Munich, Germany

Dates of Trip: Oct. 25 – 26, 2014

         I went for a short trip to Munich, Germany. I have a distant relative there by the name of Jürgen Sengenberger– we’re not exactly sure where the family trees converge, but there’s no doubt about it that we have the same forefathers. Sengenberger’s not really a common name. My father had connected with him before via e-mail, chatting back and forth about the family line, and when my sister had her semester abroad, she went to visit him in Munich. On Wednesday I messaged my friend Emily on Facebook and said “Do you want to go to Munich this weekend?” None of my friends wanted to travel this weekend, feeling exhausted and broke from 10-day, so I was really hoping I could find someone to go with me. And Emily said yes! So we planned the trip in about 20 minutes and everything was set. We left Gaming at 5am on Friday morning (ouch) and arrived in Munich around 10:30am. We found Jürgen pretty easily- he was waiting for us right as we got off the train! He drove us to his apartment to drop off our things and then we went into the city!

Unfortunately, I didn’t take a ton of pictures, so you’ll just have to trust my ability to use descriptive language to guide you through Munich. As far as bigger cities go, it reminded me a lot of Pittsburgh. Walking around the Advent Markt was reminiscent of being in the Strip District. Jürgen graciously explained to us the important sights, the big buildings, the historical locations…but most wonderful of all, we made a lunch stop at the famous Hofbräuhas. It wasn’t quite the craziness of Oktoberfest, but it had a feel just busy enough to make it exciting. Jürgen gave us the low down on the must-have items on the menu, including white sausages, originally form Bavaria, with sweet mustard, bretzels (pretzels), and their wheat beer. It was perfectly, wonderfully delicious, and that beer is one of my most memorable from all of my travels. Sometimes it’s more about who you share it with.

IMG_3880  IMG_3882 IMG_3889

A couple other notable stops were watching river surfing on the Eisbach, where waves are generated in the river and locals have made a sport of it. We also walked through the beautiful expanse of the English garden, enjoying the simple beauty in the day of perfect weather.

   IMG_3899 IMG_3890

IMG_3896

         After a day of exploring the city, we went back to Jürgen’s apartment, where his wife Petra made dinner for us. I can’t even explain to you the immense joy at having a home-cooked meal, surrounded by a family. Something so familiar makes you feel like you aren’t so many, many miles from home after all. Emily and I basically sobbed over the mashed potatoes (they don’t have good ones in Gaming) and enjoyed Jürgen’s excellent wine. Jürgen took some time to tell me about the research he has done in regards to our family tree, attempting to find the point at which some of our ancestors when to America and where it has gone from there. The most interesting part of it all was when he explained what our name means in German. “Berg” means mountain, while “sengen” means to singe or scorch, referring to a farming technique in which farmers would light the fields on fire after the harvest, burning away whatever remnants were left, so that they could re-till the soil and prepare it for new crops. I found that beautiful, in a spiritual sense: how what is dead must be removed, burned away, so that the soul is purified and ready for new life, new growth. Basically my name means Scorching Mountain. I’m pretty okay with that. The next morning, we left Jürgen’s after some espresso and made the journey back to Gaming. We didn’t do much on the trip, didn’t go to all of the major tourist attractions or get pictures of every monument. But being able to touch a part of my history I had never known before was an unforgettable experience. I am ever so grateful for the hospitality of Jürgen and his family and the dear friendship of Emily.

IMG_3921

Jürgen Sengenberger and I

Italy and Greece

Dates of Trip: Oct. 9 – 19, 2014

The school gives us two 10-day breaks during the semester, one that is open for free travel and the other is a pilgrimage with the whole school to Rome and Assisi. For our free 10-day, five of my friends and I made a master plan, packed stuffed our bags, and set off to Italy! Our first stop was in Ravenna, home to some of the most famous mosaics in the world! We only spent a day there, but we had plenty of time to see some incredible artwork.

