Ireland 2019: Ring of Kerry

We returned Saturday evening from touring the Ring of Kerry, a 179-kilometer (111-mile) scenic/tourist/historical route around the Iveragh Peninsula in Co. Kerry in the southwest (Munster province). It’s probably the part of the country that I most wish my parents could have seen. They were always up for a scenic drive and subjected treated my brother and me to many of them as we were growing up!

From Waterford we headed west on Thursday morning toward our base of operations in Killarney, with a stop in Cork to break up the drive. I hadn’t been to Cork before–last year I missed this day on the program because of an emergency–and I wish I’d had more than a couple of hours to spend there this year. It’s bustling like Dublin but more compact-seeming. I just had time for lunch with colleagues and a very quick dip into a couple of stores (several of us went to Lush for bath bombs in anticipation of the bathtubs in our hotel rooms!) before hitting the road again.

I only took 4 pictures in Cork. I’m a good program director but a terrible blogger sometimes.

Had to capture the giant moka pot on the side of that building!

After 2 years enjoying the golf course views and occasional deer sightings at the Castlerosse Hotel on the outskirts of Killarney, we had to change hotels this year to get the dates we wanted. We chose the Killarney Towers Hotel, right in the city center, and were not disappointed. Killarney town is pleasant and walkable, with lots of places to eat, drink, and shop, and the hotel is very comfortable, especially after 4 weeks of dorm beds and cafeteria food. I can’t speak for anyone else but I slept extremely well and enjoyed my bathtub very much.

Friday morning we got the worst weather of the day out of the way in the first 20 minutes while walking to the bus. The rest of the day was excellent–blue skies and puffy clouds but not too hot. Touring the Ring of Kerry is one of the few times during the program when we really need good weather, so we were blessed to get it! We visited some towns and historic sites and just plain gorgeous views during the day:

Kerry Bog Village: a reproduction 19th-century peat cutters’ village.

This “Romany caravan” is not very different from what traditional Irish Traveller caravans looked like in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The remains of a 19th-century stone cottage whose owners left because of the Famine.

The Bog Village has two Irish wolfhounds. They’re enormous but smiley and eager for pets.

Getting photos at a scenic overlook.

Waterville, where Charlie Chaplin lived.

From Com an Chiste you can see to the Skelligs if the weather is clear enough. We could not see Skellig Michael a.k.a. the Star Wars island.

Our final stop was the Ladies’ View, so called because Queen Victoria and her ladies-in-waiting thought it was the prettiest place on the Ring when they toured it.

Saturday we returned to Waterford by way of Blarney Castle. I continued my tradition of NOT going into the castle or kissing the stone. It was a particularly good day for not kissing the stone, because the place was packed and the queue was massive–up to an hour and a half wait. Luckily, the grounds and gardens are beautiful and it’s a great place to walk around and take photos. I never feel like I am missing out by not going in. The Blarney Castle “campus” is also the home to Blarney Woollen Mills, which bills itself as the biggest Irish goods store in the country. If you want a souvenir of Ireland–from a €3 plastic leprechaun to a €3000 piece of Waterford crystal–you can find it there. The number of Blarney Woollen Mills shopping bags that came back with us on the bus Saturday afternoon was . . . considerable.

What’s not pictured in my Ring of Kerry pictures is the time we spent riding the bus between “places.” The journey is at least as good as the destination; the point is definitely not to get there but to be there. And the views from the jump seat on the bus are spectacular! Just remember that cars go clockwise on the Ring and buses go counterclockwise (anticlockwise if you’re Irish). In a fair few spots the road is only about 1.25 lanes wide and someone has to move aside to let someone else pass. The Ring would not function if buses had to try to pass each other. Even with everyone moving in their prescribed directions, there’s always a BMW driver who thinks he can play chicken with a bus and win. I gotta give a shout out to our bus driver, Tony, who was doing the Ring for the first time and crushed it. He got us through Beemer encounters, hairpin turns, narrow tunnels, sections of road that were obviously paved-over cow paths (the Irish word for “road,” bóthar, literally means “cow path”), and a narrow escape from our hotel Saturday morning after a food delivery truck blocked the bus lane. I hope he had a really restful Sunday!

And now it’s Monday afternoon and we are officially on the short countdown to departure for home early Thursday morning. Already???

