Thursday, October 10, 2013

Getting here

I've been in Ireland for about two months now. Actually, I think today (the 10th) marks two months since I left Pittsburgh. Since it's been two months since I left, I figured I would finally explain how I got to Ireland (by plane, obviously, but the details). My family came with me, kind of like a family vacation only it ended with me staying here in Cork. I think I mentioned before that we flew to Scotland first, visiting Glasgow and Edinburgh. Glasgow was reminiscent of Pittsburgh, at least in  my opinion. It was clearly a more industrial, business-focused city, as opposed to being focused on culture. That being said, it was probably for the best that our first stop was Glasgow because the jetlag kicked in after a day of touring Glasgow. We did stumble upon a massive cemetery, which was incredibly fascinating because of the sheer size of it and how old everything was. I think visiting that cemetery was when it hit me that we were actually in Europe. All the dates on the tombstones were so much older than anything we have in the United States and they were all consistently old. I'm talking older than the founding of America old. It was ridiculously intriguing for a history major (like me) to walk through all of the history. As I walked through the cemetery I started thinking about lots of things. I wondered who the people were (you see their names and dates, but not much else), how they died, what their lives were like, how they felt about their economic/political/social situation etc. The cemetery was built on a hill, very much in the vein of "city on a hill."

The cemetery (it was a lot bigger than this)--my picture
Part of the cemetery overlooking the city--my picture

The second city that we visited was Edinburgh (it is not pronounced like Pittsburgh). We took a train there, which was great because we got to see the Scottish countryside. I really loved Edinburgh, I think it was one of my favorite cities. It is very cultural and Scottish. We were there at a pretty good time, they were having a city-wide festival (I think) going on. There were a lot of street performers and plenty of tourists. We saw Edinburgh Castle from the outside, but hey, it was still the first castle I'd ever seen up close and in person. We also saw and climbed the Scott Monument. The amount of stairs that we had to go up to get to the top was astronomical. I couldn't even go to the very top (I'm not the most patient person in the world, or the most coordinated, and walking down more stairs than necessary just seemed like a bad idea...), though my brother and dad did. Regardless, the view was incredible.

Scott Monument--my picture

(my picture)
 (my picture)

(my picture)
The third city we visited was Belfast, in Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom and is NOT part of the Republic of Ireland (they are two separate things). Belfast is possibly less glamorous than any of the other cities we saw on the trip, but this is mostly due to the scars the city has from the violence and political problems. Belfast is a case study, however, for how a city can try to come back from such violence and civil unrest. In case you don't know, Belfast since (and this is me being historically inaccurate with dates and oversimplifying for the sake of attempting to quickly explain an extremely complex and difficult subject that very few people fully understand, including me) the 1960's (it's really been like this since its conception, but explaining why is very messy and would take far too long so I'm going to be inaccurate and say the 1960's) has dealt with violence that is primarily both political and religious. The issue is that the dominating group in Northern Ireland (and Belfast) is religiously Protestant and wants to remain a part of the United Kingdom. However, it is not all Protestant, because no one religion, race, political group, gender etc.  is ever the only party in an area. That isn't how the world is structured. Anyway, the minority group is the Catholics and those who would rather have a united Ireland. Essentially, in the 1960's, the unionists and nationalists were fighting each other in a period known as "The Troubles." Thousands of people on both sides were killed. There were bombings (we drove past the most bombed hotel in the world--the Europa) and it was incredibly bad for decades. Eventually, there was a peace process and the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement was passed in the 1990's, which (kind of) ended the violence. However, there are still periodic outbreaks of violence. I think the week before we arrived there was an outbreak of violence, so there are still issues. However, it is trying to recover from all of the violence. We drove through a few of the areas that have murals devoted to peace and then other areas that show the divisions. It is entirely possible to stand on a street that is unionist and flies the Union Jack and then go one street over and find a nationalist street that is flying the tricolor flag of the Republic of Ireland. As a political science major and a history major, the area is fascinating because of all the divisions.  
 (my picture)

 (my picture)
(my picture)
We also visited the Titanic Museum. Belfast was where the Titanic was built. The museum was pretty interesting. I found the museum to have a similar, somber feeling like the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. It's laid out similar to the Holocaust Museum as well, walk through and there are a bunch of floors to visit. Overall, it was a pretty good visit.
Titanic Museum Belfast--my picture
The 4th city we visited was Dublin, which think may have been a bit better the second time I visited (on a class trip), simply because I had more time to see different sights. When I went there with my family, we primarily went to the Guinness Factory and the Temple Bar area because we didn't have very much time. The best part about the Guinness Factory was the very end of the visit because there is a 360 sky bar, that is designed so that you can sit and drink a Guinness and see the entire city.
 View of Dublin from the top of the Guinness Factory (my photo)
 Dublin (my photo)
Temple Bar (my photo)
After we left Dublin, we traveled to Cork. Most of that day was spent getting me situated in my new room. Overall, I think our European adventure was pretty special.  I liked all of the different cities in different ways. For example, I loved Edinburgh for the culture and Belfast for the politics and history. Most of all, I loved experiencing Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland with my family. So to wrap up, that is how I got to Cork, Ireland two months ago.

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