IMG_3386 IMG_3408        IMG_3415 IMG_3392

The next morning, we trained to Loreto, a small town in Italy that’s claim to fame is the house of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Mary didn’t live in Italy. Her and Joseph didn’t raise Jesus in Loreto. And you’re right, they didn’t. There’s an old story that claims that when Muslims were invading the holy land, angels appeared, picked up the walls of the house and carried them to Loreto to keep them safe. Apparently, though, there was a noble family at the time by the name of the Angelos that moved the walls by boat. I still like the first story better, though. Loreto was a beautiful, peaceful little town, and even though we had to walk/hike all the way from the train station up the hill to the basilica with our heavy backpacks on, it was one of my favorite trips. Three walls from the holy house of Nazareth are inside the basilica, and there is a fourth wall and roof added to it in order to make it more suitable for prayer. As luck would have it, we made it in time to pray the Angelus inside of the house…where the Annunciation and Incarnation happened. Talk about surreal. When you walk into the tiny house, there is an altar inside with the Latin words “Hic verbum caro factum est”, which means “Here the word became flesh.”

IMG_3456

I can’t say enough how incredible of a moment it was to be standing within the same walls that Mary conceived Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit… Loreto was simply beautiful.

          IMG_3489   IMG_3488

We didn’t stay overnight in Loreto, but instead trained to Foggia, getting in around 10:30pm. We thought this would be fine, since we had a hostel booked and we had printed out the walking directions from the train station to the hostel…and it would’ve been fine….if the hostel existed. After walking around in vain for over two hours, it was 1am and we had nowhere to stay. We found an area with a few different hotels, and only one of them had any vacancies. We debated sleeping in the train station, but since we had a long day week of traveling ahead of us we decided to pay TRIPLE the amount of the original hostel in order to get a good night’s sleep. Oh, the joys of travel! Regardless, the next morning, we left Foggia and took a bus to San Giovanni Rotondo, where Padre Pio is buried. Once in San Giovanni Rotondo, we found our hotel easily (Praise the Lord) and went to the church where Padre Pio is buried. Along the corridor leading to his tomb, there were the most incredible mosaics on each wall. On one wall were scenes from the life of Padre Pio, most especially when he received the stigmata, and on the other wall were scenes from the life of Saint Francis of Assisi, two saints very close to my heart. Once inside the room where he is laid, there were mosaics along the wall depicting scenes from Christ’s life.IMG_3520

I was surprised by how many hundreds and hundreds of people were there, all for this humble Capuchin friar. We had the most delicious tiramisu at the restaurant near the hotel (The owner of the hotel recommended it. His mom is the cook.) and left San Giovanni the next morning. We trained all the way to Rome the next day, and had a few hours there before we flew to Santorini. My friend Anna’s sister lives and studies in Rome, so we met up with her and crammed in a few church visits and gelato licks during our short stop in Rome. We flew out of Rome that evening and arrived in Santorini early the next morning. After arriving at our hostel, we took a well needed nap and then decided to spend the day laying on the beach, which was right outside of our hostel. After running around Italy, catching trains, lugging heavy bags and searching for hostels, it was an immense relief to be able to actually unpack and relax. Santorini is hands down one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. We stayed right on Perissa beach, which is a black sand beach. The next day, we decided to go on a boat tour that would take us to different spots around the island, including a volcano! I wasn’t exactly aware of our itinerary…so I wore a skirt. Oops!

IMG_3599 IMG_3605

Nevertheless, being out on the boat and getting to see Santorini from the water was breathtaking and exactly what you picture when you think of Greece: incredible blue waters, stunning cliffs and picture-perfect white houses with blue roofs.

IMG_3654 IMG_3577 IMG_3740 IMG_3590

On the tour, our final destination was the city of Oia, where you can see a marvelous view of the sunset. For fans of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, this is the location where they filmed when Lina was in Greece. So, naturally, we took the opportunity to ride donkeys up to the top of the city. Again, I didn’t know we’d be doing this, so my skirt made it even more interesting.

IMG_3719   10734106_10204289468653455_4712539391292783507_n

It was simultaneously one of the funniest and most terrifying experiences of my life. These donkeys are trained to book it up this mountain— I mean, sprinting-during-Black-Friday-sales level. They’re also climbing stairs, so you’re just waiting for the moment when you fall off of it’s back. With that being said, the adrenaline rush is not half bad. It was so worth it though, because I can’t imagine a more beautiful sunset.

IMG_3759

No filter. Really.