Ireland 2019: An Rinn Gaeltacht

Believe it or not, yesterday (Tuesday) was our last “regular” field trip. This program is flying by so fast! Everyone is starting to talk/ask questions about our departure back to Georgia, which is a week from tomorrow. Don’t ask me yet if I’m ready to go home! Yesterday we explored the part of Co. Waterford called An Rinn–loosely Anglicized as “Ring” but usually not Anglicized at all because An Rinn is a Gaeltacht: an Irish-speaking region. There are seven Gaeltachtaí in Ireland with An Rinn being the farthest east. We visited Coláiste na Rinne, a secondary school where all instruction is carried out in Irish, and met a couple of its administrators before setting off on our tour with one of them. Even the tiny bit of immersion we were in contact with by spending an hour there was interesting. It’s disconcerting to be in a school and realize you can’t understand the intercom announcements or the conversations between the staff members. But the existence and popularity of the school (which offers summer intensive programs as well as regular academic instruction) demonstrates how important the Irish language still is. I will say that after 3 years coming here, a tiny bit of independent study, and generally paying attention, I can recognize a few words in basic Irish and figure a little more out from context. So at least I am learning something. And I had a great conversation with our guide Martín about how new words are coined in Irish, using “mobile phone” as an example. It turns out that there are 2 terms for it: “fón póca” (pocket phone) and the more properly Gaelic “guthán soghluaiste” (phone that moves around).  Googling suggests that “fón póca” and “guthán póca” are more common. The other example I suggested to Martín was “transgender” but we didn’t get around to that one, unfortunately.

The first stop on our tour was the famine graveyard in Ardmore, which is the final resting place–in unmarked graves–of a thousand or more victims of the famine in the late 1840s. Between deaths and emigrations, Ireland’s population was cut in half by the famine and still has not recovered.

These places are sad but I am glad they still exist and people still visit them. Ireland’s history is still so present for its people–it’s something Americans could learn a lesson from.

With a few short stops along the way we arrived in the town of Ardmore where we set off with Liam, the former headmaster of Coláiste na Rinne, to tour some sites associated with St. Declan and take the Ardmore cliff walk. St. Declan lived in the 5th century and founded a monastery in Ardmore; he is considered at least locally to have preceded St. Patrick in bringing Christianity to Ireland:

This church window reminds viewers (in Irish) that “Declan is the Patrick of Waterford.”

St. Declan is said to have come here in a boat by following a mysterious floating stone.

Liam shows us this altar near St. Declan’s well in Ardmore.

The cliff walk itself is 4 kilometers and a little strenuous (but only a little), but well worth it for the amazing views:

The walk ends at the last St. Declan site, where he built his monastery and where he is buried:

The medieval round tower at the site of St. Declan’s monastery.

This field trip is great because all the students start out panicking about the walking distance and end up dazzled by how beautiful the cliffs are. Liam and Martín are great guides, too. Their pride in where they live and its history and culture shines through. Makes you want to be Irish or at least learn to speak Irish!

Ireland 2019: Wexford and Tipperary and hurling, oh my!

We had such a busy week last week! Kind of thought it would be mellow after Dublin but we kept things moving right along as we passed the halfway point of the program. Classes on Monday and Wednesday as usual, plus two cool field trips on Tuesday and Thursday:

Tuesday we visited three places in Co. Wexford, immediately northeast of Waterford along the coast. Wexford has the special distinctions of being our consultant Jonathan’s home and the 2019 Leinster hurling champions. Our students watched the Leinster final with intense interest–and, I suspect, some money on the line. When Wexford pulled out an unexpected victory, Georgia EC (as we are known here) got pretty excited! It was fun to go to Wexford right after the win and see the team colors flying everywhere around town.

We went to the 1798 Rebellion Centre in Enniscorthy, an interactive museum about–can you guess?–the 1798 rebellion of Irish insurgents against British troops. Although unsuccessful, the rebellion is considered important in the overall history of Irish independence and in linking Ireland with the revolutionary movements of the United States and France.

Students listening to a weapons demonstration

A quick lunch stop in Enniscorthy, which is small but pretty . . .

. . . and we went on to the Irish National Heritage Park. Here is where I admit that I did not take the tour this year, having done it three times already. But if you have a chance, you should go. The park reconstructs 9000 years of prehistoric and early Christian Ireland so you can get an idea of how people lived all those millennia ago. It is fascinating and worth seeing–at least 3 times.

“Program director privilege” is the right to skip the tour and sit in the café overlooking the back of the park instead.

