Another MAMMOTH blog post coming at you!! It covers over two weeks, the bulk of which includes my parents visit and our trip to Paris and London!! It was a once-in-a-lifetime fairytale trip and I couldn’t be more grateful to them for it! After a description of my latest mountain climb, I break down the post by the country we were in once my parents got here! Ireland is first, France and then England! (Harry Potter Tour spoilers at the bottom just a warning)!!!
My adventure (well, I guess this whole semester has been an adventure so my LATEST adventure) started out on Saturday April 11th with the climbing of Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s Holy Mountain. While my parents were on a trans-Atlantic flight on their way to see me I was hiking through all 4 seasons of weather. It is 764 meters (2,605 feet) tall and is found in County Mayo, Ireland. Croagh Patrick has been a site of pilgrimage since 3000 BC (pagan and Christian) because St. Patrick fasted for 40 days at the summit in 500 AD. Today there is a chapel at the top which holds service twice a year- Easter Sunday and Reek Sunday. Reek Sunday is the most popular day for thousands of people make the climb to cleanse their sins, and many of them do it barefoot!!
The climb was much tougher than I expected- and I did it in sturdy hiking boots! The terrain is mostly rock and the last 1/3 of the climb is extremely steep. Surprisingly enough, the way back down was the scariest part because the rocks slipped underneath us! The view from the summit was breathtaking and the skies were sunny and clear! On the way up and down the mountain though, the rain and hail struck. Irish weather never knows what it wants.
Post-climb I hopped in the shower and walked to my parents’ hotel to sit and wait! I greeted them with gigantic hugs and a huge smile when they finally walked through that door! After my long day of hiking and their long day of travel we decided to eat dinner at the hotel restaurant and of course my dad needed to have a Guinness!
Galway- I really wanted to showcase what I have been up to in Ireland for my parents so I showed them my resident favorite things- my Sunday market donut man, full Irish breakfasts, the Salthill Promenade, and of course all the best pubs for live music! My Mom and I also got our Claddagh rings which I have been waiting for all semester.
The story of the Claddagh (pronounced CLA- DAW) is a unique one to Galway- The Claddagh Ring is believed to have originated in the fishing village situated near the “shore” or “Claddagh” of Galway Bay. The hands are for friendship, the heart is for love and the crown is for loyalty. The tradition of how to wear this ring is very distinctive. If the owner of the ring wears it with the crown pointing towards the finger nail, his or her heart is taken. To wear the ring with heart pointing to the finger nail, he or she is said to be unattached to anyone and the heart is available! Young men in Galway are known for flipping young girls’ rings to take their hearts! (Don’t worry Zach).
Mama Schuetz wanted to try her hand on cooking in an Irish kitchen so one night we even made dinner for a few of my study abroad friends- a much appreciated meal for broke study abroaders!
Cliffs of Moher (yes, again)- The weather was a bit better than the last time I went (sorry about the fog Zach). My parents got a great view of the Cliffs, many selfies were taken and they saw a few castles, ruins of churches, and lots of sheep of course!!
We had (okay, devourered) some fish and chips for dinner and then went to another pub called An Pucan for live music! A Pucan is a type of fishing boat common to the Galway area so of course Papa Schuetz was right at home with anything to do with water and/or boats.
Aran Islands: Inis Mor- Tuesday had a little rain and clouds in store for us but we didn’t let that bring us down! We took a bus tour of Inis Mor (The largest of The Aran Islands) with a wonderful guide named Patrick. He called himself Saint Patrick and had one of the THICKEST Irish accents I have ever heard in my life. Although I maintain that biking is the best way to see the island, the bus tour made much more sense with the weather and I actually learned a lot from Pat. One of the most interesting things I learned was that the police officers on the island are changed out yearly so they don’t start to make favorites as the island is so small!
Dublin- After a lovely train ride we arrived in Dublin and took a double-decker bus hop on, hop off bus tour. We did the hop on part really well but didn’t really nail the hop off part! We actually enjoyed just hanging out on the bus for the 2-hour loop and learning all the history behind Dublin. Despite my urgings, my lovely parents didn’t want to do the Guinness or Jameson tours (I think they were tired from all the pubs in Galway!!) After our tour we took a recommendation from the driver for a delicious restaurant and we went back to the hotel to crash. Study abroad DOES include studying though- after they went to sleep I worked on two final essays to be submitted later in the week!
PARIS- The day I had been waiting for since 7th grade. My mom promised she would take me to Paris when I first started taking French in middle school if I would finish French all the way through high school. I completed my end of the bargain and now we have reached our dream destination together! Dinner was our first stop and French cuisine did not disappoint. Next we took a stroll around the neighborhood we were staying in and found the Eiffel tower was only a 10 minute walk away! At 9 pm the tower lit up and sparkled continuously. People were strewn about the lawn enjoying wine and cheese picnics. Surreal. It was magical!