The following day in Santorini, we rented four-wheelers and made our own tour around the island, stopping in a few cities that we hadn’t covered the day before. It’s a good thing there’s only about two main road running through the entire island, so getting lost wasn’t much of a concern. The next day we ferried from Santorini to Athens, spent the night in Athens, and then flew back to Rome the following morning. We really only had a few hours of daylight in Athens, but we made the most of it! We headed straight to the acropolis and walked up to the Pantheon. Being there was utterly surreal, and looking down at the city I tried to imagine what it looked like during the time of the Republic, and what Plato and Socrates would think of modern-day Athens.

IMG_3822 IMG_3835

Back in Rome, we trained overnight to Gaming, getting in Sunday, October 19th in the afternoon. We traveled to some amazing places, ate some delicious food and saw some incredible sights…but it all paled in comparison to the feeling of coming home to the Kartause. Life is truly blessed.

Poland

Dates of Trip: Sept. 26 – 28, 2014

           After traveling alone for a weekend, I decided to switch things up the next weekend and travel with 180 of my classmates! The school sponsored a pilgrimage to Poland, which was something I was eagerly looking forward to- and it exceeded my expectations.

We set out in charter buses on Thursday night, making the 12-hour journey to Poland. We arrived in Chestochowa at 6am on Friday, September 26th, and immediately made our way to the Chapel of the Black Madonna, where the image of Our Lady is unveiled each morning at 6am to a chorus of trumpets. I’m still wondering where the locals thought it strange to see almost 200 college students booking it up the hill to the church at the crack of dawn, but maybe that’s a normal sight. I sing in a group for Tuesday Mass at the Kartause, and we had the honor of getting to sing for the Mass that we had in that chapel. Upstairs in the church are the most unique stations of the cross I have ever seen. They combine the scenes from the passion with different aspects of Poland’s history, namely the Holocaust, the Black Madonna and John Paul II. Here’s an image of the 12th station.

IMG_3067

Following Mass, we went to Auschwitz. There are no words sufficient to describe the depth of silence in such a place. It felt inappropriate to take pictures of something so solemn, but I am very grateful to have been able to pray for the souls of those who lost their lives there. But as with the image from the Stations of the Cross above, I was reminded that those who are suffering are never far from the suffering Christ on the cross, and that because of His sacrifice, suffering is not without meaning and is not without hope.

          We spent that night in Krakow, and went on a walking tour of the city the next day. I absolutely LOVED Krakow! It’s one of my favorite places so far. It reminded me a lot of Salzburg, but there was some indescribable quality that made it different. I absolutely loved walking through the cobblestone streets, between the colored houses and shops, making our way to the market. The market in Krakow is simply incredible. You could walk around for hours and hours and never run out of something new to see. We had lunch there, and holy moly, those perogies. There were stands selling food and goods scattered all throughout the square, and my favorite one was full of handmade Polish china. We even got to see the house where John Paul II lived when he stayed in Krakow. Surreal to be walking the same streets as such a great saint.

          IMG_3139   IMG_3150

IMG_3147

Later that day, we went to the Divine Mercy Shrine in Krakow, the basilica where Saint Faustina is buried. In Saint Faustina’s diary, she speaks of the immense mercy of Christ, that he reveals to her in private revelation. Visiting the shrine was an amazing experience, and getting to pray a Chaplet of Divine Mercy DURING the hour of mercy AT the Divine Mercy Shrine WITH the sisters of Divine Mercy WHERE Saint Faustina is buried was, I dunno, kinda cool I guess. (I’m kidding. It was really freaking cool.) The bottomless ocean of Christ’s mercy served as a stark contrast to the ocean of sorrow found at the concentration camps.

          The next day we traveled to the hometown of John Paul II, Wadowice. We were able to pray in the chapel dedicated to him in his parish church and see the home he and his family lived in. Oh, and there’s a high possibility that I tried some of the famous “pope cake”…

          IMG_3786   IMG_3785

It was a beautiful, sunny day and my favorite part was getting to wander down a path through some trees in the sunshine. It felt like paradise.

IMG_3198

Paris, France

Dates of Trip: Sept. 19 – 21, 2014

          On our second free travel weekend, I did something I hadn’t really anticipated doing this semester: I traveled alone! And not only that, but all the way from Austria to Paris, France! It was my second time going there (the first being a class trip in high school). What could make this daunting, solitary trip worth it? Why, to see my dad, of course!

