July 9th: A bar in St. Thomas

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“Don’t buy it” my mom said disapprovingly, “You will regret it if you do.” I laughed, “I got this.” A few minutes later and a few sips into a rum punch and I knew she was she was right. It was a lot stronger than I had anticipated. That didn’t bother me though, I was in paradise. After a few hands of Phase Ten our ferry arrived. We were all very happy when it finally pulled up. We had started our journey at 4:30 that morning and it was now close to 5 PM.

As we glided across the water, the beautiful island of Tortola appeared. It is a fairly small island, about 12 miles wide and 3 miles across. After we cleared customs, the rental car company owner,  Jerry picked us up. He was a funny and personable guy in his mid-forties.

He struck up a conversation with my dad about Daytona. Apparently he had been there before and had really enjoyed it. After we picked up our car, we drove through the mountains to our villa nestled above Long Bay Beach.

It was a Spanish villa, with white walls, pink roofs and the area between buildings was paved with stone. There was a pool in the area separating The guest house where Jack and I would sleep, from the main building. A stone wall ran alongside the entrance creating a sort of tunnel as you walked in. Purple flowers were scattered about in the trees in the courtyard.

As my family and I walked in there wasn’t a single one of us who wasn’t smiling. “I wanna jump in the pool”, yelled my sister. A thought that was echoed by my brother. “Go ahead”, my parents conceded. I walked the path next to the pool and looked over the landscape. A lagoon nestled between a hill. The ocean glimmered, enhancing the beauty of two islands out at sea as two beautiful shades of blue gleamed through the water. Palm trees and trees with purple and pink flowers were intersected by various multi-shades of green vegetation. 14 hours after we had left home, we had made it to paradise.

tortola

Day 6: In the early mountain morning

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In the early mountain morning

While the rest of our group was snoring,
We struck out for the castle ruin on the hill
Since we yet to have our adventurous desires fulfilled.
Driven by the addictive drug like lust
we put foot after foot knowing we must.
Many times we start and stop,
To the reach that heavenly hill top.
In the end, we stood side by side
Together looking over the valley on that hillside.
That magnificent view was our prized
sight. Forever in my mind it will keep me mesmerized.
I wrote these words on the bus ride into England after morning expedition. As one of my comrades had said “There was no way to describe the feeling of watching the sun rise up over the hills lighting the valley and your way up.”
It was an experience that couldn’t fairly be compared to the rest of our day. We saw Shakespeare’s house and arrived at the capital of the U.K and once 23% of the world, the legendary city of London.
 I would venture to say if interviewed every single person who went that day would say that the hilltop was the best part of the day. I mean how can you compare human made creations to the nature’s  wonders? Or even better, a combination of both?

Day 5: Castle in the Sky

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“Oh crap” I heard someone up ahead say. “What happened?” “The castle is way up there!” I looked up at the distant hill; the castle looked like a Welsh Stonehenge resting on the hilltop from this distance. They were the ruins of a castle once known as called Castell Dinas Bran, a 13th-century fortress built for the Princes of Powys Fadog.  With me were a ragtag group of friends that I had made during the past few days of my study abroad. All of us were students from the United States and for the vast majority this was their first time in Europe.

Our journey had begun 15 minutes earlier at a little village. We had split up from our main group, heading off through little stone paths and past streams to head out into the countryside. We had just passed out of town when we saw the castle emerge from the top of a massive hill in front of us. Once we had recovered from the incredulous sight, our determination was redoubled and we resumed our trek once more.

A little ways off we ended up in a pasture. It was a beautiful green field where hundreds of sheep grazed. As we hiked up the trail began to vanish into a vague trail of grass and dirt. As we approached the sheep dealt us many dirty looks, although it was obvious the sudden appearance of a bunch of students had startled them. If someone had been watching us I guarantee they would have laughed at the sight of us jumping around the pasture dodging sheep poop while trying to make it to the top of the hill.

Once at the top, the path turned back into a larger, defined path for a short while before turning into a lush green hill. It was incredible, we were way closer than we had started yet in some ways the castle looked even further way. Fortunately, we were rewarded with an amazing view. Far below lay the little Welsh village where our expedition had set out. It was the equivalent of looking at a little toy village, except it was real.

After a few minutes of rest, we set out once more, determined to make it the castle in the sky. It took us twenty minutes of climbing; each step was a herculean challenge. We were like Atlas holding up the weight of the world. Each step became harder and the fall higher, more dangerous than the one before it. We were drenched in sweat, falling and cursing, but we did it. The last few steps were some of the most rewarding a person could have. This structure that had looked tiny from hundreds of feet below rose up before. We each stepped through the doorway, each of us grinning we the knowledge of what we had accomplished.

As we arrived, I collapsed next a wall to catch my breath. We stood at the entrance juxtaposed against the past; it was a strange time warp. Here were 6 students, each armed with a cell phone and other modern luxury traversing the remains of a ruined castle that had served as both a fort and home, complete with the luxurious heating of a fire on a cold winter night.