We finished the day at the Dunbrody in New Ross. The Dunbrody is a reconstruction of a 19th-century famine ship and they do an interactive tour that describes the experience of crossing the Atlantic on such a ship.

The Dunbrody visitor center also has a great restaurant where we always eat dinner after the ship tour. It feels a little funny to learn about a famine and then have a nice meal, but the students love it.

Wednesday afternoon after classes we got to go over to the WIT Arena to learn the basics of how to play hurling. We get to do this every year and it is always a highlight. My colleague Paraic Fanning, who handles a lot of the logistical arrangements for our program, has been involved in hurling all his life and is actually manager for the Waterford senior hurling team this year. So he arranges for a couple of WIT GAA players to come and teach us the basics. Some of the students were surprisingly good!

Thursday was our trip to Co. Tipperary, which might be my favorite field trip day. We made 4 stops; the first was the Swiss Cottage, a 19th-century cottage orné (think of the Trianon at Versailles) built by the Butler family (like seemingly everything fancy in Ireland) and restored in the 1980s after some years of abandonment. No photos allowed inside but the outside is beautiful:

Next door (so to speak) in Cahir is Cahir Castle–the Butlers who built the Swiss Cottage were the 10th Baron Cahir and his wife but I don’t think they ever lived in the castle. It is great to look at but would have been expensive to furnish and heat.

We had lunch in Cashel at the Brú Ború Cultural Centre and enjoyed a mini performance of traditional Irish music and dancing that, it being the 4th of July, culminated in a surprise performance of the Marine Corps Hymn by one of the musicians who had been in the U.S. Marines. I’m not sure who was more delighted–us or the musician! After Brú Ború we had time to meander all over the Rock of Cashel and enjoy the amazing views. The Rock is a huge limestone outcrop on which a cathedral was built in the 13th century. A late-18th-century archbishop had the weird idea to move the cathedral to a different site and removed the roof as a first step. The plan foundered after that and the cathedral–probably the most impressive in Ireland if it had remained intact–has become a ruin. Even as a ruin it is dazzling:

The view from the Rock is amazing as well.

Finally, on Friday night the faculty took the bus to Dungarvan–about 45 minutes away on the coast–for dinner at the Tannery, a restaurant owned by Lords & Ladles chef Paul Flannery. It was a great experience: outstanding food and drinks in a gracious (but not intimidating) atmosphere. I had:

Heirloom tomato salad to start.

Imam bayildi (had never heard of it; delicious) as the main course

Chocolate mousse served with lemon sponge for dessert

And Dungarvan looking gorgeous at sunset when we left the restaurant to catch the bus back:

I’m finishing this entry fresh off the U.S. women’s World Cup victory, which we watched in the local pub in good Irish style. Congratulations, USA!  Ready for another big week to start tomorrow.

Ireland 2019: Dublin visit

Our program’s visit to Dublin each year is definitely a highlight. It’s fantastic to have a program that’s not based in a major city; being in Waterford is much less costly and affords us more flexibility to travel around the country. But Dublin is the capital, it’s an amazing city, and it is not to be missed. Interestingly, the students don’t always love it. Many of them are attracted to this program because of its more rural setting. The sudden plunge into an urban environment at the height of tourist season is challenging. They learn plenty about Irish history and culture in Dublin but they learn at least as much about forward planning, problem-solving, and using public transit. And Gaelic sports! Our first stop is Croke Park, the national home of Gaelic sports–hurling, camogie, Gaelic football, and women’s Gaelic football. It has an important place in the history of Irish independence as the site of the 1920 “Bloody Sunday” attack. The stadium in its current form (there has been a GAA venue on the site since 1913) seats about 82,000 people.

In the dressing room listening to our tour guide.

Looking up the stands to where trophies are presented.

On the pitch, or at least next to it–we were not allowed to walk on the grass!

The best part of the Croke Park tour is the “skywalk” around the top of the stadium. Great views of Dublin!

On the “cantilever” section of the skywalk that extends over the pitch. I love it up there!

From Croke Park we stop at our lodgings on Dublin City University’s Glasnevin campus (check out DCU Rooms if you need inexpensive, no-frills accommodation in Dublin in the summer) to drop off luggage, then head into the center of the city for a short walking tour down O’Connell Street to Trinity College. The Liffey River divides Dublin into north and south sides and makes it pretty easy to navigate. Starting from Charles Stuart Parnell’s statue on upper O’Connell, you head down toward the river via the General Post Office (important 1916 Rising site) and the Millennium Spire to Daniel O’Connell’s statue. Cross the river and bear right and you’re at the front gate of Trinity College. It’s taken me a few visits to get the hang of all this but I’m finally getting the rest of my Dublin points of interest oriented around those basic landmarks.

