365 Daily Prompt: Road Trippin’

You’re going on a cross-country trip. Airplane, train, bus, or car? (Or something else entirely–bike? Hot air balloon?)

The Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon

Photo credit

I am definitely a bit rusty on my Blogging since coming home, so it’s time for a prompt to help motivate me! This question is so perfect right now, since I’ve been talking to my friends about travel and I’ve been daydreaming about vacations.

I like to drive, always have. I find it calms me down. I drive a manual transmission 2005 Honda Accord. I like being in control and driving down the freeway with hardly any cars to my right and left. Before I did my 15.5 hour solo trip down to Irvine a few weeks ago, I had only driven 3-4 hours tops. That was with my parents. I did well on that long solo trip though, thanks to my stack of CDs and the trusty GPS.

If I were to embark on this cross-country trip, first I’d want to see Yosemite National Park and Lake Tahoe in California. I’ve been to Yosemite before, but two hours is rather short and I did not get to see El Capitan. I’ve always heard people rave about Lake Tahoe. I wonder if it’s worth it. This is why it’s on the list.

My next stop would be the Grand Canyon, in Arizona. The views are breathtaking, I’m told. From here I would travel to the South: San Antonio, Texas for something deep fried to eat, then listen to some good jazz at the New Orleans Jazz Festival, and see Savannah, Georgia, the city John Berendt wrote about so eloquently in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

Finally, and I’m not sure how I would get there, I would spend some time in Boston, Massachusetts and learn more about our nation’s history and then I would go to New York City, New York.

Yes, this trip could be wildly unrealistic, but it certainly covers all the places I still want to see in this amazing country.

What do you think? Does it sound exciting enough? What is your ideal trip, and what mode of transportation would you want to take?

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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?

Escape to Skerries

Dear readers,

My apologies for it being a month since my last post. I appreciate your patience. Finals were stressful (the good kind of stress) and I wanted to prepare as much as I could. I survived my semester abroad in Dublin, Ireland, so now I just have to wait for my grades! I’ll elaborate on study abroad in a future post, I promise. I’d love to share a final set of experiences with you before I do.

Last Saturday was my first day of summer. I was so excited to go to Skerries in North Dublin I couldn’t sleep much the night before. Two months before I had read about Skerries in my guide-book, and while it didn’t go into detail about the town, it did mention Skerries Mills. Also around this time the international and Erasmus student society I was a part of on campus gave us the opportunity to do a clean up project in Skerries. I wasn’t able to participate, but once I started Googling Skerries I became more and more intrigued. I learned that they hold an annual Traditional Music Weekend there, for three days in May filled with dance and instrument workshops in the morning, street music in the afternoon and concerts at night. My host mom took one look at the lineup and said I had chosen well. Clearly, this was a cultural opportunity I wasn’t about to miss.

I decided to plan a trip out to Skerries once my finals were over, as a reward for finishing strong and as a chance to see another seaside town before I left for the States. (I leave this week. It’s bittersweet). My Irish friend Nwanne and I couldn’t have picked a better day to go. The journey was simple, as I took the DART (Irish Rail) towards Drogheda, and the route led me directly to Skerries. The weather was quite balmy, the sky a pretty blue mixed in with a few clouds. I talked with a very pleasant elderly gentleman on my walk into town. He seemed dedicated to the music festival, as he had been there before and knew which bands at the pubs I shouldn’t miss. He’d listened to all their music as well, which made him 100% more of an expert than I was.

I had to laugh at myself soon after when I went on a wild goose chase for a tourist office and a public restroom. Signs in the town pointed in the opposite direction of these facilities, which was at once very frustrating and humorous at the same time. After heading in the wrong direction for the monument (I was one street over), I finally met up with Nwanne. It was so good to see her, as she was also recovering from our chaotic finals schedule. When I asked her what she wanted to do, she let me decide what we’d do that day since this was the end of my study abroad experience. She was up for anything I wanted to do, which I really appreciated.

