My travel journal from Europe, July 2007 - My Family Travels

July 2nd

Oh my gosh, I am on the plane to Shannon, Ireland, I cannot believe that about a year of planning has passed and now it is finally happening.  We are at 32000 feet and we are traveling at 920 km/hr ground speed. I basically spent the whole day at the Buffalo then the Atlanta Airports. By the way, the Atlanta Airport is the biggest airport in the country. This plane right now is amazing!! We got “complimentary” blankets, headphones, and eye masks for sleeping. The seats of course recline, but the head rests are adjustable to fit your head. This plane is so much better than any of the crappy little ones that I have flown on before. That is probably why I keep going on and on about it. I am so tired, but they are going to serve dinner soon, so I’ll sleep after that. I have never had a meal on a plane. We get a salad, then pasta…I can’t wait! We also get a “mid-flight” snack and breakfast in the morning. Okay, back to the plane, the seats go 2-3-2 with two isles in between. There are TV’s along the ceiling. It is about 2:50 in the morning (Ireland time) which is what I will go by from now on. It is five hours ahead of the U.S. the TV gives us updates on our altitude, longitude, latitude, and stuff like that. Then it switches to a map and we can watch “our plane” fly across the world, we can track our progress. We just started our movie, Premonition; I am not going to watch it. Our flight was delayed for about an hour because of the storm, but now it’s not that bad. I have already met so many new people and have so many inside jokes. This plane is so big, it has 8 flight attendants. This is going to be the best trip of my life and I won’t let Unis ruin it. Inside joke, haha.

~After Dinner~

 Wow! I really liked that food. Well.., it is now 3:50 a.m. and I am going to sleep. I totally love how we ate dinner so early in the morning. My eyes are literally closing as I write! Good Night! Oh, I forgot to mention, at the mall that we stopped at on the way to the Buffalo Airport, we went to the Cheesecake Factory! I had the most amazing Godiva Chocolate cheesecake.

 I only slept for 30 minutes! That is on a 6 hour 45 minute flight!! Something is wrong with me! I did watch part of Numbers on TV, but the earphones stink! I am so taking this amazing bright red eye mask. The blanket won’t fit in my bag. P.S. we got free earplugs and lotion too!

July 3rd

I am going on two and a half hours of sleep because I slept on the bus on the way to the hotel. The most important thing that stood out for me today is what the one Irish lady said at the Shannon Airport as we passed her, “People to People kids-oh they are the nicest bunch of kids…” that’s when it really hit me. It made me feel really good! I love how I can talk to people anywhere and explain to them who we are and what we are doing.

I am sick of riding around on coach buses, and it is only the second day. Our bus driver cannot drive! It is so bad! We have almost hit so many people today, it’s unreal.

Today we went to Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. We went to a few gift shops where I bought my souvenirs of the trip! Then we went to eat lunch at an Irish Pub. We ate a typical American meal of cheeseburgers, fries, and cole slaw. Then we went to the castle. It was fantastic! We listened to a guide give us a history of the castle, his name was Shamus, but then we were on our own to explore the castle as long as we stayed in our group of four with at least one boy….blah blah blah! The castle had tapestries woven all over Europe, they were beautiful pieces. There were antlers that spanned 15 feet hanging on the wall. There were art pieces all over the castle. The oldest piece, Shelia, from 1800 years ago was a stone carving in the wall. I guess if you want to have a baby or are pregnant, you rub her and sit beneath her and you will have many good, healthy children. There were tons of amazing rooms in the castle. The one thing that stood out for me was that women weren’t allowed in the dining room. They had a small hole to look in from the staircase, but they could only go there at certain times. Most of the artifacts in the castle were one of a kind or two of a kind and if they had a mate, the mate was found only in Ireland. There were a bunch of houses outside the castle that we went through. They were like little peasant houses. Then we went to our hotel in Sneem. The Sneem Hotel. Oh my gosh I slept in a real bed. The hotel is so nice. We had a 3 course dinner there which was EXCELLENT!! Our view is amazing. There is not much to write because I slept!

P.S. Shamus’ accent was so thick, it was hard to understand, but I loved it! He had to wear a medieval costume!

P.P.S. My adapter doesn’t work in Ireland!

July 4th

Happy Independence Day!!!!

I learned a wee bit it Gaelic today.



Dee-a-grit—greeting/good day

Dee-a-smell-grit—answer to the greeting

The name Sneem means knot in Gaelic. It’s located on the Ring of Kerry, so it’s often called the knot in the ring.

Ok-totally off topic, but I love Kristen’s alarm clock, it talks to you! “alarm on, 56 degrees, 6:00 a.m….”