Notre Dame Cathedral– Notre Dame was more beautiful that I imagined, and we were lucky to beat the crowds early in the morning! The stained glass windows, the gorgeous architecture and the rich history surrounding the cathedral were humbling. The name means “Our Lady” in French and it is one of the finest examples of French gothic architecture. During the French Revolution, parts of the cathedral and many religious relics were destroyed but restoration and maintenance has occurred to revive its former glory.
Seine River walk guided tour- We were lucky to have a private walking tour of Paris along the Seine! Our guide was originally from Dublin so we all bonded immediately over our love of Ireland. He expertly weaved French history and historic sites through a mix of storytelling and drama. The tour included the Shakespeare and Company Bookstore which has been there for centuries, the “Love Lock” bridge, Place de la Concorde, the Champs- Elysees, the Musee D’Orsay and ended with a “highlights” guided tour of the Louvre. Perks of pre-booking through a travel agent include a skip-the-line tour so we felt like royalty walking past the hordes of people waiting in line!
Louvre- The Louvre exhibits nearly 35,000 artifacts from pre-history to the 21st century and is the world’s most visited museum. The Louvre palace actually began as a fortress in the 12th Century by Phillip II and remnants from this original building are still visible below the museum. Our highlights tour included Egyptian relics like the Large Sphinx, Greek and Roman sculptures like Venus de Milo and Winged Victory, and of course the famous Mona Lisa. Having a personal guide made the experience much more intimate and it was easier to ignore the crowds. Having historical context made it more enjoyable and I was able to fully grasp the depth of the work because it made the giant building much less intimidating. I maintain we would have been lost physically and emotionally in the Louvre without our guide! Later in the week we went back to the Louvre simply to see it lit up at night which we definitely DID NOT regret.
Arc de Triomphe- We decided to get 3 day metro passes which proved to be one of our best choices in Paris! The system is extremely easy to use and we mastered it within a few trips. Our proudest moment was when we ventured out to see the Arc de Triomphe. We planned our route and executed it perfectly. I will never forget popping up our of the underground metro station to see the Arc de Triomphe 20 feet from me! Luckily we also realized that you must go underground again to climb it and actually stand by it so we didn’t have to risk our lives in the crazy traffic circle surrounding the magnificent Arch. My parents decided to stay on the ground while I ventured to the top and 264 steps later I saw one of my favorite views in Paris. A perfectly clear day provided an extraordinary panoramic view of Paris, including the Eiffel Tower.
Versailles tour- Oh, Versailles. The biggest thing I got from the palace was that- NO WONDER THE FRENCH REVOLUTION HAPPENED!!?? The Palace was were the royal family lived from 1682, when Louis XIV moved from Paris, until the royal family was forced to return to the capital in October 1789 after the beginning of the French Revolution. It was formerly a hunting lodge to Louis’ father. Louis XIV is also known as “the sun king” so sun motifs are used throughout the palace as well as LOTS of paintings of Louis and company. And lots of gold. LOTTA gold. It is the most ridiculous, opulent and extravagant place I have ever seen. Definitely worth a visit. The gardens are on another level too. Vast expanses of perfectly manicured green grass, with shrubs and flowers and fountains.
Top of the Eiffel Tower- On Sunday morning we braved the crowds and got in line for the elevator to the top of the big one herself- the Eiffel Tower. We all agreed that it isn’t overhyped and it is a must-do in Paris. LOVED the whole experience. One of my favorite things was actually a wrap-around banner on the top floor that points in the direction of the world’s major cities from the tower. I found Dublin of course!
Marche D’Aligre and lovely nap- On our last day in Paris we went to an open-air market and bought some goodies for a picnic. We plopped down in the Parisian sun, ate our baguettes, cheese, and strawberries and each enjoyed a cat nap in the park. It was the perfect way to spend our last afternoon, and how fitting that we end our trip stuffing ourselves silly on bread and cheese because we basically ate our way through Paris! Paris was the highlight of my trip and I will hopefully be going back someday!
Musee D’Orsay- The impressionist museum built inside a former train station. Monet, Degas and Van Gogh, oh my! I felt so cultured and artsy.
After a wonderful 4 days in Paris with the relaxed nature of Parisians and the easy lifestyle of picnics in the park, London felt like a huge metropolis but the vibe was energetic in a good way. We took the train from Paris to London, which goes under the English Channel for part of the journey. We were lucky enough to be bumped up to first class and were suprised when we were served full meals and wine! Once again, I felt like a peasant out of place in my jeans and converse but YOLO.
Les Miserables- As a seamless transition from Paris to London, my wonderful mama and I got tickets to see Les Mis at the Queens theatre. Dad passed because when we saw the movie in theaters as a family both him and Bre fell asleep. At Les Mis. Heartless and soulless. Alas, my mom and I had the perfect girls evening getting dressed up and had GREAT seats. We laughed, cried, and felt empowered. The show was fantastic: the set, the costumes, the music, everything. Highly recommend it!! One of the coolest things about the show was the rotating circular stage. It made the small, intimate theatre stage feel much larger and allowed much more action to take place. We were amazed at the possibilities created by their creativity.