The first place we went to was Skerries Mills. There are three mills at Skerries; two windmills and a watermill. It is famous in part because it was one of the few mills with both wind and waterpower. I found them marvelous structures, and I desperately wanted to take pictures of them to seal it forever in my memory. We went on a nice tour of the Mills and really enjoyed it. In the huge watermill the guide demonstrated how workers would turn grain into flour, their pulley system to haul the bags of flour up to the next floor and then powered up the mill to show us how all the parts worked together. I thought it was pretty neat. Then we got to tour the inside of the Small Windmill. It was drafty inside, and we could hear the wind howling outside (it was not actually that windy outside, but inside the mill sound became more amplified). Anyway, it was my first time in a windmill!  I liked the Small Windmill better than the Great Windmill because it had a more rustic look and the red door with a fence surrounding it was a nice touch. When we got closer to the Great Windmill, however, I loved how it seemed to effortlessly work with the landscape. The thing that amazes me about these mills is the back-breaking work the men did everyday to earn a living. To think that they faced many trials in order to make the mill more efficient showed their dedication to work. Their jobs were very dangerous and the monotony, I assume, made it difficult to feel a sense of accomplishment.

At the Small Windmill--built in 1500
At the Small Windmill–built in 1500
Hands down the most warm and beautiful day in Dublin!
Hands down the most warm and beautiful day in Dublin!
The Great Windmill of Skerries
The Great Windmill of Skerries–built in 1700

After we’d snapped several selfies and soaked up the sun, Nwanne and I headed back into town. We went to South Beach and sat down in the sand. We looked out to the islands there and had fun watching children chase their parents around in circles until we were nearly dizzy ourselves. We wanted to make it to Keane’s Bus Bar by 5 PM for live music, so we skipped the harbor and went to get dinner and wait.

Nwanne and I at South Beach
Nwanne and I at South Beach

Keane’s Bus Bar has the kind of ambiance that makes you feel like you’ve stepped into the early 20th century. The seats were cushy, the tables tiny and several paintings of the Dublin area hung on the walls. We ate our meal with gusto and settled in for some good music. While the band that played was fine, the guitarist was the only one who sang for us. Still, the harp, the fiddle and the Uilleann pipes made the music legitimate and quite colorful. The gentleman I had talked to earlier sat at the table closest to the band, and when he saw me he explained that we had missed a fantastic traditional music session at 3 PM–apparently the whole town went to that one! While I was a little sad, I did not regret any moment spent in Skerries and I happily listened to the music playing. The three small children trying to out-dance each other at the pub stole the show! The band enthusiastically invited them to “play” the Uilleann pipes. Spending time with my friend and with the kind people of Dublin made my day. On my next trip to Ireland, I’ll make a point to return to the quiet and peaceful town of Skerries.

The band at Keane's Bus Bar
The band at Keane’s Bus Bar

 

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

10 Observations on the Irish Culture

Ireland uncovered!

  1. The Irish people are friendly. Yes, the stereotype is true. If you’re trying to find your way, Dubliners are more than happy to help you. Most of the people I’ve talked to give excellent directions and they take the time to listen to you. If you greet a complete stranger, you’re likely to get insights into their personal lives before you part ways with them. Also, public service workers and shopkeepers will chat with you and offer their honest opinion on a product if you ask for it. Though they like customer assertiveness, if they don’t have it they won’t guilt you into buying something else.
  2. The Irish people are laid back. They just don’t rush. I notice that the average Irish person will enjoy life’s pleasant moments, whether it’s laughing, dancing, eating or drinking. If they complain, they don’t generally do it in public.
  3. That said, the Irish drive insanely fast. Sounds like a contradiction to number 2, doesn’t it? People are certainly in a hurry to get places in this country. Drivers tend to speed up when they see the red stop lights. Pedestrians beware: jaywalk with caution! When in doubt stay at the curb, even if you miss your bus across the street. Once I saw a woman and a child casually skip halfway across the street two seconds before a car whooshed by them.
  4. They don’t refrigerate their chicken eggs at SuperValu. Apparently it doesn’t matter whether you choose to refrigerate or leave them sitting out.
  5. You will hear Bruce Springsteen and U2 nearly every time you go to the city centre. I love it. It’s not “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus, that’s for sure.
  6. Irish pubs are some of the best places to meet with friends and enjoy delicious food on the cheap. Many of them offer live, traditional music. Since living here, being at the pub is teaching me to sit and relax and not worry about things. Eating a meal with deliberation is a lost art in America, but here you can take a bite of hearty food and get lost in the pub environment. The older pubs have a cheeriness and an atmosphere that makes you think about the lively conversations that took place there, and the gleaming beers on tap and the whiskey bottles give it a rustic feel.
  7. Travel within Ireland is relatively easy. Car, bus, train, rail and plane–plenty of options. You can hit the coast in all directions in 3-4 hours from Dublin. Belfast in Northern Ireland (UK) is only a two-hour train trip away.
  8. The rain is bearable. I was very surprised that for it being winter and rainy almost every day, it’s not bad. Since precipitation actually warms the ground, it’s better than it being bitterly cold outside. If it rains early in the day it usually clears up and sometimes you can see the sun.
  9. They have an odd sense of humor in TV ads. While they portray the fresh and happy lifestyles of the Irish, they will say something humorous and go on like it is the natural thing to do. For an American abroad, it’s comical.
  10. Getting away from the city centre is good for you. Being away from the frantic shoppers, traffic congestion and touristy places allows for a well-rounded experience of Ireland. Go outside, ride a bike and explore the little towns.
The music is fantastic at The Porter House.
The music is fantastic at The Porter House.

