Top Five Irish Adventures

Traveling to Ireland soon? Are you struggling to pin down the sites you want to see? Consider these places for your trip. You can visit them all in a week!

1. Glendalough, Co. Wicklow
Known as the “glen of two lakes”, Glendalough boasts a scenic landscape that is hard for anyone to resist. The Upper Lake is a nice place to take pictures and skip rocks, and the walk to the 6th century monastery is both peaceful and mysterious. The graveyard is interesting, as several of the tombstones are indecipherable due to their age and St. Kevin’s Cross and the Round Tower are part of Irish folklore. Glendalough is also kid friendly, as there are grassy areas with natural features to scramble around on. If you’re feeling adventurous, take a hike up to the waterfall. I highly recommend the Wild Wicklow Tour–my guide was friendly, flexible and knowledgeable. You’ll see much more than Glendalough itself.

The monastery at Glendalough is utterly charming.
The monastery at Glendalough is utterly charming.

2. O’Neills, Co. Dublin
One of the most handsome, traditional pubs in Dublin, O’Neills is a gem that not every tourist knows about. It’s not far from St. Stephens Green and Trinity College. O’Neills is a great place to meet up with friends or to soak up the ambiance–they do traditional music every night and the food is pretty impressive. The Carvery is excellent (come hungry!) and the main menu offers something for everyone. While you should also experience Temple Bar, if you like to get away from hordes of people and always wanted to hear traditional music in a pub, this might be the place for you. I took my study abroad friends here and since then we’ve all returned numerous times.

My favorite place to unwind in Dublin.
My favorite place to unwind in Dublin.

3. Galway City, Co. Galway
You haven’t seen Ireland if you haven’t been to Galway in the West! They hold the biggest arts festival in the country and 20% of its population are college students. The main city is walkable–you can see most of it in two hours. Don’t rush, though, as you’ll want to enjoy a meal here and listen to street music. They have a farmer’s market, several fun shops and some beautiful attractions. The Spanish Arch area out by Galway Bay is a must-see, as well as Galway Museum right behind it and the Galway Cathedral close by.

Galway has an artsy feel: do not miss out!
Galway has an artsy feel: do not miss out!

4. Connemara, Co. Galway
Words can’t really express this place. The views are incredible. Driving around the peat bogs and seeing the idyllic-looking horses in the tall grass is essential to the Irish experience. My family drove quite close to Connemara National Park, which I hear is a must-see as well.

Take the Sky Road in Connemara for an awe-inspiring experience.
Take the Sky Road in Connemara for an awe-inspiring experience.

5. The Cliffs of Moher, Co. Clare
Though the Cliffs are probably the most popular tourist destination in Ireland, they are stunning. You can take a hike along the cliffs, called the Burren Way–for hours if you like. I had two hours to explore the Cliffs, and it was plenty of time for me. I would’ve liked to walk along the Burren Way for a considerable amount of time, but since I was on a tour I made a point to take photographs I’d love and study the various angles of the Cliffs. A word of caution: people do fall off the Cliffs, so stay AT LEAST three feet away from the edge. I’d double that amount in the event of strong winds and rain, because you have a higher chance of losing your balance and slipping. Just use your common sense and don’t risk your life for a picture! I recommend the Wild Rover tour for those of you who will not drive in Ireland: you’ll get two hours at the Cliffs, some time to stretch your legs and enjoy The Burren and two hours in Galway. The guides are fantastic, and the value is excellent for the price. I took the Wild Rover tour to Belfast, the Giants Causeway and the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, which I also recommend because unlike the Cliffs, there are no stone barriers at all–you get to walk around it all.

Pick a clear, sunny day to visit the Cliffs of Moher for the best views.
Pick a clear, sunny day to visit the Cliffs of Moher for the best views.

Thanks for reading! Please share your thoughts: did I miss something people have to go see? What was your experience like in Ireland?