St. Pauls Cathedral- Another city, another gorgeous cathedral. Just another reminder that our churches pale in comparison in the states. It sits atop the highest point in the city of London and is an Anglican church. One of the coolest things we learned was that as WWII was winding down, the British people and army wanted to do something to honor the fallen American men. The American Memorial Chapel was paid for and sponsored by the British people and is dedicated to the Americans that lost their lives in WWII. There is a book containing the names of the fallen located in the special American wing, and the page is turned once a day by a man wearing white gloves. Although photography isn’t permitted inside the cathedral, I have provided several photos via google below to showcase the beauty.
Changing of the Guard- We were able to catch the iconic ceremony of the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace. The guards are all active soldiers and we were informed that they much prefer live combat to being gawked at by thousands of tourists daily 🙂
Tower of London- The Tower has served variously as an armory, a treasury, a menagerie., the home of the Royal Mint, a public records office, and the home of the Crown Jewels of England. It was really fun to walk around and talk to a real live beef-eater: the nick name for the guards!
London Eye- I have to admit the London Eye was a really great view and very fun experience but a bit overpriced. The ride is largely like a ferris wheel, with you and about 10-15 others encapsulated in a slow-moving glass bean. One revolution takes about 30 minutes and the views of London were unrivaled by anything else.
Stonehenge- Another mind boggling historic site, Stonehenge is in the middle of the most dense complex of Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments in England, including several hundred burial mounds and archaeologists believe it was built anywhere from 3000 BC to 2000 BC. Amazingly, each summer solstice the central Altar stone aligns with the Slaughter stone, Heel stone and the rising sun to the northeast. The sun rises right over Stonehenge, perfectly aligned.
Bath and the Roman Baths- The Roman baths are a well-preserved site for Roman public bathing. The water bubbles up from the ground at temperature over 100 degrees F. Folklore presents us with a story of a Celtic King who was cured of leprosy in the spring waters. The town of Bath sprung up as a spa town and became most popular during the Roman occupation of England. The water itself is green because exposure to air causes algae growth, but in Roman times the baths were covered by a ceiling. In the pump room, there is safe, fresh spring water to try and taste (it is weirdly hot). The actual “bath” water is no longer safe to bathe in though because it is pumped through lead pipes!! (yikes).
The city of Bath is absolutely adorable and worth visiting by itself as well! The street performers are wonderful, there is some great ice cream and the bath pasty- a wonderful croissant like roll filled with a sort of pot-roast stew. Hearty and delicious.
Windsor Castle- In Jeff Schuetz’ words: “I’ve seen enough castles.” Yes, it is true we did see A LOT of castles, and nothing really can compare to the Palace of Versailles but Windsor was worth a visit. The best thing is that it is actually INHABITED- imagine that! A flag flying over the castle tells the public whether the Queen is in or not. The Union Jack flag signifies she is out on business while the Queen’s flag flies when Liz is in! My favorite was Queen Mary’s doll house- it has working lights, monogrammed linens and a garage full of cars with working engines Equal parts ridiuclous and wonderful it really makes the Barbie dream house look like a ramble shack.
Harry Potter Tour- The moment you have all been waiting for. It was glorious. The real sets, costumes, wigs, makeup, everything. It’s all there. I was surprised to see how small some of the sets were, and seeing the process behind the movies was really awesome. Getting to the Warner Bros Studio though was a production- first an underground train, then overground and then a bus but I made it!! For any Potter fan it is an absolutely must-do. Fun fact: the actor that plays Hagrid is really only 6’2”. There is a body double for him for full-body scenes, shoes with lifts are used and furniture tricks are used to make him appear taller and bigger. The rest of the cast would be shot with large furniture to appear small while Hagrid would be shot with small furniture to appear, well, gigantic. He also had an animatronic head that was full-giant sized when it was needed. I geeked out for
a few 4 hours, sue me.
Harrods- My mom and I desperately wanted to visit the luxury department store in London and we were awestruck by the massive production it is! It is the largest department store in Europe and boasts luxury men’s & women’s departments including luxury accessories and shoes, as well as wine, spirits, cigars, a “fine watch room”, cosmetics, an entire top-end food hall, homeware, a toy kingdom, technology room, and even a Harrod’s Gift shop…. for a department store.
Friday was my return to Galway. I jumped on a flight back to Shannon, Ireland while my parents took a flight back to MSP. It was hard to say good bye yet again, but I’m on the home stretch! I can’t believe I only have 16 days left. My guess is I will write 1 more post here and maybe another post after I get back and re-experience culture shock! Right now I am studying for my three finals on May 7th and 8th and then I might go on one last hike somewhere in Ireland before I head home on the 14th! Thankfully I have an interview lined up the week I get back because my bank account is very sad after all my travels despite me being extremely happy about all the travels!
Sending love from a windy day in Ireland that is forcing me to study,