I have to get up at 6:00 because our group, My  group has to do room checks!! I am so mad!

I just had bed checks and we have to write notes on the back of the door about what we need for the next day. It was really funny, Erica is doing bed checks, at about 11:11 and we are in our pajamas (Me and Kristen) Kelsey is in the shower. Anyway, there is a guy walking down the hall and Erica was like close the door, there’s a guy! We laughed forever!

Our day started with a 2 course breakfast! But, it kind of made me sad that there was American cereal! Then the 2nd course was ham, eggs, and sausage. We then went to conference room A where we got a brief history of Ireland and its ties with America. Batt was the man who talked to us. We can’t figure out if he owns the hotel or not. Then we went on to a nature walk by the hotel on the stony hills around our hotel. It was wet and about 55 degrees and extremely rainy!! So rainy!!! We were led by Batt’s wife Maura. She taught us a bunch of flower names that are native to Ireland. We saw the most amazing Rose Garden! It had a maze, but we didn’t have enough time to go through it. We got a mini tour of a small section of Sneem. The walk was fun and really cool, but rainy! We didn’t stop much, just climb because we were totally single file. Then we went to lunch in Sneem and I ate chicken fingers (grrrr more American food-I mean, I am in EUROPE!!) at a small little restaurant, it could onl6y fit half of our group. We were then given four and a half hours to walk around Sneem! There is absolutely nothing to do in Sneem!!! We shopped, got coffee, took pictures, went to churches, and wandered around for 4 AND A HALF HOURS!!! I was ready to scream! Then we went back to the hotel and left again to go cut peat moss. We met one of the only peat moss cutters in Sneem because they now use machines. Apparently, if you fall into the bog, you won’t come out. They have found preserved antlers, wood, and sometimes bodies. They are preserved because no oxygen can get below the surface. It’s now midnight, and I am so tired! It was a really neat experience and I loved it!! After that, we went back to the hotel for dinner, it wasn’t as good as last night, but it was good. We went into conference room A to listen to Batt and his wife sing and tell stories. It was awesome.  Batt is an official shanakrie, I am not sure how to spell it, and now I know how to sing a song in Gaelic. We made history of being the first PA kids to sing a song in Gaelic in Sneem!! Batt told us a great story about that swan prince. I bought one of his cd’s that he recorded some of his storied onto. He has a book that will soon come out in the U.S. By the way, he signed the inside of my cd case! Then I went to the bathroom, but I have to tell you this, the bathroom’s here are called “toilets” or “W.C.” or “water closet”-I find that really funny!

I love Ireland! Everything really is green and the landscape really looks like a quilt. The houses are adorable!! They are mostly one story and extremely multi-colored like purple, pink, yellow, and green all in a row! There is no siding, it is all concrete. Almost all the houses have little stone walls around them and gates going into the driveways. There are little stone walls everywhere around the cities.

I don’t think that I could ever drive around here; I don’t understand the road signs. They measure in km, not miles, and I could not get used to driving on the left!

p.s. Erin is another word for Ireland. Today our group had to do bed checks! Blah! After that, we had another great American breakfast.

July 5th

We are listening to amazing European rock right now on the bus.

We got on our bus again to travel to Killarney. Our first stop was an outlet mall-just for restrooms though. Then we went for our jaunty ride. It was basically a horse and buggy ride. Our horse’s name was Pepsi. The man who drives it is called a jarvey and ours was Michael. He was so nice and easy to talk too. There were 8 of us in the jaunty and we gave him the whole lesson of People to People. There is a park in Killarney that is for jaunties only so we went in there, but they are allowed to walk on the street and the cars don’t mind! It’s awesome! I love it! As we were in the park, we saw a small brick building. The Irish believe that this is a leprechaun house! It is so amazing!! We also saw a castle made by Oliver Cromwell. It was beautiful-absolutely fantastic!! Our next adventure was taking a small boat ride out onto 2 adjoining lakes to go to a restaurant for lunch. There is a bridge that we went under (it divides the two lakes) that was also built by Oliver Cromwell. Unfortunately our boat driver didn’t talk to us like at all, only to describe what we were passing and stuff like that. It was so rainy! The second lake we went into was the deepest lake in Ireland, over 300 feet. We ate at a small little cafeteria-type restaurant which of course had a gift shop. We were inside Muckruss house. The only thing I liked there was the baguette. I was pretty upset! Oh, I forgot to mention that I was so close to getting sick on the way too Killarney, it was so bumpy and of course Coleman was our driver! A couple of people did get sick-it was not good! Anyway… after lunch, we went back on the bus for a 5 ½ hour bus ride!!! Aaaaahhhhhhhh!!!!