Parnell’s statue at the top of O’Connell

Looking down O’Connell toward the Spire.

The Spire + the GPO + a Dublin Bus is Dublin in one photograph.

At the base of O’Connell’s statue, Jonathan fills us in on some history.

Crossing the river

Trinity College

From here we dismissed the students to get dinner on their own and we faculty decamped to an undisclosed location for our dinner (Pro[gram director] tip: keep a good restaurant/bar/pub in your back pocket and do not share it with students. Everyone needs their own space). On Wednesday the faculty had field trips with their classes but I did not have to attend anyone’s field trip, so I was at large in Dublin:

This is my favorite spot on a Dublin Bus (top deck, front seat) right up until the bus lurches to a stop 1.5″ from the back of another bus.

I went back to the Book of Kells and Old Library at Trinity. No photography in the Book of Kells room but they did have this great exhibit of the materials used to make colored inks for manuscripts.

Some friends I saw in the Old Library . . .

The beloved second husband of my research subject Mary Delany.

Shakespeare, of course!

The “Brian Boru harp,” a Renaissance-era harp traditionally associated with the legendary medieval musician Brian Boru and now used as a national symbol of Ireland.

They call it the Old Library but it never gets old.

Love this quotation on a window at Trinity.

 

Thursday I went with one of the professors and his class on his field trip to St. Patrick’s Cathedral (my favorite place in Dublin) and then to Glasnevin Cemetery, Ireland’s national cemetery. There are three times more people buried in Glasnevin than there are living in Dublin today! I somehow barely took any pictures at St. Patrick’s

Queen Anne’s patent granting Jonathan Swift the freedom of the city of Dublin.

Stained glass in St. Patrick’s

Saw lots of unusual and beautiful monuments at Glasnevin:

Daniel O’Connell’s grave

Friday was the beginning of our free weekend and of my weekend off. I kept it mellow in Dublin and finally made it to visit the Chester Beatty Library, a fantastic museum of manuscripts (and some early print materials) from around the world. Couldn’t take pictures inside the exhibits but the building and grounds are really cool too.

Making friends in St. Stephen’s Green.

Approaching the Chester Beatty.

Inside the roof garden.

Looking out from the roof garden.

Back at ground level. That’s Dublin Castle across the lawn.

My favorite part of the weekend was Saturday (yesterday) when I went to Dublin Pride. I hadn’t been to a Pride parade since about 2004 and I regretted not going to last year’s Dublin Pride, so I decided to make up for it this year. It was so much fun. Just a friendly and happy atmosphere with smiles on everyone’s faces and, of course, rainbows everywhere:

The GPO decked out for the occasion.

Dublin Bus goes all-out for Pride every year.

#bootenvy

Everyone was in the parade. Not just LGBT+ organizations but political parties, unions, government bureaux, corporations (lots of tech companies have headquarters in Dublin): everyone!

The Gardaí brought their band, a bunch of officers in dress uniform, and another bunch of “supporters” in matching t-shirts.

Some awesome wings.

Teachers!

I’m thinking these folks are SCA?

Dropbox’s float

My colleague Dr. Stewart will want to add this suit to his collection.

See, everyone was in the parade!

I went to the after party in Merrion Square for a few minutes but before I knew it it was time to go back to DCU and collect my backpack, then head to the train station and back to Waterford. The week and weekend were packed and seemed to go by so fast; I know my pictures and paragraphs do not do justice. I did not take pictures of:

  • Breakfast at DCU
  • Riding the #13 bus a million times
  • Hodges Figgis
  • Walking 10 miles a day, mostly on O’Connell St.
  • Two different picnic lunches in parks
  • Coffee Angel, Costa, Caffe Nero, another Costa . . .
  • An amazing dinner at Marco Pierre White
  • A pint of Guinness, a pint of Bulmer’s, maybe another pint of Bulmer’s in there somewhere
  • Everything I didn’t buy in Grafton Street

Dublin is pretty cool, folks. I recommend it.

