not just because I got mine topped with nutella and bananas!
That night we went to a small back-alley street that was lined with bars. One of the establishments was the Delirium Pub, so named for the house beers served there. Across the way was an absinthe bar, which we decided was worth sampling while in Brussels. It was quite strong and tasted of liquorice. The bartender, a gruff man, showed us how to properly drink a shotglass worth of absinthe. First, dunk a sugar cube in the liquor, then place it on a flat surface over the glass and light it on fire letting the melting sugar drip into the liquor. Finally, after a few moments, blow out the flame, drop the cube into the liquor and enjoy. Quite an experience and one that I won’t likely forget.
On Saturday I decided to go for a walk. I walked across the city from the south aiming for the landmark Atomium just outside the city to the north. It was a fantastic walk, I got lost and found myself at a large domed building in the north of the city. It appeared to be a government building similar to the Capital Building in Washington, DC, but I could not read the signs and did not stop to ask. Instead, I turned and headed for Atomium. This brought me past an old looking cathedral on the edge of Brussels (or so it seemed) past which I crossed a bridge and followed a street to what seemed to me to be a suburb of Brussels. From there I could see an enormous stone Cathedral that looked magnificent from a distance, I stopped by to look inside later. It was extremely ornate, but I did not enter for there was a service in progress. On my way to Atomium I stopped to have a puff pastry at a small bakery. It was filled with a wonderful vanilla cream, topped with chocolate, warm, flaky, and the perfect treat for a long walk. As I got closer to Atomium I passed the largest outdoor streetmarket I’d ever seen. It was blocks and blocks in length, I walked for 20 minutes and neither found the start nor the end of it, I seemed to have just passed through a part of it. A few blocks away I heard a band playing music, but I had already been distracted and wanted to make sure I would be back to my hotel to meet my companions by dark. Finally, I reached the enormous park where Atomium sits. Atomium was a sight to behold; giant silver metallic balls suspended over the science center for which it is the symbol. I was interested in the exhibits, but after so much walking I was quite happy to sit among the gently rolling hills and shady trees of the park. Then I walked back, had dinner, and went straight to sleep. Although I was only there for a short time, I came to appreciate Brussels, I would encourage others to go and seize any opportunity to return.
All for now,