IMG_2912

I made it there safely (thank you, guardian angel!!) and met up with my dad at the hotel. It was so nice not to be staying in a hostel, where the sheets are questionable and the water pressure is less than satisfying. After settling in a bit, we walked around the area where the hotel was and got a couple of crêpes at a food stand. The real Paris experience! He had a work event that night that I attended with him. I felt a little silly, to be an American college student among these incredibly intelligent, accomplished European Carnegie Mellon alumnus, but the company (and the food!!) was excellent. The free champagne wasn’t so bad either. After a restful night, we got up and made the most of our day together in Paris!

Starting off with breakfast at a café near the hotel was definitely a highlight. Fried eggs and pain au chocolat! Such delicacies we do not have in Gaming. It was so exciting that I will admit– I was one of those people that takes pictures of their food! Our basic itinerary for the day was as follows: go see as many of the churches as possible, while squeezing in a few open-air markets and la tour d’Eiffel. (You know, that gigantic monument France is famous for?) We started off at Notre Dame Cathedral, which is a place that I don’t think you can visit enough times. Rose windows, flying buttresses…that architecture just doesn’t get old…(except it is actually like 800 years old).

 IMG_2910 IMG_2970

After that we sought our Saint-Chapelle, which was a church commissioned by King Louis IX to house relics from Christ’s Passion (the crown of thorns, it’s casual), but does not function as a church any longer. It’s claim to fame is it’s stained glass- which covered almost all of the walls!

IMG_3697

Next on the agenda, we found the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, where the Blessed Mother appeared to St. Catherine Labouret and gave her the miraculous medal. Her incorrupt body is also there, NBD.

          IMG_3017   IMG_3012

We had lunch on the sidewalk. By this, I mean that we found an open-air market full of all types of cheeses, meats, breads, fruits and vegetables! I could’ve eaten it all! …Well, maybe not. We bought a baguette, naturally, some cheese, tomatoes and some fruit. We wanted to find a bench or a park in which to devour our spoils, but I was feeling rather tired at this point, so instead of searching for a bench, we sat on a low step on a sidewalk. THE real Paris experience!

 IMG_3701

After attending 6pm Mass at Notre Dame, we went to climb the Eiffel Tower, hoping to catch a sunset view of Paris. I had not been able to go to the Eiffel Tower the first time I was in Paris, so this was a real treat! Neither of us were aware, however, that you could no longer walk all the way up to the top. We got tickets and walked up to the 2nd floor, and then, after looking in vain for the next staircase going up, bought tickets for the elevator to the top. It was stunning to see the City of Lights from the top!

IMG_3031 IMG_3032 IMG_3717 IMG_3039Every hour, on the hour, for 5 minutes, the lights on the Eiffel Tower will blink on and off. As luck would have it, we made it back down and to the other side of the street just in time to get some great shots of the lights in mid-sparkle (right).

    The REAL Paris experience!

Some other highlights:

IMG_2963

  • Accidentally stumbling upon a stunning flower market. The part of my heart that is delighted by tiny plants was overjoyed!

IMG_2979

  • Stopping in Shakespeare & Co., a famous bookstore where books are shelved seemingly randomly and there are little nooks where you can just sit and read.

Overall, it was a wonderful weekend waltzing around Paris with my Dad. Oh, and did I mention that he brought me peanut butter and mac n cheese? What a good man. Until next time, Paris!

IMG_3709

Budapest, Hungary

Dates of Trip: Sept. 12 – 14, 2014

          For our first free travel weekend (Sept. 12-14), some friends and I went to Budapest, Hungary! First things first: book. train. reservations. After sitting on the floor for a couple of our trains to Budapest, my friends and I deeply regretted not calling to reserve seats. But, I suppose that’s how you learn! Once we arrived in Budapest, we exchanged currency (euros to Hungarian forints, or HUFs), bought metro passes and trekked to the hostel. What a relief it was to be able to put down our bags and settle in a bit! We didn’t want to waste time, though, so we went out into the city in search of dinner. My friend Anna had an excellent list of things to do, see and eat in Budapest from one of her friend’s who lived there for a year, so we went to one of her suggested restaurants. Arriba is basically European’s version of Chipotle, and we all wept with joy over our burritos. Afterwards, we went to see the famous Chain bridge- which was absolutely stunning at night, all lit up!

