Further Evidence that Belgium is the Best

Some more pictures of Antwerp, beginning with me in a lovely garden we found tucked away in the middle of the city. Image Image Image

And another waffle:

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And finally, Brugge. It was a most beautiful place.

 

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Last waffle!

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And once again my computer is struggling and the last pictures are small… but still pretty!

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So there you have it, Belgium in all its glory. I hope you enjoyed the pictures, I sure enjoyed taking them. -Katie

So this is how Charlie felt…

Well, I guess this won’t come a surprise, but I’m back across the atlantic now. I made it home safe and sound on Saturday. It’s hard to believe that study abroad has already come and gone! But I will leave that for my next post. This belated post is devoted to a wonderous place, and that place is Belgium. First of all, I would just like to go on record and say my three days in Belgium were hands down the best trip I took this entire semester. It was three days of window shopping, appreciating beautiful architecture, consuming vast amounts of waffles and chocolate (with some french fries and beer thrown in for good measure), and most importantly spending time with some lovely people. It was the perfect send off for this incredible journey. Last weekend I toured Brussels, Antwerp, and Brugge with friends Gwen, Callie, and Dan and I only wish I never had to leave. Because my friends, Belgium is a place that has got its priorities properly sorted. It is full of delicous seafood and dessert (seriously, this was nothing more than an eating holiday and I regret absolutely nothing. It was a grown-up trip to the Willie Wonka Chocolate Factory), has excellent beverages, lovley countryside, and an overall relaxed approach to life which I think is very healthy. Of the three cities, my favorite was Antwerp. Brussels has a very nice old town area, but stray too far outside of the tourist bounds and it quickly becomes an industrial city with just enough grime and shifty characters on the subway to make you think twice. Brugge was definitely the most beautiful place we went, but it was almost too good to be true- it felt a bit like the Williamsburg Villiage in Virigina if that makes any sense. But Antwerp was cool. It was a perfect combination of Old World glamour and the chic Europe we have come to know and love today. It was extraordinarily clean and the inhabitiants seem to have fully embraced bikes as a way of getting around, which was awesome. I was told that it was very much like Amsterdam in this respect, so I would definitley like to go visit so that I may compare. Antwerp was a place I could see myself living, if only I learned French (or Dutch, as both are official languages in Belgium).

And the waffles. Oh, the waffles. Rest assured, everything you have imagined about sweets in Belgium are true. The chocolate was aweinspiring, particularly because we managed to visit during Easter so there were eggs galore.  But more than pretty scenary or yummy food, what made this trip the best ever was the people I traveled with. I think I said something to the same effect about a previous trip, but it definitely true that your company is what will make an expereince postive or not, rather than the things you see or the places you go. I think that’s a very important lesson to have learned. Now without further ado, I present pictures of the Greatest Place Ever: 

First up, Brussels, and my first waffle. 

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We also made friends with our hostelmate Diana, from Portugal. She was so nice! 

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And on to Antwerp, my favorite!

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And at this point my computer has decided to have technical difficulties, so I will follow up with more pictures shortly. 

-Katie

Return of the Vikings, and also Poland Adventures

Hello again! First of all, I am very sorry to have disappeared there for a while. Although I had nothing much to report in terms of adventures, I was still very busy with work and classes. I guess this internship thing really is preparing me for adult life… Things at the Little Museum continue to go smoothly. Last week we installed a new exhibit about the Battle of Clontarf, which was pretty exciting. As the name suggests, it was a battle that occurred in 1014 between the Irish High King of Munster Brian Boru and the Viking King of Leinster Mael Mordha (is it just me or does it sound like I’m talking about Game of Thrones?). The vikings had been in Ireland for a few centuries at this point but Brian managed to drive them out. Hurray! Because it’s the millennial anniversary of the battle, the Little Museum wanted to have something special, so they chose to feature the work of Fergal McCarthy. Fergal basically made a giant comic strip about the battle that hangs on the walls of the room. It sounds a little weird, but I promise the end result was very cool. I got to help him install the exhibit last Thursday and I really enjoyed it. It’s not every day you get to pick an artist’s brain about his work, and Fergal was kind enough to answer all of my questions.