Daily Prompt: Beyond the Pale| Ready, Aim, Fire!

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That’s me in the blue shirt.

I smiled when I saw the topic for January 4th’s Daily Prompt: When was the last time you did something completely new and out of your element? How was it? Will you do it again?

The shooting range near the Joshua Tree campground is about 30 min away from the national park itself. Green shrubs and rocks litter the area. (Green shrubs in the desert? Surprising). A power station rose a few meters into the air. It was so ugly out there in that part of the desert I didn’t bother pulling out my camera. Then we heard it.

Several shots rang out into the sky and bounced off the small hills, the sound jumping towards us in the last instant. The noise was weak by the time it got to us. We planned to enjoy this, since we had lost our way over to the range.

My friends and I wandered past the pickups and SUVs until we came to a wide clearing. It was close to noon and the sun was relentless, covering everything. Tables contained rifles, pistols and shotguns of varying sizes and shapes.  Ammunition lay next to the weapons.

“Have you taken the gun safety test yet?” No, I hadn’t. But could I? “Sure!” Once I had repeated the basic safety rules, only shoot past the safety line in front of the tables, keep the safety on the gun until you’re ready to shoot and never point the gun towards my fellow shooters, I lined up with the rest of them and gave it a try.

Control was a key part of the exercise. I practiced keeping my arm steady and resting my chin on the stock, which was a challenge if I wanted to reload the ammo fast. I also learned to adjust until I could see a clear picture of my target. It was exciting when I hit the first few targets and helped my team shoot the other team’s targets down first. I tended to make my shot when I wasn’t super concentrated on what I was doing. At the same time, if I made two or three in a row, I’d mess up the next one if I got too cocky.

Shooting for the first time last November was a fun experience. I wish I had gotten to try the pistols and the bulky airsoft guns. The people were friendly and the men who taught me how to shoot helped me become better and more confident.

I’ve never had the desire to shoot animals and I didn’t think I would be shooting on this trip. But when people asked me if I wanted to shoot, I decided I should at least give it a try.

I’m so glad I did. Next time: bigger rifles and pistols!

An Open Letter to Big Agnes

Note: This is the first time I’ve written a letter to an inanimate object. Let me surprise you. As a reader, I trust the writer in most cases and as I write this I trust you to make of it what you will. Thanks for stopping by.

bigagnes_logoPhoto credit

Dear Big Agnes,

I find myself writing to you on a warm Friday night, reminiscing on the day we met. There you were, your maroon colored shell protecting your Insulated Air Core. There I was, a sad backpacker without a comfy bed on which to lay.

With night descending on our camp, all eight of us pulled out our Big Agnes’; we felt pure joy as we discovered a different way to sleep in the woods.