Ireland 2019: First week

It’s Thursday Friday and this week we’ve been through 2 class days and 2 field trip days, 6 doctor visits (!), 4 breakfasts, 2 lunches, at least 2 counties, one cathedral, two castles, and an undefined but large quantity of ice cream. Students and most of the faculty are off on their first free weekend and I am holding the fort here and getting some work done (read “watching Netflix”) while it’s quiet.

It feels like the days and weeks go faster every year that I’m here, maybe because there is an element of routine that is created. It’s nice to feel a sense of routine in a faraway place–one of the advantages of returning to a destination multiple times. A few things change (the cafeteria has been remodeled, the bus routes have been renumbered) but many more stay the same. All of a sudden lots of people here at WIT know me, and I know them. “Welcome back” is a sweet thing to hear!

Classes have been going smoothly and although we did have an unusual number of minor illnesses this past week, I think we are over that particular hump. The physical and mental stress of travel will do a number on one’s immune system, so it’s not that surprising that we had a few casualties. What is surprising is that this group of students has been fantastic about showing up on time for everything. It sounds like a small matter but in a group situation, getting everyone from place to place in a timely manner is a challenge. The challenge is compounded if people are a little lackadaisical about the schedule. We impressed this concern on the students at orientation and they have really come through. Every time we get on the bus, we count off to make sure we’re all aboard, and every time, they’re all in place.  It’s dazzling!

So here were our field trip destinations for this week: Tuesday we started at Woodstock House, a former eighteenth-century stately home that is now a ruin and unlikely to be restored (for a mixture of political and economic reasons), but that is surrounded by extensive and very beautiful gardens that are under restoration by Kilkenny County Council.

Thomas Francis Meagher Bridge, the longest single bridge span in the Republic and surely the prettiest.

Woodstock House–likely to stay a ruin as it would cost a fortune to restore and not everyone appreciates a monument to British aristocracy.

Flowers at Woodstock House

The view from the front garden of Woodstock House.

From there we went to Kilkenny town to visit St. Canice’s Cathedral, second oldest in Ireland after St. Patrick’s in Dublin, and Kilkenny Castle. They are separated by the “Medieval Mile,” a narrow street of shops and restaurants that reminds you how old the city is. It’s a fantastic place.

The medieval round tower at St. Canice’s–one of only a few in which you can climb to the top.

Stained glass is hard to photograph but sometimes I get lucky.

Stained glass at St. Canice’s

The Butlers of Ormonde ruled the Kilkenny area starting in the 1300s and owned Kilkenny Castle until 1967.

An epitaph that both ticked me off and touched my heart

Kilkenny Castle

Kilkenny Castle

Every young teen in France was at Kilkenny Castle on Tuesday.

Thursday we went to Dungarvan in Co. Waterford to visit a 12th-century castle situated there and spend the afternoon in town. Between Kilkenny, which is a great but busy and full day, and our odyssey to Dublin next week, Dungarvan is a great chance for everyone to take a breath.

Looking in through the gate of Dungarvan Castle.

Dungarvan Castle’s tower

The white building is an 18th-century military barracks.

A small street market in Dungarvan

My favorite!

Cutest little wi-fi sign I have ever seen.

The pace of life really is different here. It has taken me this long to even begin to get used to it, and I am still overclocked compared to the Irish people I work with. Don’t get me wrong: they have plenty of hustle. Plenty. But they don’t do performative busyness like Americans do, and they take more advantage than we do of social connections when doing business. I’ve never been invited to a “meeting” here, though I’ve had plenty of them. It’s just that around here a meeting is called “We’ll have a coffee.”

I’ve been here 10 days and have had approximately 600 flat whites.

Ireland 2019 arrival weekend

Finally bobbing to the surface after the open-water swim of arrival weekend! It is so exciting to welcome students here every year, but inevitably it’s a bit hectic even when everything goes as well as it can. In this case everything really did go as well as it could. The flight was on time, everyone got their luggage, and by the end of the day (Friday) we had the group successfully housed, fed, and oriented. Saturday we toured Waterford and Tramore in much better weather than the students had arrived in, thank goodness!

Reginald’s Tower in Waterford city centre near the river

Students learning about the Charter Roll in the Medieval Museum

The Medieval Museum holds the only set of pre-Reformation cloth of gold vestments in Europe.

Some of these vestments weigh so much that putting them on takes two helpers.

Students listening to Jack Burchell’s tour outside Waterford Crystal

Inside Christchurch Cathedral

Acting out the marriage of Strongbow and Aoife, which took place in Waterford in 1170 and began the long history of Anglo-Irish relations.

