My heart is full coming home from our latest family adventure—Ireland & Scotland. Two years into the pandemic, we decided that it was time to travel across the pond once again. My Mom, Dad, Clinton and I were able to journey through Ireland and then we met up with Kevin in Scotland for one week (separate blog post to come).
Despite my Dad being stuck in Scotland due to contracting COVID, the trip was truly an incredible, family-bonding experience. And no worries, he is healthy and on his way home as I type! As with all hard experiences, resilience is required and it will be a story for years to come!
Wheels Up at 8am!
My Mom, Dad, Clinton and I myself took a bus tour through CIE tours covering the full perimeter of the republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. I was definitely hesitant of a guided tour at first as I’m used to doing my own thing. But, I tell you the amount of history, culture, art, scenery that we got to cover in the time that we had was truly unprecedented. The three course meals and hotels fit for a queen didn't hurt either!
Pride in Culture & Heritage
From the green hallways that greets you in the Dublin airport to the family stories and jokes from our tour guide to the random taxi cab driver that serenaded us with a beautiful ballad on the way back to the airport.... it was evident that people were proud of their roots and actively working to keep their traditions and heritage alive. As you drove through the country side, people also did their best to preserve the original stone houses on their property, modernizing for common day but preserving memories of the past. There were also even houses with the thatched roofs!
We happened to be traveling at the same time that Russia is threatening the sovereignty of Ukraine. It was evident that the Irish people truly empathized with the Ukrainians and it became even more clear as we dove into the Irish people’s fight for Independence. The Ukranian flag was hoisted side by side with the Irish flag, signs were posted in small businesses, BBC spoke of people opening their homes to refugees, college students in Galway wore yellow/blue eye shadow....support for Ukrainian refuges was evident. Only time will tell where this present day war will lead and how many innocent lives will be lost (on both sides). But better understanding Irish history, made me understand why the Irish people can relate so much to the Ukrainians. More to come on this!
A Patchwork of 40 Shades of Green
Driving the (really) narrow streets of Ireland, it is easy to see how Johnny Cash was inspired by the landscape of Ireland from the grazing sheep to the amazing geological features on the Irish shores. Our tour guide would often break into song belting out Danny Boy, The Rose of Tralee and my Wild Irish Rose as we whizzed past the beautiful landscapes. Sometimes, we were even greeted by rainbows!
Peat bogs are an accumulation of decayed vegetation over thousands of years. This type of ecosystem is very threatened as only 1% of their original extent now remain intact. It has been an invaluable source of energy for Ireland and has been burned for thousands of years for heat. P.S. Also, a great source of carbon capture!
Around 432 AD, St. Patrick was not native to Ireland. He was originally captured by Irish raiders at the age of 16. During this time, he became a shepherd and turned to spirituality/religion for support. After he escaped, he came back to Ireland on a missionary mission to incorporate Irish pagan culture into Christian lessons. For example, he superimposed a sun, a powerful Irish symbol tied to Celtic paganism as they were tied to the cycles of the sun, onto a cross to form the Celtic cross.
We visited St. Kevin's, an important monastic site in Ireland founded in the 6th century. During these times, people would come to monasteries for spiritual guidance and education. People would come through the gateway and immediately be provided sanctuary. St. Kevin was rumored to meditate in a nearby lake for so long that birds nested in his hair and hands. We got a kick that St. Kevin's feast day was on my birthday, June 3rd.
We also visited the famous Blarney castle! The famous castle is the third structure erected on the land by the MacCarthy clan. We explored the ruins of the castle reading about the banquet hall, the gallows and even walking through a poison garden! We also kissed the famous Blarney stone, giving us the gift of the gab. I really enjoyed walking through the castle grounds and the rain held off the majority of the time!
Over 800 Years of English Involvement in Ireland
As most of medieval/monarchy history, it is super complex. But, I will try to recount as I can recall much as possible. In the 12th century, Anglo-Normans (Normans being groups of Vikings) gradually conquered and acquired land from the Irish people granting lands to Great Britain (Anglo or English descent). 1169, a Norman knight, Strongbow, married an Irish princess which effectively put the English in control of Waterford. The English King, Henry granted Strongbow a fiefdom, a part of feudalism in which constituents pay fees and properties to the man in charge. I wonder if this is why I NEVER saw the popular Strongbow cider being sold in any pubs????