A Folk Rock Kind of Night

I stumbled across Limerick-based Hermitage Green on Spotify a little over a month ago, and I am so glad I did! Had this not happened, I wouldn’t have been at The Academy in Dublin at their gig on April 17th. The guys are brilliant musicians and have a great sense of humor (they were all for going to the pub with audience members before Good Friday started!) They’ve performed in Australia and recently did a tour in North America and Canada. What I appreciate about this band is their distinct sound: it’s not just guitars. They also pay banjo, djembe, dobro, harmonica, bodhrán and keyboard. Besides the plethora of musical instruments, their voices blend together in an a cappella style that really brings out the harmonies. So in other words, their music is complex and exotic. If you think about the popular Avett Brothers or Mumford and Sons, you can think again when you listen to Hermitage Green. I’m not saying the Avett Brothers and Mumford and Sons aren’t good, but I am saying that Hermitage Green offer top-notch quality music, and they don’t sound like the typical folk rock bands out there. Give them a listen (I’ve included videos below) and see what you think. Then spread the word if you like what you hear!

Hermitage Green has great potential for major success.
Hermitage Green has the potential to make a name for themselves.
Cillian King killed it as one of the opening acts for Hermitage Green.
Cillian King and his band killed it as one of the opening acts for Hermitage Green.

An Evening With St. Vincent

Silver hair. Black boots. Miniskirt. Mile-long legs. She is fashion herself. Elegant. Graceful. Shoulders back, head up, she faces the Dubliners in front of her. She is ready to do more than an album or an MP3 can do. Create, visualize, dance, deliver a performance that sways the audience into the inner workings of her mind. This is St. Vincent.

From the moment St. Vincent strides onto the Olympia Theatre stage, the energy changes in the room. It is February 21st, Saturday night. The audience is a combination of younger and middle-aged people sipping their beer. They fall under her spell. They’ve waited so long to go to one of her shows, this feels a bit unreal.

“I bet I have something in common with you,” she confides. “When you were young you built a fort out of tin foil…it was perfect. When you were a child you walked down the street and wondered what people looked like as babies.” And one of her best lines goes like this: “When you walk down the street without your contacts or glasses on, sometimes you superimpose people’s heads with the heads of Irish rock stars!” She plays the role of artist and comedian, with unhurried, articulate speech.

Annie Clark, the face of St. Vincent, incorporates a series of gestures and dance moves while she plays. It looks so effortless as she moves around the stage and on her giant pink staircase in her heeled boots. She packs in several guitar solos  with her slender hands as well, which proves she is not as dainty as she looks. At one point she positively slithers from the top step of the staircase down to the floor, the strobe lights flashing wildly.

The repertoire covers her new self-titled album, which will be out February 24th in the UK and in the US a day later, along with the old hits from Strange Mercy (2011) and Actor (2009). Her audience loves ‘Cheerleader’, ‘Surgeon’, ‘Birth In Reverse’ and ‘Prince Johnny’. She addresses love, sex, conformity and belonging in her music.

Right when it seems that the show is over at 10:33, St. Vincent comes back onstage after the crowd gives her a standing ovation; she proceeds to play three more songs to wrap up the night.

By the time the audience trickles out of the theatre, they learn something else about her: St. Vincent is fearless, and this girl can rock.

*TOM WOLFE, a literary journalist, inspired the style of this review. I’ve waited to try my hand at something like this. One article I love of his is “Girl of the Year”. As always, thanks for reading.

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Slow Skies, based in Dublin, opens for St. Vincent
The rocker in performance mode
The rocker in performance mode

Daily Prompt: Kick It| Mission Accomplished

What’s the 11th item on your bucket list?

Jen’s Bucket List reads, 11) Fall in love

It started out with a jazz song. I sat in a gray Eddie Bauer fold up chair in a tiny dorm room and listened with ease. Why was I here? I asked myself. I closed my eyes and took in that song, and then the next song, too. The Audio Technica headphones were doing their job. I felt like a whole new world of music I had never discovered was slowly revealing itself. I hadn’t listened to a lot of jazz in my life, and I didn’t know how to distinguish between the “good” and the “bad.” All of this was good.

We couldn’t stop talking. The night was young, but we were so alive. Music preferences were shared, music played on a laptop behind us on the desk. We asked questions, we laughed, we looked into each other’s eyes. Later we sang along with our favorite songs on YouTube, and we noticed that there were a lot of similarities in the music we knew. Side by side, voices in sync. I spent seven hours getting to know him through the music.

Do I say it? flashed through my mind. When the music stopped, I said, “That was the most fun I’ve had in a long time.” I meant it, and I wanted him to know it. My eyes were bright and I wore a nervous smile on my face. He agreed with me, and I left with a final thought: I like him.