 IMG_2833 IMG_2831 - Version 2

Budapest is truly beautiful at night.

We started out the next day by going to Mass (in Hungarian) at St. Stephen’s Basilica.

IMG_2859

          We noticed two American girls who looked about our age sitting in the pew in front of us, and after Mass they introduced themselves, saying that they were Benedictine students studying abroad in Florence, Italy for the semester, and that (just like us) they had come to Budapest for a weekend trip! It was such a wonderful coincidence to meet students from another Catholic school, our age, doing the same thing we are doing! We went to get breakfast at a café with them, and then decided to spend the day exploring Budapest together. First on our agenda was going to the Central Market Hall, one of the most amazing markets in Budapest— and in all of Europe! The bottom floor was primarily fresh foods and produce and baked goods, while the second floor was homemade goods, embroidered cloths, etc. and food stands. It was incredible and just bustling with activity!  We spent plenty of time taking in all of the activity there before trying some of the local food for lunch. Anna and I split a langos, which is a disk of delicious fried dough with sour cream, shredded cheese and sliced tomatoes on top. It was one of the most delicious things I have had in Europe so far! I could’ve eaten twelve. We also had slices of dobostorte, a seven layer cake with chocolate ganache between each layer and a layer of caramelized honey on top. Not only was it scrumptious, but it was less than $1! One thing about Budapest- the currency is totally wack. 1 euro equal about 300 forint, so prices for things were listed in the hundreds and thousands. Even though I KNEW I wasn’t really spending that many American dollars, it still felt odd to be handing over a bill representing 10,000 forints. Immediately after exiting the market, we came across the Liberty bridge, a huge green bridge beginning near the market and stretching across the Danube to end at the foot of Gellert hill.

 IMG_2869  IMG_2873

We decided to climb all the way to the monument at the top of the hill, something I was not anticipating (I wore a skirt… WHY), but the panoramic view of Budapest from the top was definitely worth it! At this point, the Benedictine girls (Kieran and Hannah) had to go to meet their parents, so we said a bittersweet farewell and went our separate ways. For dinner, everyone but Anna and I had leftovers from the market, so we went to McDonald’s since it was close to the hostel and cheap. My first McDonald’s in Europe resulted in lots of mixed feelings: wanting to not eat American fast food in historical European cities while also wanting to not spend a lot of money and time searching for another “authentic European” restaurant while also having the feeling of indigestion because McDonald’s. That night we stayed in, exhausted from all of the activity of the day, and planned to get up early in the morning to do the last couple of things on our list before leaving Budapest! Sunday morning we packed up our things, left the hostel and headed out to experience Budapest’s famous Turkish thermal baths! (Don’t worry, not the nude ones!) We chose to go to the Sychezeni baths, and honestly did not know what to expect! There were three outdoor baths, the first being moderately warm and having a whirlpool/jacuzzi in the center. The next one was a lap pool, which we did not go in. The last and of course the best was like a gigantic hot tub. There were no jets, but that hot water was divine. If you can get over the mental knowledge that you’re basically taking a bath in a giant pool with a bunch of strangers, the baths are really, really enjoyable. It was a wonderful last activity in Budapest!

IMG_3680

One of my favorite moments was when I was buying a mug at the market, the woman I was buying it from began talking to me in English, asking me where I was from and how I was liking Budapest. I cannot tell you how much it meant in that moment for her to take an interest in my life and who I was (not in a creepy, stranger-danger kind of way) and to reach out to me by speaking my language. It was such a fleeting moment and a brief conversation, but I carried it with me the whole day. And of course, as per usual, I found some awesome tiny plants.

IMG_2904 IMG_2876

          After leaving the baths we boarded the train for the ride home to Gaming. While it was wonderful to get out there and travel, it was beyond good to have a home to come back to. With it being our first time booking trains, traveling independently and exploring a new place without an itinerary, of course things went wrong and lessons were learned- but that’s all part of embracing the journey! Buda, you were the pest- I mean, the best. (See what I did there???)