Students at Tramore. It was a tad windy!

By the end of Saturday we were all ready for a rest. The dorms were quiet until early afternoon Sunday, especially because it poured rain intermittently through the day! Today, classes started and we are all getting into the groove. Fingers crossed that the sunshine sticks around for our visit to Kilkenny tomorrow.

 

Ireland, I am in you.

The thing about going from Macon, Georgia to Waterford, Ireland is that even when everything goes perfectly, it just takes a while. I left home at 4:00 p.m. Eastern time yesterday (Monday) and got to Waterford at 4:00 p.m. Irish time today (Tuesday). That’s about 20 hours door to door if my math is right. Groome shuttle to the Atlanta airport, Delta flight from Atlanta to Dublin, bus from Dublin airport to Heuston train station, train from Dublin to Waterford, taxi to Waterford Institute of Technology. Planes, trains, and  automobiles, check check check.

So it’s been a long odyssey but it all went very smoothly with minimal stress. Now I am in my room at WIT having made it to within 20 minutes of my “first night in Europe” assigned bedtime. (The rule is: NO NAPS.) I’m going to sleep very well tonight.

Just a few pictures from my journey. You will notice that I’m not actually in any of them, because “transatlantic flight” and “photo ready” are mutually exclusive.

Lucky shot on my way to my gate last night.

My ride to Dublin: Boeing 767-400.

Crossing Dublin on a gorgeous day.

Countryside scenery from the train.

Hello again, WIT!

Dorm Sweet Dorm

More and better blog content when students arrive Friday, if not sooner.

Ireland 2019: Packing time!

I’ll be traveling to Ireland tomorrow night to kick off this year’s European Council study abroad program there–students arrive June 14–so today is packing day! This year is my third on the program so I almost have the packing down to a routine, but of course every year is a little different. Signficant example: last summer was unusually warm (highs in the low 80s Fahrenheit) whereas temperatures this coming week are much more typically Irish (highs in the 60s). It looks like my program director persona “Dr. Laura Trenchcoat” will be at large in the Republic once again. I’m also taking along a few more books than usual since I have to write some syllabi this summer. No worries about coming in under the limit (50 pounds) but this year may not see a personal record for packing light. Here’s what I’ve got:

Suitcase and carry-on. Suitcase is 26″ x 19″ x 8″ and weighs about 6 lbs. empty. Backpack is . . . the size of a backpack?

Cross-body bag for daily carry once I get there.

Pants, long-sleeve shirts, and sweaters. I may have a little problem with stripes.

T-shirts, my WIT Vikings pullover, and the pencil skirt and leggings I plan to wear on the plane.

Exercise clothes and my travel yoga mat, which successfully passed the “But will I use it?” test last year.

Shoes!

Important odds and ends: washcloths (never provided in Europe), plug adapters (can’t have too many), mini tripod (handy), luggage scale and corkscrew (ways to make myself indispensable)

Carry-on toiletries–trying to keep it minimal but I’ll probably stick a mascara and lip gloss in there in the morning.

Electronics–this time it’s my phone that isn’t pictured because I was using it to take the pictures!

All you REALLY need is your passport and credit card. And BuJo. And €13 in change. And Duke.

Copies of my passport and credit cards ride in the suitcase to make replacement easier if anything gets lost.

Everything in except toiletries and my trench coat. As always, socks, underwear, and PJs are not pictured.

The research questions embedded in this year’s packing are:

  • I’m adding a Bluetooth speaker this year because I wish I had one every year. Will it pass the “But will I use it?” test?
  • I am not taking my “real” camera because I suspect it’s starting to die. Can I take 5 weeks’ worth of attractive and interesting pictures with an iPhone 6S? Here’s hoping.
  • Have I brought enough warm clothes? Probably.
  • And will I regret taking only sneakers? Proximate cause to buy shoes in Ireland, so no.

Shuttle to the airport at 5:00 tomorrow afternoon. Flight at 9:45, arriving in Dublin at 10:35 Tuesday morning. I’m excited!