We’ve been together ever since.

This was my beginning, eight months ago.

For a little about me, I had always had crushes on guys since the first grade, just like any normal teenage girl. I just never really “dated.” Ironically, I gave love advice to my friends who had boyfriends. And then he came along, thanks to all of our friends at school.

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Keith makes my world brighter. We continue to share music–it helps remind us how we came together.

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To me, love is the feeling of peace and warmness when you’re with him. You’re comfortable in your own skin. It’s the knowledge in your mind that you are the one person he wants to protect and cherish. Loving this person means being there for the wonderful times and also being there for the tough times, too.

White Christmases and Sing Alongs

What a special Christmas this turned out to be. I slept in a little bit longer than I thought I would, and spent a little time warming up by the fire. I examined the contents of my stocking (a harp seal flash drive, a fancy highlighter pen, a pocket journal and other goodies) and then woke up my siblings. While I sat by the fireplace, I watched the snow drift down in gentle rhythms that coated the house’s railings with long strips of white. By the time we finished our egg casserole, the snow was up to two or more inches. One of my sisters was ecstatic that it was snowing; it was her wish to wake up to a White Christmas.

It was the first white Christmas at home in years.

The presents exchange this morning was fun, especially watching how excited my siblings got over SpongeBob Squarepants and long-sleeved shirts. Me, I was taking it all in, and didn’t expect to receive a whole load of presents like I did. I wasn’t disappointed or anything, but I knew that I’d have to figure out where to put the stuff. Later I managed to stuff all but one of my presents in my duffel bag, as I plan to take them back to my apartment when break is over. In fact, we’re leaving Etna tomorrow, so I have to have everything ready to go. What I learned about traveling is that it is always good to pack light, so that there are less things to forget and a little bit of room for the extra.

After the gift exchange, my brother and I lay passed out on the couch by the fire for awhile. Then we decided to go visit my best friend who lives five minutes away from us in Etna. Driving in the snow was something else–it had been awhile since I had last driven in snow that was a little slick and still a little crunchy. It took a couple tries to back up successfully into our U-shaped driveway, but I did it. Driving at about 35 mph, we made it over to Katie’s in about 15 minutes. I didn’t want to get in a wreck on Christmas, so it was well worth it to drive safely.

We hung out with Katie for the next three hours. It was like we had never been separated since the summer! That’s the thing about having a best friend: they’ll still care about you even if you don’t stay in touch for awhile. They’ll still remember the times you had together. They just get you.

Leaving Katie’s house, I was sad that I wouldn’t see her until next summer at the very least, but I felt reassured at the same time that we could still be close. College is difficult at times because I live about 12 hours from Etna and so I can’t just go home and see people that I want to see. Plus, people get busy and everyone has their own set of things to do, so I guess one has to work with what they have. We don’t always get what we want.

The Chocolate Dipping Party

Every year my uncle from Etna throws a fabulous get together for his friends and anyone else interested in chocolate to celebrate before Christmas by dipping delectable candy centers in milk and dark chocolate. They get to take a box of chocolates home with them. These parties are immensely successful, and this year was the first year that everyone was able to enjoy space to mingle and breathe in the remodeled kitchen.

The other night at the party, I sang with my sister and uncle, directed by my voice teacher who taught me from the summer of junior year onward. We planned to sing a wide repertoire of songs including Christmas carols, letting the audience join in with us. At the beginning of our recital together, I remember my German exchange sister singing the first verse of ‘Silent Night’ in German.

“Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Alles schläft; einsam wacht”

I started feeling uncomfortable. Her voice was strong and sweet, ready to pour out to the audience. I figured out why I was so uncomfortable: in the dim light, I made out my mother’s face and saw a tiny tear and her hand wiping it away. Then it hit me. I was going to cry, too.

“Nur das traute hochheilige Paar.
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar”

I felt emotional but I couldn’t cry. My attention was locked on my sister as I stood by the piano. I couldn’t let myself cry, because the recital had just begun. I can be a crybaby sometimes, given the situation. Life is cruel sometimes.

“Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!”

She ended gracefully, her first song in a foreign tongue of many that evening. Everyone had been holding their breath, and finally the tension released. The clapping filled the room as I stood there. I couldn’t look at her, because I knew I’d start crying. Some moments are so sacred that you nearly forget how to handle yourself.