Salzburg, Austria

Date of Trip: August 30, 2014

Salzburg, Austria is a wonderful little city (and by little, I mean it’s the fourth-largest city in all of Austria) that I had the pleasure of visiting two weekends ago. It didn’t have the feel of a large, bustling, modern city, which is why I called it little. Salzburg’s main income is tourism, which is pretty shocking since it’s only the birthplace of one of the most famous composers, like, ever. Because of this, there weren’t noisy factories or skyscraper office buildings, which helped to create the ambience of a small, historical city.

IMG_2449Salzburg is listed as a World Heritage Site, and therefore much of the original architecture has been preserved. Not a single shop or restaurant sign is reduced to a nylon banner or plastic lettering- for instance, just check out this McDonald’s sign!

Pretty fancy stuff, huh?

We went on a tour of Salzburg after attending mass at Franziskanerkirche (a fancy name for Franciscan Church) and had lunch at Stieglkeller. After that, we were free to explore the city! …in the pouring rain. Even though the weather put a bit of a wet blanket (hehe) on our plans, I’d rather be rained on in Salzburg, Austria than Ohio! (Sorry, Steubenville). As is the case in most of Europe, we saw beautiful churches, stunning crucifixes and many versions of Michaelangelo’s “Pietà” all over the city. I can’t complain- these are all things I love!

IMG_2516 IMG_3554 IMG_2503

I have really been appreciating the facet of European culture that is cafes. Sitting with a melange at a cafe in Austria for an entire day is not only not considered lethargic, but is actually recommended! A socially acceptable form of laziness! I love Europe. This brings me to one of the highlights of my day in Salzburg. My good friend Mary and I grabbed a leisurely cup of joe at the oldest cafe in Salzburg, Cafe Tomaselli, and shared a slice of Mozart cake.

aaaaa  IMG_3563                Guys, that cafe has been around since 1705 and MOZART WENT THERE. (If you haven’t gotten the drift yet, Mozart is a pretty big deal in Salzburg).

After we had our fill of running around the city, Mary and I had planned to meet up with some other friends for dinner at the Augustiner Keller. It was getting close to the time we were supposed to meet them, so I suggested that we look at the map and start heading in the direction of the restaurant. Mary agreed, but wanted to cross to the next street because she wanted to see what was there. I hesitated; I thought we should figure out where we were and where we needed to go before going somewhere else. We ended up crossing to the next street and walked about twenty feet to see what was there…lo and behold, to our right unfolds the gardens of Mirabell Palace. We accidentally stumbled upon world-famous gardens, and as we stood there looking out at the flowers and fountain, we realized that we were standing on the steps that were used in the filming of “The Sound of Music”! Needless to say, it was a very worthwhile detour. Ladies and gentlemen, don’t let logic overrule your sense of adventure.                              IMG_2553  IMG_2544

Some other highlights:

A lock bridge! Some of the locks were incredibly old, 100 years even!

IMG_2451

The fountain from “I Have Confidence” in “The Sound of Music”!

IMG_2474

And of course, more tiny plants. 🙂

IMG_2513

Auf Wiedersehen, Salzburg!
IMG_2452

Desiderata

Someone read this to me the other day, and I thought it was beautiful.

“Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.”

Max Ehrmann

Ireland

Dates of Trip: August 19 – 23, 2014

Before traveling to Gaming, Austria for the school semester, a group of friends and I went to Ireland for a week. Due to a flight cancellation and overnight stay in Philly, I didn’t make it to the Emerald Isle until Tuesday, August 19th– a whole day after I was supposed to arrive! Despite the setback, we had a wonderful time in Ireland. While riding the bus from Dublin to Galway, I loved watching the Irish countryside zoom by. It’s full of the greenest fields you’ve ever seen dotted with sheep and cows and walls of gray stone. One thing about Ireland- the bus drivers are nuts. They go faster than you think should really be allowed to, and the roads barely allow for a car to squeeze by on the side. Terrifying. Once I made it to Galway, I met up with the other girls, dropped off the luggage at the house and went out to explore Galway! We walked around Shop Street, which, as you can probably guess from the name, is an area of the town filled with shops and restaurants and bustling with activity! We stopped in a restaurant for lunch and went home for dinner once we had finished shopping. In the evening, we went around to local pubs that had been recommended by friends.

IMG_2088

The next day we went to a tea shop in Galway called Cupan Tae and I got chocolate and raspberry tea– so delicious! It was full of floral embroidered tablecloths and lace and mismatched china… absolutely adorable!