Suppression of Freedoms
In any count, penal laws were introduced where conversion to the Protestant faith (i.e. English faith) was rewarded. If you were Catholic, you couldn’t practice your faith. If you had three sons and one converted to be protestant, he would automatically inherit all the land. If you were Catholic, you couldn't be educated which lead to many generations who were illiterate. The Ireland republic was the breadbasket for England exporting crops and resources for hundreds of years. (Northern Ireland was more industrialized working in the linen and ship building industries).
Famine or Genocide?
In fact the 1845-1850, potato famine could also be called a genocide. Yes, there was a blight on potatoes. But, there was food to eat. It’s just the English landlords controlled the river and the lands. Starving people could not fish and could not hunt. Other crops were exported off of the island. If the Irish were caught hunting/fishing, they were sent to the penal colonies in Australia. Over 1 million people died of starvation and disease often buried in mass graves. Others migrated...
Desperate, more than 1.5 million people set out in rightfully called "coffin ships" to head to the United States for a better life. These were meant to hold cargo and were plagued with dysentery. We got to visit one of these immigrant ships and imagine what it would be like to face such harsh conditions and an unknowing future. Actors recounted their experiences as first and second class passengers. I also got to take place in the festivities by being a WALL (reminiscent of my Shakespearean Midsummer Dream days). This became my name for many people throughout the trip.
When the Irish immigrated to the US, businesses posted signs that said "No Blacks and No Irish Need Apply." It wasn't until after WWII in the US that the "Fighting Irish" were treated as valuable members of society in the United States. This was mainly due to their willingness to sacrifice their lives for the US in WWII.
Emancipation & Northern Ireland
While Britain was fighting in WW1, there was momentum for Irish independence which resulted in the Easter Rising in Dublin. The rebellion was crushed and a peace treaty with Britain called for the partition of Ireland with the south becoming autonomous and the northern counties joining the UK.
During WWII, Ireland remained neutral and in 1949 the republic of Ireland Act severed the ties with Britain. Conflicts over Northern Ireland continued to escalate and claimed over 3000 lives.
It was interesting to see how some streets had poles painted the Irish flag colors (green, white orange). Green representing the roman Catholics, orange representing the Protestants and white representing the peace between the groups.
While streets directly parallel flew the UK flag and had poles painted red, white, blue. In both Derry and Belfast, you could still feel the tension as the killings from both sides were so recent. In fact depending on which side you are on, you say "Londonderry" or "Derry" as the city name.
Car bombs, pub shootings and killing of innocent people were common within these streets from the 1960s on. The Good Friday agreement to issue in peace just happened in 1998.
On a lighter note, I have to recount the delicious food that we had in Ireland! From the Irish breakfast to a fresh pint of Guinness, we enjoyed delicious three course meals everywhere we went. Also be sure to check out our foods around the world outlining our fav foods!
Honestly, we did so much during this leg of the trip that I can't capture everything! We saw the book of Kerry, long library room at Trinity college, a sheep dog demonstration (will detail that in the Scotland blog post), went to the Titanic museum, gathered holy water from a spot where ancient apparitions of Mother Mary appeared, clapped to Irish music at pubs and so much more! It was truly a wonderful, whirlwind. And, the Clint bird was always smiling and ready to go on the next adventure. Luckily, the adventure continued and we took off to Scotland to meet Kev. (blog post coming soon!)
I’m sitting here looking out over the rooftops of the Barranco and Miraflores neighborhoods of Lima, Peru and I’m expecting myself to somehow reflect meaningfully about the experiences of the past year. First of all, WHAT A YEAR! Audra and I successfully (knock on wood, we’re not home yet) traversed the globe. We’ve:
But I’m ahead of myself. One of the purposes of this blog is to remember things for posterity’s sake. And how can I forget about the past two weeks in Bolivia and Peru?!
We were only in Chile for a week and definitely have it on our list to return for further exploration. We absolutely love the geography here. You can eat lunch in the Andes mountains and then enjoy a paela marina (famous seafood soup) near the coast on the same day.
Ahh.....South America. We are in love with this continent - the wine, biodiversity and Spanish language.
Our first stop was Argentina. Since we only had a few weeks and winter is quickly approaching in this hemisphere, we were only able to visit a few cities in the north of the country. But, we definitely plan on coming back to explore the south in the future.
In our last blog post, Kevin reflected on everything that we did during our month in Japan. However, I wanted to outline some of the cultural things that we learned and/or surprised us.
We also had an opportunity to stay in South Korea for 24 hours during our layover. Even though we just scratched the surface, it was enriching to better understand the history of Korea pre and post the Korean War. The museum was wonderful and had a whole wing honoring the soldiers who died battle.
Please note, these are assumptions and things that I have observed based on my own experience. If you disagree or have things to add, please share in the comments below.