We came to our hotel and it is amazing! It is a Days Inn and it rocks! It has an awesome shower and of course complementary everything. I love it! We went on an hour and a half bus tour of Dublin! Everything is so beautiful! The famous doors of Dublin are amazing. They are all multi-colored and Batt would be proud, here is the story: One man had a bit too much Guinness and since all the doors at that time looked the same, he walked into what he thought was his house. Anyway, you get the picture; they painted all the doors different colors! We saw beautiful buildings and churches and I cannot wait to explore Dublin tomorrow! Oh, I almost forgot, we took a picture in front of the U.S. Ambassador’s house! We did it in less than one minute!

P.S. The President’s name is Mary Macalease.

Oh, I forgot about dinner, it was gross, end of story! So at about 1:00 in the morning, I had to grab a chair and take it into the bathroom to turn off the fan. The switch was so high; it was almost on the ceiling! I banged the chair around a lot! Oops.

July 6th

I am so mad; the bathroom light would not go off! And we couldn’t figure it out!! Grrrrrrr! This morning we had a huge breakfast at the hotel. We took the bus today with Coleman. We traveled to Trinity College and library. The museum held books, other than the book of Kells. There were amazing works of art all over the first floor of the museum. The book of Kells was written in Latin by Monks over one thousand years ago. The book was never finished. It has amazing pictures. It has four gospels. The Latin was extremely beautiful calligraphy. We went upstairs to the library with all its cool old books. Like, I mean old! It smelled so old!! There were like over three million books. The library holds the largest collection of manuscripts and printed books in Ireland, if not Europe. The part of the library we explored was called the Old Library. And guess what?!?!?! We went to a gift shop. I bought a cheap two Euro bag! It is really weird, but I like it. Then we went to the GAA sports park and the Cork Stadium. We watched a short film about hurling, Gaelic football, and both were in men’s and women’s teams. The museum had really neat exhibits. Some were even interactive! It was two floors. Then we were allowed to go into the Cork Stadium. We had a tour guide, who told us all about the history of the stadium and the sports, but honestly, I didn’t care and I wasn’t paying attention and it was rainy and cold! Although what I did learn was pretty cool. Each of the seat sections is named for a particular person. None of the players or staff is paid. One day called Bloody Sunday, British troops opened fire on the teams and the crowd. One player was killed and about six or seven others, some very young kids were killed in that riot. We then went to TGIF and had American food. I was kind of upset because it is our last day in Ireland and we haven’t had Irish food. But I am kind of glad because they eat some very weird and it sounds like very disgusting food here. Finally we were able to go off into our groups to explore Dublin. We were given like two and a half or three hours. After calling my family for the first time on this trip, we walked into a mall. It was a three story mall that was really pretty! We walked around for a while; I bought a sheep bag and a sweet sixteen birthday crown. Then we decided that we didn’t like the big group, for various reasons, and went off by ourselves to explore Dublin. We basically just walked around. We didn’t buy much or really go into many stores, we just walked around we did like duck into a store to get out of the rain, oh, and we went to Burger King to get ice cream. Sean bought me ice cream for my birthday!

I have to tell you all American chain restaurants over here are so much better because it is “American cuisine.” It’s like us getting Chinese or something.

Anyway…in our small group, we found a small remote park. It was beautiful! There were many stone pathways and like a stone staircase almost sitting room made out of stone in the middle of the park. It was so cool just to be able to sit and watch the people. The city of Dublin is so busy and crowded it was a good break from all the craziness. We were so afraid of pickpockets that we held our bags and set our camera on the timer because we were afraid someone would take our camera. This really doesn’t make much sense, but whatever. We went back to the hotel and had a really good chicken dinner. Because it was my birthday, I got to sit under a Congrats! sign and there was happy birthday crepe paper everywhere! One of the leaders decided I needed to wear a sash out of crepe paper and a neck tie! I looked amazing! Not really!! The leaders got me a cake with candles and the whole delegation sang to me! It was the best birthday dinner ever! I got a card from my mommy with one hundred dollars in it! The leaders gave me rubber band balloons. The whole group signed my card! I loved it!!! Then we had a “party” in my room. We actually just sat and talked. It was me, Molly, Clarissa, Lauren, and Anne. We laughed about everything and nothing!

P.S. our room has a heated towel rack! (These are the things that make me happy!)

P.P.S. the sugar, salt, pepper, ketchup, etc. are in long skinny packets instead of what we are used too!

I forgot to mention about the Trinity College Campus. The buildings were absolutely beautiful!