Now, the real news that I have to report is that I went to Poland this weekend! It was very exciting. I went with my friend Izzi and another girl from my program who is also named Katie. We visited Krakow, which was a very beautiful place. We were only there for Saturday and part of Sunday, but we made the most of it; Krakow may be a small city (less than 1 million) but it sure had a lot to see and do. First of all, our hostel was located in the Old Town district, which is the area of Krakow that was contained within the medieval defensive walls. We spent lots of time looking around this area, just because it was so interesting! Part of this included The Market, which is the largest medieval square in Europe. It hosts a large array of shops and booths that sell everything from fried cheese to amber necklaces to lace table cloths. Needless to say, we spent quite a bit of time there. There is also an underground museum beneath the square that has artifacts excavated from the square that date back nearly 800 years ago. You could also see the medieval streets that had been buried over time, so I got to walk on stones that someone carved and placed centuries before I was even born. Whenever I get to do things like that it makes me meditative. I find few things more awe inspiring than thinking about how many people have come and gone in the world. So many lives, all of them incredibly important and meaningful to those that experienced them- it puts your own concerns in perspective. (Also, buried streets seems to be a thing in most old European cities, which I find a little confusing. How do you manage to bury streets? Don’t you need them for walking? I don’t know why this confuses me but it does.)

What else did I do in Poland? Well, mostly we walked and took in the sights. Izzi’s mother is from a town near Krakow so she knows the city well and knew which places to show Katie and myself. I especially enjoyed exploring Kazimierz, the Jewish district of the city. It was very pretty and lots of interesting things to look at. We also saw Wawel Castle, which is hands-down the nicest castle I’ve seen on my tour of Europe so far. I think it’s very cool we got to properly explore Krakow, because you learn a great deal just by looking and listening in a place. After living in Dublin and going to other major cities for three months, Krakow felt strangely empty. You’ll notice in my pictures that there just wasn’t a lot of people out and about while we were there. Also, not knowing a language when you visit a new place is a vastly different experience. In some ways I feel like I didn’t get to know Poland as well because I completely relied on Izzi to explain to me what was going on, who was saying what, and what every single sign we encountered read. I imagine if I had been on my own, or traveling with a group that didn’t speak any Polish it might have been different. I would have been forced to interact more with the locals, which I think is always beneficial when you venture out of your personal boundaries of known and familiar territory. It was cool because we managed to be in Poland just in time for Palm Sunday, which is a very important time for this area of the world. I got to see some traditional celebrations, including a figure dressed as Jesus going from square to square while groups of old men and women sang sad songs in Polish. Unfortunately Izzi didn’t know much about what was going on and so couldn’t answer most of my questions (again, should have been asking people around me) but it was still very interesting to see.

Lastly, we ate. I actually was not a huge fan of Polish food; it has elements of German and Russian cooking so some things were familiar but others were not. Everything involved either meat or potatoes or both, and most included butter or lard.  I did enjoy perogies though, which are Polish potato dumplings that are stuffed with all kinds of yummy things. Also delicious was fried cheese with cranberry sauce. I was also pleasantly surprised to find that Polish smoked meats are a lot like Texas BBQ, so I felt right at home walking through the open air food market. However, everything was very heavy and after two days of eating this sort of thing I was ready for salad, especially after I experienced the delicacy of solidified bacon grease spread over bread.

So without further ado, here are a few pictures from Poland:

 

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Around and about the Market:

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If you think these are made of wood you would be wrong; its a Polish cheese that’s been carved into Easter Lambs!

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Wawel Castle

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Super pretty park that runs along the medieval walls of the city.

 

 

 

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Also, from here on out my pictures are going to be smaller.. I’ve been having major technical issues with uploading these photos for whatever reason.

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Perogies!!

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Jewish Quarter

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And finally… Palm Sunday celebrations and Polish Jesus

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It’s hard to believe, but I’ll be home in ten days! In between me and the flight back is one final, three days of work, a trip to Belgium, and one major paper. Wish me luck!

-Katie

 

Life Advice from T.S. Eliot

I woke up this morning with T.S. Eliot spinning around in my head: “In a minute there is time/For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.” (See “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, 48-49) I’ve always loved this poem, for a bunch of different reasons I don’t have time to go into here, but it seemed especially appropriate for me in my present state of mind. This week has been full of planning for all kinds of things, from upcoming weekend trips and grocery lists to finding a place to live this summer and the beginnings of ideas of plans for what I’ll do come next May. It’s been exhausting.