After that, we realized we had missed the different buses leaving to go to the Cliffs of Moher, so we went on a spontaneous trip to Limerick, Ireland instead! It turned out to be wonderful. Since we didn’t have anything planned that we wanted to see there, we spent the day walking the streets and stopping inside a castle, a church and an antique shop.

 IMG_2100

  IMG_2104 - Version 2      IMG_2145                                                                               

Then we stopped for some traditional Irish food at Glen’s Tavern. I ate the most tender lamb I have ever had in my lamb stew that was filled with carrots, celery and potatoes.

IMG_2211        IMG_2204

The Irish really know how to do potatoes. On Thursday, we took a bus and a ferry to the Aran Islands. Specifically Inis Mor, which is the largest of the three islands. We rented bikes and rode around the island, stopping along the shore to sit on the beach and take in all of the beauty. Ireland is so beautiful. There was so much peace found in taking a moment to just sit on the rocks and sand and look at the wonderfully blue water (pictures below).

IMG_2222        IMG_2271

After riding our bikes and exploring the beauty of the island, we got some Bailey’s coffee (yum) and took the ferry and bus back to Galway. It was exhausting (but in a good way) to spend all day on the bikes and running around outside, but it made for a wonderful nap upon returning to the house. On our last day in Ireland, we went on a tour of the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher!IMG_2351 While driving through the Burren, a very rocky section of land in County Clare, we stopped at the Ailwee Cave and took a tour of it. We saw stalagmites and stalactites in the caves, a particularly impressive one that is nicknamed “praying hands” because they resemble (if you couldn’t guess) hands in prayer.

IMG_2328 IMG_2344

After seeing the waterfall (pictured above), the tour guide took a moment to immerse us in the utter darkness of the cave by turning all of the lights off for a minute. It seemed to suck the air out of the cave. We then continued on to the Cliffs of Moher! They are one of the top attractions in Ireland, and for good reason. Reaching 214 meters (702 feet) at their highest point and jutting out into the Atlantic, they are truly spectacular. Standing close to the edge takes your breath away, and there is no type of rope or fence to stop you from falling right down the cliffs! While that aspect is not entirely comforting, the cliffs and the water are incredibly stunning. They were one of those things that you felt like you would ever get tired of looking at.             

IMG_2406

IMG_2377IMG_2381

All in all, I really enjoyed having the opportunity to see Ireland! It was filled with immense beauty– from the beautiful colors of the houses contrasted with the characteristic light grey stones and green grass to the stunning shores of Inis More to the towering vastness of the Cliffs of Moher. I found myself often stopping to notice the little, simple things, like tiny plants growing in places they weren’t supposed to…

IMG_2152  IMG_2184

IMG_2367  IMG_2156

and speckled rocks on the beaches of the Aran Islands.

IMG_2293   IMG_2261

On Saturday, I hopped on a bus and a plane over to Vienna, Austria and have made it safely to Gaming. I am settling in at my new home and gearing up for the real adventure– classes!

IMG_2423

Departure Day

You know what I don’t get? That people describe the feeling of being nervous as having “butterflies in your stomach”. First of all, ew. And second of all, I’m about to do the scariest thing I’ve ever done and it sure doesn’t feel like butterflies. It feels more like snapped power lines that are crackling and sparking in my stomach; like jolts of electricity…although, that could just be the coffee…(I think it’s the coffee). I am minutes away from leaving on a flight to Dublin, Ireland, and I am terrified. Like “knees weak, palms sweaty” kind of nervous. (Bonus points if you get the reference). I’m going to be in another country for almost FOUR MONTHS. 118 days. While I know that travel is amazing, getting to see the world is a privilege not given to many, and I am going to have the time of my life- it’s the starting of a thing that is the scariest. It’s the first step, first breath, eyes wide open, heart racing moment of “I have no idea what I’m doing” that I’m in right now. And I’m loving it. Well, not the electricity in my stomach feeling, but everything else. The fear. The adrenaline. The wondering. I’ve never been so far out of my country zone- I mean, comfort zone (see what I did there?). And in a world that relishes comfort and familiarity, adventure is more of a lofty idea and a cute pin on a Pinterest board than a real life activity. But I’m doing it. I’m here. It’s now…….and I can’t wait!