July 7th

Today we said good bye to Coleman at the Dun Launghaire, Ireland port. I was so glad to say goodbye to Coleman, no more bad driving, and no more butt crack! I figured the boat would be like a tiny ferry, but it was a huge boat. I ate chicken nuggets for lunch on the boat. It was only like a one and a half hour boat ride from Ireland to Wales. Once we got to Wales, we met up with our bus driver Terry. He was so weird. We aren’t allowed to eat on the bus and he had to make sure that we knew his name was Terry, nothing else…whatever! We also met Aled. He is Welsh and explained what we passed on the trip. He has the most amazing accent! We had to wait like forty-five minutes to kill because the other group took up too much time on the bus. So, Aled took us to a really cool modern bridge called Pont Bridge and we were basically just wandering around Holyhead (the town in Wales). The bridge had like swirly arch ways and was clear. It was so cool. We only had like twenty minutes to walk around Holyhead, so we didn’t do much. It was kind of a waste, but basically all of today was. It was really cool to walk around though. We went back to the coach and we were going to go the train station with the longest name in the world: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. Isn’t that just amazing! It was just some random train station in the middle of Wales. We mailed our letters there and got our passports stamped. We also went to the gift shop there. Of course we had to get a group picture under the sign! We do that everywhere. Then we traveled to our new hotel that really isn’t a hotel. It is a college dorm room. I am rooming with myself. It is so spooky. We definitely slept with our room doors open and the corridor closed and locked!

We have seen sixteen people to people groups. Four of them are staying at the college with us.

Then we went to an activity called “full on.” We basically were taught like we teach the elementary school kids in Project B-Fit. They were way too enthusiastic at 9:30 at night. To get to this gym, we walked down this muddy dirt path down a hill. It was very cool. We did some very odd group building and “finding yourself” activities. Then we went on to break a board. I did the foot one. I actually broke a board!!! I was so excited, confident, and proud of myself. It was a really odd thing to do, but secretly I really liked it. Those crazy people are coming with us to the castle when we go repelling down it tomorrow, because that is part of the “full on” program. We all walked around campus after we got back and did absolutely nothing. Then we had bed checks and went in my room to talk. Then at about 12:45 we went to bed. I know, that’s early, but it’s only because we have to be downstairs with our luggage packed and ready at 6:40. Breakfast is at 7:00. Well, then, Good Night!

The dorms we are staying in are in the University of Bangor.

July 8th

Today we had way too early of a start!!!! We traveled early this morning to finish all our “full on” activities. Our big activity is REPELLING off of a seventy foot tower on Penrhyn Castle. After we were all harnessed up, the other People to People delegation decided that they would go first. So, we were in these extremely uncomfortable harnesses. And I mean really really really uncomfortable! We had to do more group building/team building exercises. We had to do this thing where we like had to go through this maze on the right squares and we weren’t allowed to talk. Then we had to get back in our stupid animal groups that we got the night before and make an object. We all had to be involved in it and the other groups had to guess what it was. We had “lawnmower.” Do you know how hard it is to get about thirteen people to all be one lawnmower?!? Finally, we were able to repel. Of course our group was second, so we watched, I think it was, the monkeys go first. Once we were ready, our guide started to take us up to the top of the tower. There are so many winding stairs in a castle! And it does not help when you have the most uncomfortable and tight harness on. We finally got to the top landing where one of the crew gave us a final check to make sure everything was okay. Apparently, it wasn’t so he tightened it even more!! I was so uncomfortable, but I was so excited!! He sent us up one by one to the top of the tower. We were then harnessed to a pole in the center and waited for one of the crew to go and help us repel. That’s when I started to get nervous. It was when she was like okay, lean back, put all your weight against the rope. There were a lot of people who didn’t repel, but I knew I had to and wanted to. Then she had me keep inching back. Eventually, I was off, controlling my speed, looking at the amazing view and I was SEVENTY FEET ABOVE GROUND!!!!!!!! Somewhere in there, the photographer took a picture of me…I was going really slowly because the castle was so beautiful. It was so gratifying to say that I repelled off of a castle. I had so much confidence after that. I now feel that I can do anything. Then we traveled to our encampment in Warwick Castle. We walked into the grounds of the castle, and we were greeted by a knight in shining armor named Richard, but we called him Sir Richard. He took us for a tour around the castle and gave us a brief history of the ditch, the murder hole, and the castle, and told us about the people who lived there. Then we went to our tents. There were eight girls in our tent. We were given cots and sleeping bags and one towel. I was in all the clothes that I could have brought in my little bag. Before we went to bed, we had a very odd dinner, plain chicken and boiled potato and we also watched Sir Richard demonstrate the bow and arrow techniques of medieval times. Then, we just happened to be at Warwick on the same night that the Welsh National Orchestra was there. They were putting on a concert. The music was absolutely beautiful. They played songs from La Boehme, more Verdi, and Puccini. Unfortunately, we could only listen to the first half because Sir Richard and Scott put on an awesome sword fighting display. Scott was in charge of our camp. They told us the history of sword fighting, swords, and displayed how people fought. There are always fireworks at Warwick. That was the most amazing fireworks display ever. It was better than anything-well, except for Wishes in Disney-that I have ever seen before. It was really cool because we never got to see fireworks for the fourth of July this year. Now, I am going to bed, and we’ll just have to see how that works out.