I am a planner and a worrier. I know this about myself, and I know that it is not always healthy or helpful, but I don’t usually succeed in relinquishing control and living in the present. It’s one of those personal development things I have to work on. And I think it is especially important that I try to remember to pay attention to the present now, when I have so many new and different things to experience. I’m down to my final month here in Ireland; I need to focus on what’s going on here, and not what may or may not be happening months or years from now. As Eliot points out, any assumptions or plans I make now will probably just end up changing on multiple occasions anyway. 

So, the present. We are finally on daylight savings time in Ireland (we did not switch when the US did, which caused panic and confusion for me when I thought I was late for my first day of work) and it is very nice because I can now enjoy the overcast sunlight until almost 8:00 pm. Work continues to go well, I helped with a few evening events this week which was interesting. Mostly I poured wine and smiled a lot. In fact, my boss was very concerned that the guests feel comfortable so he instructed me to “Smile like you’re on methamphetamine and vodka.” I don’t think I succeeded in smiling quite like that (thank goodness, that would have been terrifying I think) but I did try to be courteous. I’m also happy because the supervisor in charge of fundraising for the museum has put me in charge of investigating new ways for the museum to reach out to potential donors, so I feel very important and useful for once. She has also promised that I can plan the next event from beginning to end all on my own. I’m not sure if I should be excited or terrified. 

This weekend was quiet, I am afraid I don’t have much to report in the way of adventures. I only have three weekends left before I come home, and two will be taken up with trips away from Dublin so I spent most of my time poking around the city and working on the rather large amount of homework I’ve managed to accumulate. 

I do however have some pictures to share. Some are more of Gwen’s, this time from St. Patrick’s Day. The others are from Emily, who was kind enough to come tour the Little Museum of Dublin during her stay (she even said she liked it!) 

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From left to right: Gwen, myself, and Emily 

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The Little Museum!

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In case you didn’t know, at one point in the 90s, Bono kept running around dressed up like the devil, and we have a life-size statue to commemorate it. 

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Also, for anyone who’s interested, here is a link to the museum’s website: http://www.littlemuseum.ie.

This week and the coming weekend should be fairly quiet again, but after that… I’m off to Poland and then Brussels! The adventures aren’t over yet. 

-Katie 

 

Because her hair was black and her eyes were blue

Well, I made it back from Galway, and it was quite the trip! Emily and I took the train and I have to say it was worth the rather extravagant (for poor college students) price. The Irish countryside is beautiful and Irish trains are very comfortable. (Except for when large groups of teenagers decide to play drinking games while you’re trying to nap. That is not pleasant.) Unfortunately we didn’t stay long- just Friday night and most of Saturday- but Galway seemed like a very nice place, and maybe I’ll get a chance to return before I head home. We also visited the Cliffs of Moher, which is one of my very favorite places in Ireland. I visited there before when I came to Ireland on a family trip about eight years ago, and they were as awesome as I remembered. I think I should live next to the ocean some day because something about it always makes me feel at peace with the world. When you watch the waves crash against the rocks like that it’s easier to remember that the world has been going on just fine without you for a long time, and so you are unlikely to derail it any time soon. Unfortunately Gwen, Emily, and I were not able to meet up with our friend Abby, but it was still really cool to be be in such a beautiful place with some of my oldest friends. I can remember the first day I met Gwen when we were both fourteen years old; I never thought we’d one day be in Ireland together. 

Work continues to both challenge and baffle. While I am beginning to do more interesting things besides answer questions, I’m also doing a few things I had’t expected. For example, today I spent two hours trying to line a display cabinet with faux red velvet. It took some maneuvering and creative use of super glue, but I think it turned out okay! My coworkers continue to be incredibly kind and welcoming, and tomorrow evening I get to help out with a poetry reading the museum is hosting. Needless to say, I’m very excited to be included. 