Knights Impact 2019: Adventure day in Grand Turk

For our last port day we did not schedule an impact activity but instead gave the students an opportunity to choose their own adventures. Most of our group had never cruised before, some had never been out of the U.S., lots had never swum in the ocean (it was only my second time) or gone ziplining or snorkeling or any of that good stuff, so even though it was more of a “fun” day it was still a good way to get everyone out of our comfort zones a little bit. We had about 5 hours in port in Grand Turk so we had to make the most of a brief stop. One group maximized the time by booking an excursion that squeezed in a dune buggy ride, horseback riding, ziplining, and snorkeling. They got back just in time to board the ship and they were exhausted, but very happy!

I went with 7 students who had chosen a snorkeling and conch diving excursion. Back in the fall in Cozumel was my first time snorkeling and I loved it, so I was excited to go again. Students had mixed experiences: swimming in the ocean was more daunting than they expected, and using the snorkel mask definitely takes getting used to. It’s not natural to breathe with your face in the water, and some of them said it was hard to remember to breathe through their mouths instead of their noses, or that the mask felt too confining. But everyone ultimately was happy and excited that they went, and I do think it’s much easier to do the second time than the first time, so I hope they will all try it again. After snorkeling we tried out diving for conch. I got back in the water for that part but didn’t actually dive, just looked around under water a bit more and then got out. My lesson learned yesterday was to take off my rashguard when I’m not actually swimming–otherwise I get too cold! Finally, we went to a small beach at Gibbs Cay to visit the stingrays. It’s amazing to see them just gliding around under the water. The guides knew how to catch and hold them so we could touch them and give them kisses. I touched one but did not give a kiss, even though it’s supposed to be lucky. (I don’t kiss the Blarney Stone either!)

It was a tremendous day that seemed to go by in a flash. Grand Turk is unbelievably beautiful with aquamarine water and gorgeous beaches. I definitely want to go back and spend more time there. Chris and I finished the day with fried plantains on the beach before collecting the students to board the ship and head for home. We’re on our final sea day now and will dock in Port Canaveral early tomorrow morning.

On the way to the reef

Snorkeling Mode: Activated

Conch diving

A swim noodle is your friend!

Rays under the water

Gibbs Cay where we visited the rays

Carnival Breeze (left) and Carnival Magic in port 

 

Knights Impact 2019: San Juan, Puerto Rico

We had a super busy and successful day in San Juan yesterday. After two stops in tropical-looking ports surrounded by rural environments, it was surprising to pull into a major city! We were off the ship at 8:00 a.m. and used Uber to get over to Casa de Niños Manuel Fernández Juncos. Casa de Niños is a home for boys ages 8 to 18 who have had to leave their homes due to abuse or neglect. Apparently some of their family situations are so precarious that their parents are not allowed to know where they have been placed. It’s always sad when a child can’t be with his family but the 30 boys at Casa de Niños receive excellent care including counseling and a transition program when they turn 18. The facility is spacious, tranquil, and immaculate, and it was even a little more immaculate when we got finished with it. Lidia, who coordinates donations, met us at the front door with a to-do list and the students got right to work washing vans, repairing a cracked wall, raking leaves, and cleaning windows.

These students continue to impress me with their willingness to dive right in and contribute, even in unfamiliar surroundings and for the benefit of people they don’t know. We also had a chance to talk to some of the employees and learn a little more about how Casa de Niños operates, and everyone asked excellent questions.

After our morning of work we toured old San Juan and the two forts/castles that stand on the coast about a mile apart. San Cristobal is on the northern side of the peninsula and El Morro faces west. I took a group of 4 students and we started at San Cristobal, then walked up along the coast to El Morro and down through the town with a stop for empanadas back to the port. It was a lot of walking after our strenuous morning but we enjoyed it. As we were leaving El Morro we encountered Chris with the other 8 students. They had run into the governor of Puerto Rico and gotten a picture with him! We did not get so lucky but we did get a picture with an iguana.

San Cristobal from below–we had stopped at a sidewalk stand for smoothies and fruit salad.

Both forts fly the U.S. flag, the Puerto Rican flag, and the Spanish military flag.

The cylindrical structure on the right is called a garita; garitas are symbols of San Juan.

In front of El Morro is a huge lawn where people fly kites.

Our group inside El Morro

They met the governor!

We met an iguana!

We were all happy to get back on the ship at 3:30 and relax before dinner. It was a big day! Sailing in and out of San Juan is beautiful because you sail right past the 2 forts and the city skyline.

Bye, San Juan!

Now we are en route to Grand Turk, our last stop. Today will be an adventure day: one group is going ziplining and horseback riding and another group (including me) is going snorkeling. Stay tuned!