Foreward: Japan was fascinating. We could write a whole blog post about the cultural differences and rich history (we may do just that). However, it also happened to be a very busy country for us, full of countless new experiences. For our memory's sake, this blog is basically recounting those experiences.
Audra and I got off the plane from Taiwan to Tokyo (Narita) on a brisk Wednesday morning and found the train station just in time to catch the train to Katsuura, where our friend Mike had been studying Judo and Japanese for the past year. We had to switch trains halfway through, but thanks to nice people at the station, we figured it out easily. Mike and his friend Akira met us at the station, and the adventures began!
Japan has everything: great food, good nightlife, unique history and culture, interesting language, amazing transportation, and beautiful countryside. Over the course of the next month, we were to discover this with a little help from our friends.
After a few hours arriving in Tapei, Taiwan, Kevin stated that “this would easily be a city that he would live in.” We only spent a week in Taiwan, but we were both impressed by the friendliness of the people, clean streets, city parks, and the FOOD! Kevin also loved the Chinese Mandarin language. And, I was obsessed with the stoplights. They have an animated guy walking or running depending on how much time you have to cross the street!
In a Vietnam hostel, we met a Taiwanese traveler, Jyeru. When we arrived in Taiwan, she reached out to us and offered to meet up. She led us through the night market, pointed us to great tasting street food and shared her stories about growing up in Taiwan. The fact that she took time out of her schedule and rode the train for 30 minutes to meet up with people that she didn’t know really meant a lot to us and demonstrates the friendliness of Taiwanese people.
Vietnam has been my favorite country while traveling throughout South East Asia. Our days were packed with unforgettable adventure experiences – scenic hikes, canyoning, exploring caves, dancing on tables with our new English friends, riding a motorbike through rice fields, tattoos and discussing politics with people from all over the world. It has also been humbling being an American, diving deeper into the impacts of the Vietnam War and witnessing first-hand how forgiving, compassionate and tenacious the Vietnamese people are.
Due to Vietnam’s vertical, narrow “S” shape, most people travel from south to north or vice versa. We started in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) which used to be the capital of Southern Vietnam. The city currently is named after Ho Chi Minh who is the leader of the Vietnamese Independence movement. He was the driver in the reunification of Vietnam during the war and is still memorialized in posters and statues all over this country.
But before we got in, we had to obtain visas. To get them, we had to go to a town called Sihanoukville, Cambodia. It is a port town and in desperate need of Captain Planet.
Nonetheless, we had a wonderful experience watching the Eagles versus Patriots Super bowl at 6 am. Beer and bloody marys flowing, we cheered in an Eagles win and met new friends actually from Pennsylvania.
I’m sitting here on the porch of a rural family homestay in Angk Ta Saom, Cambodia surrounded by mango trees, coconut palms, and lotus flowers. The chickens are leading their chicks through the property while the three dogs are basking in the afternoon sun. A symphony of birds add to the faint whisper of the traditional music being played in a field nearby. To the right of me are two family gravesites, one of which was erected for a member of the family killed during the Pol Pot regime of the 70’s.
Earlier today Audra and I took a scenic bike ride getting lost amidst the rice farms scattered with happy cows that had been left to graze after the rice had just been harvested. As we rode past houses, kids would shout so proudly “Hello!” and we would respond with huge smiles on our faces. We passed a school just as the kids were leaving and continued riding with the “rush hour” of kids (2 or 3 to a bike) riding home for lunch as they too smiled at us and proudly demonstrated their English prowess.
We returned home to a meal of rice (grown here), soup, stir fried kale, fried eggplant (again grown here), French fries, and pineapple. The home cooked food here is so much better than the restaurants we’ve experienced. Later today, we’ll be learning how to make organic yellow dye with onion peels There are several weavers employed by the homestay which will use the naturally-dyed cotton to make colorful scarves to sell in Phnom Penh.
I can’t help but be reminded of my first time to Central America living with a family in a rural mountain town of Honduras. Or even the following times doing service trips in northern Nicaragua. The tropical feel, the agricultural communities, the hospitality, and the happiness.
But I can’t forget the history lessons I’ve learned either.
Ever since I was little girl, I heard epic tales of my Dad swimming with whales in Australia or sitting in cockpits of planes sixty feet (AKA 20 meters) under the water. I received my Open Water certification at the earliest age that I could, thirteen years old.
Kevin was certified in a cold quarry in the middle of October (and experienced extreme vertigo) in order to prepare for diving on our honey moon. It was basically an ultimatum to marrying me, but nonetheless he now shares a similar enthusiasm for diving.