Believe it or not, I managed to forget my camera (again!) when we went to Galway, but fortunately Gwen took some lovely photos and she very kindly said I could share them on my blog. So without further ado, I give you the Cliffs of Moher and Galway:

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Working 9-5

First of all, I would like to apologize for falling behind in my blog posts. I will remain vigilant and it won’t happen again! The past week or so has been busy. And exhausting in a way I had not experienced before. My biggest discovery to date: working eight hour days with a forty-five hour commute each way is hard. I think I’d rather stay a student with my mostly free days and odd hours. It’s a pain to get up at seven every morning! 

But other than adjusting to actually having to get out of bed at a reasonable hour work has been good. For those of you who don’t know, the second half of my time here in Ireland will be spent interning rather than in class. So far it’s been very interesting, and I definitely feel like I’m learning lots. My internship is at the Little Museum of Dublin. As the name suggests, the museum is very small- at this point it occupies four floors of a georgian square across from St. Stephan’s Green. There are four exhibit rooms, all filled with artifacts donated by the public. The Little Museum deals in cultural memory; while you won’t find loads of really old antiques that belonged to long-dead monarchs, you will find movie posters, photographs, newspaper articles, two typewriters, a cash register, a dial telephone, and much more. Although this does have the ring of more typical museum stock, my favorite item is the music stand that President John F. Kennedy used as a podium when he addressed both houses of parliament in Dublin. It’s the only artifact in the museum that you aren’t allowed to touch. 

I also really like the U2 room. As the name suggests, this exhibit centers solely around Ireland’s best known rock band, and it has loads of cool things donated by fans. Last week my job was to learn the guided tour that is central to the museum and also grow comfortable talking with the guests and answering questions. I love doing this in the U2 room because when I meet fans they’re always so impressed and so happy to be there. It brightens my day to talk with them. I also enjoy it when children’s groups come in for special tours. They’re always so curious and ask the best questions! School groups full of teenagers are kind of the worst though. (Nothing interests them.) I was actually really impressed and surprised that I have enjoyed talking with the people that come into the museum. I generally consider myself pretty shy and reserved, but because my coworkers were so welcoming and friendly I found it easy to do the same for the strangers I met. 

However, although meeting people and talking about their experiences in Ireland is fun, it is not exactly why I asked to intern in a museum. What I would really like to do is learn about the administrative side of things. I want to know what it takes to make an organization like the Little Museum happen. So far none of my bosses (I have three) have assigned me any projects to work on, but I think this will be a great opportunity for me to work on my assertion skills (which are significantly lacking) and my people skills by being brave and asking for something to do directly. Hopefully this will come across as taking initiative and not insolent behavior. 

In other news, yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day. The bad part: I forgot my camera. The good part: there was nothing worth taking pictures of. Okay, it wasn’t that bad, but St. Paddy’s was not my cup of tea. It did have a nice parade, but other than that my experience was characterized by walking through a city that seemed to be overrun with drunken American tourists and underage Irish teenagers all dressed as leprechauns. It certainly made me reevaluate my goal to attend Mardi Gras in New Orleans next spring. But I did have an enjoyable day because I spent it with two of my best friends. Not only did Gwen come up from Cork, our friend Emily flew from Boston and arrived yesterday at 5:00 am. It was a bit of a surreal moment when we found ourselves sitting in a Dublin pub together to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. This weekend we three are heading to Galway to see the sights and to visit our friend Abby, who also attended Mt.Blue High School. All we need is some bad music and food and we’ve got our own high school reunion. 

Although I do not have pictures of the drunken spectacle that was Monday, I do have some lovely pictures of springtime in Ireland: 

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I will return next week to report on Galway.

-Katie 

Spring Break part 2

Hello again. So now I will tell you about the second part of spring break: the trip to Edinburgh, Scotland. I think it was definitely my favorite part of our week. Edinburgh is a beautiful city with lots of friendly people, and we even made it out to the Highlands and Loch Ness. All due respect to the Irish countryside, which is a beautiful but rather tame looking place; the Scottish Highlands are stunning. Rugged and slightly forbidding, it’s hard to believe looking back at the pictures that I was actually there. But enough words. Once again, let me show you my experiences. 

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Slight side-note here: while on the trip to Loch Ness we also stopped at a small whisky distillery, where they kindly showed us their still room, which I was only allowed to take pictures of if my camera flash was turned off (otherwise it might ignite the whiskey fumes!).