It was impossible to accurately describe the feelings we felt arriving at the hilltop. The grass was green and the ruins bleak. Unlike Florida’s scratchy, cruel crabgrass, this Welsh grass was not deceptively inviting. Laying on it I felt no itch, no unexpected prick.  The closest thing I could match it with was the sod at a gold course, but even that was quite accurate.

“Hey, can you take my picture?” My friend asked me, his eyes gleaming like a child’s although I’m sure everyone’s eyes were at this point. “Sure but you have take mine after.” ‘Click’ His phone went off and I snapped a picture. Looking down I was amazed. “Dude, with that stick in your hand you totally look like a wizard!” “Let me see” Showing him the picture, he grinned “hell yeah dude!”

A little later I searched around the castle for my friends. I had diverged from the group to read a sign and now was trying to catch up with them. From a distance, I heard them conversing “I’m on top of the world!” “This is surreal” “This is what we should have been doing all trip.” Let’s stay here and look at the stars!” They sounded like a bunch of elves. I laughed to myself as I discovered them atop a fairly intact wall. “How do you get up?” pointing to my left one of them answered, “there is a way up over there but be careful. It’s a long ways down.” My leg was in a lot pain from all the walking, which made me nervous but eventually my sense of adventure got the better of me and I joined them.

It was an incredible sight. You could see an army of sheep below us and glimpses of the river winding its way through the village. Topping it off were the endless hills that surrounded us. I don’t think any of us had ever felt so alive. Consider an experience that few ever get or appreciate.

We memorialized this with a picture of all of us sitting on the slope of the hill. We may never see each other again after this trip but for a little while we essentially became best friends. We were bonded to each other through this magical experience that we all knew would stay with us for as long as we lived. It was the highlight of the trip and possibly even my life so far. But for how long? You never know where the next adventure will take you.

Dublin

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As I walk down the streets of Dublin

The city I fell in love with.

I wonder why this isn’t the place I call home.

 

Historic streets juxtapose modern buildings

As far as the eye can see stirring up feelings

This city feels like home

 

She, who I will have to continue to yearn for

From my home’s sandy white pearl shore

Wondering when I will see her again</p?

Maybe calling her my home, to whom my love I send.

Day 4: Bullet Holes In Angel Breasts.

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“Over there is the Irish ministry of defense. It is currently in session plotting to take over the world. First target America, Operation Whiskey.. It’s already begun.” joked our tour guide. We were in Phoenix Park finishing off our tour of Dublin. To put it in perspective the park was twice the size of Central Park in New York City. It was an impressive place with the American Embassy, The President’s House, Irish Ministry of Defense, a zoo and the Papal Cross. The Papal cross is a monument to Pope John Paul the second’s visit to Ireland back in the 70’s. They say he told the million people, a third of the Irish population that it was their duty to procreate. There was a population spike 9 months later. 
Before we had visited the park, though we had toured and seen many other sites around the city, including the Guinness Factory, several parks and a few monuments. The one thing that stood out to me the most was the statue of Daniel O’Connel. It was an old statue of one Ireland’s national heroes. It was a statue full of bullet holes.
As we drove next to it our guide pointed to an archangel at the base of the statue. “Do you guys see the statue of O’Connel coming up?” We murmured yes. “Look at the breast of the angel coming up on our right. She has a bullet hole in her breast.” the guide informed us as he continued telling us the history of the 1916 Easter Revolution. 
I heard many of these stories but between a run in with the political arm of IRA protesting Prince Charle’s visit to the north and this, it suddenly brought them into reality. This was real life not just a story told to me about a culture thousands of miles away. 
“Any fans of Liam Neeson? He is from the north. His movie Taken did what for french tourism what Jaws did for New England beaches or Normans Bates for motels” joked our tour guide as we continued our tour. Eventually we ended up at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. St. Patrick’s was rebuilt in its present incarnation by the Guinness family after being in ruin for many years. Parts of their family crest can be found printed on the tiles around the floor of the cathedral. Besides being extremely ornate, St. Patrick’s is the final resting place of Jonathan Swift. Swift is probably best known as the author of Gulliver’s Travels although he was dean of St. Patrick’s for many years. 
What has and will stick with the most from this trip won’t be the beautiful St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Nor will it be Phoenix Park and its a magnificent Papal Cross with an impressive view of the city. The memory that I will remember the most will be the bullet holes in angels, a reminder of the reality of wars, rebellions and other misfortunes I hear about from the comfort of my home. 
 

Day 3: The Road to Dublin 

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Moral of the story, it rains a lot in Ireland. The cold rain was coming down around me. Teaming up with the wind it sought to drive me from the battlements of Blarney Castle. Foolishly, I had ditched my flannel and had on just a T-Shirt, pants and a windbreaker. The forces of nature vs man. While receiving the gift of gab from the Blarney Stone would have been wonderful, getting to see it was good enough for me. So mother nature won as I descended the stone steps back down into the ruins of the castle.

