Wow, where to begin... I left off my last "Reflection on Ireland" with anticipation of all the new activities I could enjoy after my shoulder healed, so I suppose I should start by saying now that my shoulder has healed (from its dislocation during my second week in Ireland), I have been even more thoroughly enjoying my time here on the Emerald Isle than before! This is due largely to the following three factors:
1) I am no longer injured.
2) I am actively participating in the UCC Ultimate Frisbee Club, which is loads of fun and provides a great opportunity to meet people and travel around the country (for tournaments).
3) I am actively participating in the UCC Mountaineering Club.
I think the third one is perhaps the most important. If there is one thing I can recommend above all else to do with your time in Ireland, it is to join the mountaineering club (if one exists at your university)! The experiences with the club have so far been absolutely, incredibly, superbly rewarding. So far I've gotten to hike up the Galtee Mountains in Ireland's "Golden Vale" region, Purple Mountain in the Macgillycuddy's Reeks in County Kerry, and the Knockmealdown Mountains on the border of Counties Tipperary and Waterford. Each hike I go on, I fall in love with the country more and more, as the views from the mountain tops overlooking the Irish countryside below are some of the most breathtaking, inspiring, and, dare I say, magical sights I have ever seen.
But it is not just the rewarding views that make the Mountaineering Club so wonderful. Rather, the fact that each hike is more of an expedition/adventure/bonding-experience carries more weight in my high opinion of the Club. Unlike the hikes that I'm used to (mostly in the Southeast and on the Appalachian Trail), the hikes here have no trails, no trailblazes, no paths. I couldn't believe my ears on the first hike when the guy leading the group looked at his map, looked to the top of the mountain, looked back at his map, then looked up and said "Well, I guess we're just going to have to find some way across this river here and then go up whichever way gets us to the top."
This adventurous spirit, combined with the relentless rain and the ubiquitous bog-like terrain, makes the hikes more like expeditions than hikes. (In fact, on that same first hike, we got so high up the mountain that the rain turned into hail, and the wind was literally blowing people off the mountain. We had to huddle behind a rock for thirty minutes to stay warm until the storm passed!) After trudging through six to eight hours of bog, rain, hail, wind, rain, stunning views, fresh air, rain, and more rain, we then all head to a nearby pub to enjoy great conversations over some Guinness or Murphy's.(Murphy's is a stout local to Cork, even tastier than Guinness in my opinion! If you ever come across it, give it a try!) It's almost like once per week heaven comes down to Earth for a day.
Well, now my journal entry looks like one big advertisement for the Mountaineering Club. But I can't stress enough how awesome it is and how much it has made me feel like I've been enjoying this country to its fullest!
Of course, I'm making sure to enjoy the other countries in Europe to the fullest, too. I have done so in particular by undertaking one of my greatest achievements to date: a roadtrip across Europe. Over the Christmas break, Jose (one of the other Mitchell Scholars) and I joined one of his friends, Berni (who is from Vienna), on a journey from Dublin to Vienna, a distance spanning more than 2100 km, and a trip covering a total of ten countries! We took a ferry from Dublin to Wales, then drove through Wales to England. We explored London for a day, then left from London to Dover (as in, the Cliffs of Dover!) where we boarded another ferry to Dunkirk, France. Then we drove through France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany (where we got to experience the glory that is the autobahn), and finally Austria (Salzburg, precisely). Six countries in one day! Wow! Then we explored Salzburg for a day before driving to Berni's home in Vienna, where his mother made us homemade Kaiserschmarrn, and then Wiener Schnitzel the next night. Berni drove us to Bratislava, Slovakia the following day where Jose and I said goodbye to him and caught a flight to Rome, where we had the delight of seeing the Pope come out on the balcony to say Merry Christmas! Then the following day, I was off to the Netherlands. My girlfriend flew over, too, and we got to celebrate the New Year in Amsterdam!
All I can say is: Phew! What a trip... A roadtrip is DEFINITELY the best way (at least that I've come across so far) to see Europe. We got to see so many different countries and cultures and had so much freedom in our travels. Three straight weeks of living out of one carry-on-sized bag with great company and plenty of sites seen and fun had... It was an irreplaceable, simply fantastic experience.
Aside from these travels, two memorable experiences stick out in my mind that were direct byproducts of being a Mitchell Scholar. The first (which I forgot to mention in my previous entry) was the ability to attend the U.S. Election Party, sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in Ireland, at the Guinness Storehouse. All of the Mitchell Scholars received private invitations, and we got to witness the Presidential Election while drinking free Guinness all night. It was a great way to make up for not being able to be home in America for such an important historical event. Then, later in November, all the Scholars got together at the home of one of the Scholarship donors for a home-cooked Thanksgiving dinner. There we got to have a wonderful meal with several Irish men and women, and the conversation flowed as sweetly as the red wine on the table and as richly as the gravy on the delicious Thanksgiving turkey. (I have learned that such is the case with nearly any conversation with someone from Ireland.) Like the Election Party, it was a great way to make up for not being home for Thanksgiving.
Now a new semester is upon me, and it's back to school and homework. I've got plenty of adventures left ahead of me, though: Venice with my girlfriend for Valentine's day, ten more hikes with the Mountaineering Club, trips planned to Switzerland, Sweden, and Portugal, and plenty more Murphy's to be had in Cork's many wonderful pubs. Hopefully my next "Reflection" journal entry will be even more exciting than this one! Slainte!