 

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Loch Ness:

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And of course the real Loch Ness monster (I have no idea why there was a statue of an iguana)

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On our last day we went to Edinburgh Castle, which was very impressive. It was also packed with French rugby fans who had flown over for the Scotland vs. France match later that afternoon. I enjoyed it, but I do think it was the one place we went all week that felt really touristy. 

 

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So there you have it, spring break in a nutshell. It really was a great experience. My favorite part was when Paul and I got to know our guide who took us up to Loch Ness. Getting to talk with him and really see his perspective on Scotland was really cool. I think talking with local people is essential to really develop an understanding for the places you visit. 

Work is so far going well, everyone is very nice and they have me watching the guided tours so I can learn to do them. I have to wonder if that will confuse people- having an American giving tours of an Irish museum- but I’m happy to watch and learn!

-Katie 

Spring Break part 1

And so I return from break. It was a whirlwind week, and passed far too quickly, but I do think that I made the most of it. Unlike most of my fellow students here, instead of jetting off to exotic locations in or near Europe, I stayed close to home. Why? Paul (my boyfriend) came to visit, and not only were we limited in finances, I also wanted to show him where I’ve been living and studying (and as of this morning, working) for the past few months. We managed to cover most of Dublin, including the Guinness factory and the zoo, with excursions to Cork and the Wicklow National Park as well. The universe must  have been pleased we were together because we only had one day with lots of rain. Since pictures are better at showing fun than words, I’ll just let you see a few of our adventures in Ireland:

At the Guinness Storehouse, we not only learned about how the beer is made and the company’s history, we also learned how to pour the perfect pint of Guinness. 

 

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We also enjoyed the Dublin Zoo very much: 

 

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We took a day trip that visited the coast, a botanical garden, and the Wicklow Mountains. 

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For those of you who like the movie P.S. I Love You, this bridge is where Jerry and Holly first meet: 

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Also on the day trip we returned to Glendalough! It was even nicer in the sunshine. 

 

 

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We even visited our friends in Cork. Here is a picture of five Mainers in an Irish pub! 

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Believe it or not, the fun did not end there. Paul and I next embarked on a three day trip to Scotland! Unfortunately I am short on time this evening, so I will post the pictures from Scotland tomorrow. (But just so you’re prepared, it was awesome.)

 

-Katie 

Interlude

It’s been a quiet week. Which I suppose is a good thing, although it does not make for exciting blog entries. One thing I have been thinking about: I think the professors here sneakily read my first post without telling me. I seem to recall talking about learning more about my identity as an American and that sort of thing, and I do not exaggerate, in the past week alone I’ve been asked twice in class what defines me as an American. In one class I was even asked ‘What do you stand for?’ Deep stuff. The concerning thing is, I didn’t have ready answers- especially to the second question. What DO I stand for? It seems like I should have some kind of opinion or idea about this. I have a decent moral compass. I have goals for my life. But I don’t know what it all means together. There was a time when I did have distinct ideas about my place in the world and where I was going and how I would leave my mark, but that seems like a very long time ago and my convictions more than a little naive. It’s hard to take the personal manifesto you created for yourself at thirteen very seriously. People change. They grow up and get jobs and meet new people and their own identities get tangled up in others’ stories. I don’t think it’s going to get any easier to answer the question. Or maybe it’s not something that can be answered until I’ve experienced more than going to school. Who knows. A few things I am sure about: the universe tends to sort itself out. I won’t cause any cosmic disruptions while I muddle my way through early adulthood. And I should probably not worry so much.

If you thought you’d get away from this post without any pictures, you are sadly mistaken. I still have a few left from the Belfast trip last weekend! I know you are thrilled. Besides seeing some disturbing war memorials, I actually did see some nicer things, most notably Giant’s Causeway and Dunluce Castle- the most romantic castle in Ireland. (Yes, we did visit on Valentines day.) We also visited Grianan an Aileach, a 1300 year old ring fort in county Donegal, which is part of the Irish republic. The views were spectacular, although none of my pictures turned out very well. My camera does not seem able to handle fog for whatever reason.

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Grianan an Aileach

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Dunluce Castle

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Giant’s Causeway. I would like to note that it was sleeting at the time and I was soaked in minutes.

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Here I will say that I will be taking a short hiatus next week. All that is happening is finals, and then spring break! I’ll spare you the blog post where I complain about studying and come back when I have something more interesting to report (and more pictures to share).