Today we left Killarney for the capital, Dublin. Blarney, Cork, and the Rock of Cershal were our stops along the way. So after the rain abated, we explored the grounds of the castle, giving me the opportunity to see my favorite bird, the raven. Ravens are incredible smart birds who can count and tend to steal jewelry. They are known as the heralds of death. Its this species who lends it name to my favorite poem of all time, The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe. Afterwards we went to warm ourselves with some grub and looked through the gift shop before heading off on our journey. 
Next we drove through Cork. Cork is the second largest city in Ireland with a population of 120,000 and it is considered the capital of the south. It is also the second largest natural harbor in the world after Sydney Harbor. A lot of big companies have taken of residency here because of the Irish Tiger, a movement in the mid 90s in which international companies recognized the Irish workforce and moved their factories here. This leads to a huge economic boost in the Irish economy. You can find companies from Johnson and Johnson to Viagra here.
“Impressive” I thought looking out the window of the bus towards the four faced liar, a beautiful clock tower in central Cork. Legend has it that each of its four clocks is set to different times. As we progressed through the city our tour guide pointed down the road “Coming up is a funeral home. Next to it is a pub appropriately named Sinad. Sinad in Irish means That’s it.” The whole bus erupted into laughter. You have to give it to the Irish, they have a brilliant sense of humor. 
After dozing off for a good two hours I awoke to find myself next to a ruined abbey, Rock of Cershal. The abbey is located in a small town two hours out from Dublin. It is named after a monk from the abbey and it round tower which was used to protect the abbeys treasures. Immediately I thought of the movie “The Book of Kells.” Its a beautiful animated movie about the famous illuminated manuscript and a kid in Kells who helps finish it. There is one scene where Viking attacks the abbey and the part of the population that got away hid in a round tower like the one at the Rock of Cershal
Even though I didn’t get to explore the abbey, it was a sight worth seeing. As we headed towards Dublin I started planning my free day. As I was lost in thought the voice of an Irish woman who were listening too caught my attention. “These are the last ones ” her melodic voice sang to me as I looked out at the green Irish landscape. It was truly the end of my Ireland trip was quickly approaching its end. “These are the last ones indeed” I thought to myself, but I planned on making them memorable.

Day 2: Karin Tor

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 It was difficult to look at the landscape in front of me, and not just because it was stunningly beautiful. The wind whipped across my face at 25 mph. I was in the village of Waterville along the Ring Of Kerry. It was 2:30 in the afternoon, half way through my day and I had already seen a lot. 

The day began at 8 am as we board our bus to travel the Ring Of Kerry. The Ring is basically a trail around the Iveragh Peninsula in County Kerry. As we drove our tour guide pointed towards a building on the edge of Killarney “That is Leibherr plant, one of the biggest employers in the town, the build large cranes used in constructing skyscrapers and loading cargo ships.” It was weird to think that this company in a way helped build my country or at least the major cities it was known for. Then again the United States is known as a melting pot for a reason.
The first town we passed through on our journey was Cahersiveen.  It wasn’t that large of the city and it was mainly known for King Puck festival where they crown a woman Queen Puck and a goat King Puck. Ireland certainly has some interesting traditions. 
Our first major destination was the bog museum. The museum was a replicated bog village of the 1century, alonggalong with a pub and gift shop located next door. After I looked that village and channeled my inner Seamus Heaney, I went next to the pub. As I walked in one of my travel mates called to me “Hey help me finish this Irish coffee, I’m not a fan of whiskey.” Intrigued by the concept of whiskey and coffee mixed together I proceeded to try the drink. It was nothing short of extraordinary. “God Bless the man that came up with this concept” I thought to myself as I savored every sip of this unusual combination. 
After stopping to take some pictures at this gorgeous seaside cliff we proceeded to head toward Kellogin, the capital of County Kerry. “Here to our left is the birthplace and childhood home of one of Irelands greatest heroes, Daniel O’Connel. Nicked named the liberator for his effort to repeal the penal laws and restore autonomy to Ireland as the first Irish man elected to Parliament.” You see ring forts and ruins of houses all along the roads in Ireland, mainly abandoned due to the Potato Famine but this one was different. In America we would fully restore and create a tourist attraction, in stark contrast they left it in shambles. It created a powerful monument to one of the islands greatest heroes. 
The next two stops of note were the Thatch House, an awesome restaurant where I got my first Guinness of the trip and Waterville, the windy little town that Charlie Chaplin used to visit with his family. After that it was mainly just picture stops and a visit to a town to stretch our legs and get food. The rest of the way a trek through the countryside down long winding mountain roads.
Yet, as we traveled through the back country I grew sleepy until I awoke to “Over there is the peak of Karin Tor, the highest peak in Ireland.” “Holy crap” I mentally stuttered as the beauty of the valley and mountain peak struck a chord within me. I wanted to jump out of the van and explore the valley with its forests and streams. I wanted to hike its mountains and go on an adventure like something out of the Lord Of The Rings. ” I would love to hike that” the person next to me said. “Me too.” I replied, beginning my imaginary journey towards the legendary peak.