July 9th

Oh my gosh! It got so cold! It probably got down to like ten degrees. I woke up a lot and like the whole tent was shaking. We were just all shaking because of the cold. It was not a fun night. In the camp, you couldn’t go to the toilet without a leader. The toilets were like fifteen of them on one trailer. It was very interesting. Of course, by morning, all of us had to go bad! Especially, because we were RIGHT next to the river, maybe like one yard away. Oh, about the river we weren’t allowed in or around it because it is owned by the queen. We had a very short breakfast then went on to a movie called Dream of Battle. It was the dumbest thing ever!! Then we got like almost two hours to explore the castle. It was so amazing! We went to the peacock garden, went to the top of the highest tower and went through the rooms of the castle that were restored to look how they looked back then. It was fantastic. I absolutely loved it! Then we went to watch a demonstration that Sir Edward gave on the Trebuchet, or catapult, that they used in medieval times. It was really cool. It was almost like a huge hamster wheel that people ran in to make the catapult go down. We didn’t launch off a boulder like they used to, but it was just so cool!! Then we had to leave Warwick! We traveled to Stratford-Upon-Avon and visited Shakespeare’s house. It really wasn’t all that we thought it was going to be, and I absolutely adore Shakespeare. We also went to a Shakespeare museum that was too crowded to even begin to look around. We had about an hour to do both. In the house, there were these stuck up guides who would sit in the rooms and make sure that you stayed to listen to all they had to say. The house was furnished with all its original furniture and I learned a lot about how people lived in Shakespeare’s time period. Then we were back on the coach to go to London! We got about one hour and fifteen minutes of shopping time that we weren’t supposed to have once we got there. London is beautiful, but way too crowded! We then ate fish and chips at a really cool little café. Then guess what…we were off again, this time to ride the London Eye. The view from there was absolutely amazing and I couldn’t stop taking pictures! It was a phenomenal experience!! We are now in our hotel-a Ramada Inn. We are going to go to bed now at like 11:30 because it is actually a read bed and nobody slept very well last night in the cots. I am so excited that it is a bed!  Anyway, Good Night!

July 10th

 So today, we basically traveled around London. Of course we were in our huge group of forty-five people, but whatever, it works. We started out with a bus tour of the city. It included West Minster, Hyde Park, Parliament, and Buckingham Palace. Our tour guide, Liz, sat at the front of the bus and gave the tour. Liz is a blue badge guide, which means, she knows everything about anything and anything about everything. She made sure we knew that she knew everything. She honestly never shut up and so many students fell asleep during that tour that it wasn’t even funny!!! I really didn’t like her. All of a sudden we had to get off of the bus to go see the changing of the guards. We were right up close. It was the coolest thing ever. The band was fantastic! When they say the guard change is perfectly choreographed, they mean PERFECTLY!!! It was really awesome! I loved it!! Then we went to Buckingham Palace to watch them finish the “parade.” I don’t know what to call it! We went on a good day, because the flag was up on the palace, which means the Queen was there.

Throughout the day, Liz told us so many facts, there is no way I can remember everything!

Then we went to lunch at a very cool medieval style restaurant. The food was awesome but I am so tired of chicken!!!!!!!!! Then we walked to the Tower of London. We did a lot of walking today. Liz told us way too much stuff about the Tower, that I totally forgot it all. By that time I was so fed up with her, you wouldn’t believe it! Finally, we got free time to explore around the castle. Our little group went to see the Crown Jewels. They were absolutely gorgeous! I mean, I cannot start to explain how awesome they were. They were full of not just gold, but every kind of precious stone imaginable!! It was phenomenal, I loved it!! Then we went to the Bloody Tower. The Bloody Tower held the dungeon. That was the place where they did all the executions. It was really cool, in a gruesome way, to see all of the murder and torture weapons in the tower.

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