-Katie

Belfast (Or, war is actually pretty upsetting)

This weekend I went to Northern Ireland for a three day field trip with my fellow BU students. We visited Belfast and Derry to learn more about the Troubles, and a few other places in the area like Giant’s Causeway. It was an intense and at times unsettling experience, but I am very glad I had the opportunity to go. It was an entirely different side of Ireland that simply isn’t as visible here in Dublin, and I really think that you can’t understand Ireland or Irish identity without trying to understand Northern Ireland. 

We spent most of Thursday in Belfast. We met with Jim Wells, who is a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly and part of the Democratic Unionist party. He met us at the parliament building in Belfast and answered questions regarding Northern Ireland’s government and politics. What struck me about the meeting was Well’s resignation regarding the current status quo of N.I. When discussing their unicameral parliament, he expressed anger and frustration at the inability of different parties to work together, and the lack of an opposition party to offer counter ideas; at the same time, he did not see anyway for these issues to be addressed. In fact, this sums up the general impression I got from Northern Ireland as a whole: things here aren’t great, but there isn’t anyway to change it. Despite the suffering it causes, people do not seem ready to let go of the anger and bitterness of the past forty years. I learned about the Peace Walls for the first time, and they are one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever encountered. They’re 10 foot high walls topped with barbed wire running through many communities in Northern Ireland to separate the Catholics from the Protestants. Some of them have gates that are closed from 11 pm to 6 am, and you better be sure to be on the right side of the wall when that happens. Apparently teenagers will gather on either side of the gates- not to make friends, but to scream and throw bottles at each other. We asked Mr.Wells what his opinion of the walls was, and he replied that they were a necessary evil, and he did not know if there would ever be a time when they could be torn down.

We heard similar opinions from our tour guide Laurence, who took us into the more sharply divided Protestant and Catholic communities in Belfast. Laurence is interesting because he is an ex-convict, although nobody was sure for what crime. The professor who accompanied us thought he might have been an arms runner for the UDA or UVF (basically Protestant versions of the IRA). I have to admit, I found Laurence very intimidating- unsurprisingly, the things he had to show us and the stories he told were deeply personal and important to him, and so he came across as a very intense person. The picture of Belfast and Northern Ireland I got from Laurence was pretty grim. From what he said, people there are still deeply divided and bitter about the past. They aren’t ready to bury the hatchet, they don’t want the walls removed, and they aren’t ready to speak to their neighbors. I think this is evident in the way Northern Irish kids behave: if they are sent away to a summer camp in a neutral area like the US or Canada, they all get along fine, but as soon as they come home it’s back to throwing rocks at each other in the streets.

 The important thing to remember about the Troubles is that they aren’t just an issue of religion; they’re an issue of nationalism and identity. These are sensitive and complicated issues anywhere, so when you add years of terrorism and violence into the mix it’s a difficult thing to heal. Laurence told us that the reason the Peace Walls are so important is that without them people would literally try to kill each other, which is something that is inconceivable to me. This trip was the first time I felt like an outsider since leaving home. Maybe it was because I have no personal investment in the Troubles, or my optimistic American outlook, but I could not understand why the people in Belfast and Derry found living in divided communities acceptable. To my eyes, the Peace Walls looked like something out of an Orwell novel, not a viable solution to these issues. And maybe since I’ve never had someone I love killed or imprisoned by an enemy I have no right to say this, but I also can’t see why people continue to nurse their hatred for their own neighbors. To me, it seems like it would be better to try and move forwards and start talking about the issues instead of accepting a permanent reality of pain and unhappiness for everyone involved. But this is not my decision to make. 

Here are some of the pictures of the murals I saw in Belfast and Derry. 

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One of the largest Peace Walls in Belfast: 

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We all signed the wall.

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These next few are in Derry. For those of you who know the song Bloody Sunday by U2, Derry is the city the song is about. 

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So, on the whole a pretty serious trip. But, as I said, important. This is the whole point of coming abroad. This next couple of weeks should be quiet- for once I’m going to stay put in Dublin (at least for the rest of the month). And I think this is a good thing. The month of traveling has definitely caught up with me and I’m looking forward to some quiet time to process everything I’ve done!

-Katie