I have my uncle to thank for instigating the Big Agnes tradition, and my dad for buying you off Campmor.com last year. And what a tradition it is now! Eight of us Jopsons stretched out on a tarp, nestled inside our down sleeping bags, on top of your two-inch inflatable goodness. (We snored away–we didn’t even have to count sheep). The sleep was that good. Your air pad qualities astounded us, and we vowed to never buy a Therm-a-Rest again.

We look like we don't know how to relax!
We look like we don’t know how to relax!  Photo: Jim Jopson
Like tattoos, you can't have just one.
Like tattoos, you can’t have just one.

Each morning of last year’s backpacking trip you stayed by my side as I popped my head out of my sleeping bag and ventured out into the cold air. You were my companion.

This year’s trip was fantastic, until I caught a cold and found it difficult to sleep on my back. In the few moments where I could actually breathe and lie down at the same time, it was bliss.

Even though I am not entirely sure where I’m going to sleep through half of September back at school, at least I’ll have a high chance of getting my beauty sleep.

Your loyal friend,

Jennifer

Saying Goodbye to Non-Educational TV

It’s my first week back in college and I’ve had some time to think. My Political Science professor awed some 300+ students with a speech that resonated inside my mind. It was this: his challenge was, simply, to “lose TV.” I didn’t know to what extent he was talking about, so I kept listening. He talked about what a colossal waste of time it was, that the average American watches 8 hours a day, and cited students who took up his challenge and thanked him for it later. He made it clear that he wanted us to completely drop it out of our lives. What was entertaining and persuasive about his speech was the delivery, and as a practiced public speaker myself I found it highly effective. He got some laughs, too. Our professor then proceeded to encourage us to quit TV so that we could get the most out of our college experience, focusing on the social aspect of it. He asked all of us with boyfriends to raise our hands and exclaimed, “Shame on you!” to everyone not raising their hand, which was a vast majority of the room. “You guys should be dating each other instead of watching TV.” At the end of his spiel, he asked, “Who wants to take up the challenge?” and a few of us raised our hands. (I admit my hand wavered a little).

I’ve never been too gun-ho about watching TV. I watched TV as a kid, I know, but not as much as the average kid, maybe an hour or two a day. I think I watched movies more than anything else. My parents were too cheap to pay for satellite, so I didn’t have a lot of exposure at home. Only when I was over at friends’ houses did I have the chance to indulge.

I’ve always been OK with just reading a book or talking with someone in lieu of staring a screen that dictates how I should think or what I should look at. It’s a little disconcerting that a box-like object that can transfer and receive moving images can have so much power over us. The thing is, I don’t get much out of it. When I watch my shows, I realize that I usually feel depleted or like I’m not quite satisfied enough. Sure, I’m entertained for a short while, but after about 20 minutes or so of any show, I’ve noticed, I get bored. What do I see when I watch TV? I see people putting down others, new crap about crimes (can you count the number of crime shows out there?), lawyers and bang-bang shoot em’ up. I see sexual innuendos, rich people with nothing better to do than have their lives be broadcast to the world and people seeing their dreams crushed by some all-knowing authority. That’s not entertainment!

And so, the challenge starts today. And no, I didn’t cram as much “non-educational TV” in as I could last night, watching all my favorite shows until my eyeballs popped–in fact, I haven’t spent any time watching TV this week. Instead, I chose to spend my time catching up with roommates, working out with friends, and spending time with my boyfriend and fellow Rotaracters. Plus, I rather enjoyed having time to read WordPress Blogs and my favorite books.

From now on, I plan to forego my temptation to watch 30 Rock, Downton Abbey and Big Bang Theory, and replace it with focusing on my hobbies and interests instead. This means no reality shows and no more mindless activity. It means working on my knitting and crochet projects, writing articles and doing well in school.

What’s not part of the challenge:

-Going over to someone’s house who wants to watch TV

-Watching things like the History Channel, National Geographic TV, PBS…I don’t generally watch these, but someday I might watch them on a regular basis.

-YouTube. I discover new music here and usually do homework or something else, so it’s not watching much. I also watch things like V-Sauce and Smarter Every Day, two channels which are educational and interesting.

-Watching movies

So that’s what I plan to do. It’s time to hit the books.