Saturday, February 27, 2010

berlin, day 1.

last monday i had the pleasure of waking up niiiice and early in order to leave ballyvaughan at 5:30am. the flight was leaving from dublin, which is a good three and a half hour drive. this meant lots of quality bus time! i'm really, really awesome at getting up and staying up, but it seemed like not too many others were keen on chatting on the way there. everyone except for lindsey and i passed out immediately, which left me no choice but to take photos of them sleeping uncomfortably on their freezing seats.

i have trillions more, but i will spare you. our flight left sometime around noon and was about two hours long, so by the time we actually got to berlin it was going on 3:30 (with time change and all). we were staying the meininger hotel ("the urban traveller's home" haha) right next to hauptbahnhof (or "central station"), which turned out to be the perfect location in order to access trains or be able to walk fairly quickly and easily most places.

(here's a photo of the back of hauptbahnhof that i swiped from kelly. it's biiiig!)

turns out there seemed to be an entire school's worth of 15 and 16 year olds on some sort of trip that completely overran the entire hotel. and, since the drinking age is 16 in germany, they were thrilled at being able to drink at the hotel bar and i saw loads and loads of them carrying huge amounts of booze upstairs. yikes! those poor chaperones. luckily they didn't prove to be too much of a bother besides thinking it's absolutely hilarious to press every single button on the elevator or the boys trying to mack on us ladies, and once we'd shoot them down they'd tell us that we were ugly anyway! well, it is true that the germans aren't well known for their kindness...

after having a little while to settle in and rest, i went for a walk with tim (dean at the burren) and some of the other students around 5:30 in order to get acquainted a little bit. we headed south and checked out the platz der republik (the government buildings) just across the river. we stopped for a while outside the reichstagsgebäude and tim showed us on the pavement where one can still see the demarcation line (where the wall used to stand) between east and west germany. from there we went past the brandenburg gate, where loads and loads of teenagers were hanging out.

just a block south of there is the holocaust memorial, which was absolutely breathtaking and haunting, especially at night. i explored for a while inside of it, but decided i needed to come back by myself later on (which i did, and i took some photos). being at the center was striking, as all light from the city was blocked out, but one could still hear all of the muffled cars and people and such on the outside. if all i saw of berlin was the memorial i would be completely satisfied, it's really the most remarkable piece of art.

then we cut east towards friedrichstraße and took that north to oranienburger straße, towards the center of the mitte district. mitte was one of the areas of berlin most heavily populated by jews and hit the hardest by the nazis on kristallnacht. known now as the artist's quarter, it's a really amazing mix of high class galleries and restaurants and cheap bars, street stands, and artist squats.

by the time we reached mitte it was probably about 7:30 and people were pretty hungry and tuckered out, so we split up for the evening. i decided to stay in the area for a while and went out to eat with a few others at an amazing singaporese restaurant called mirchi. below are a few photos i found online of the place:

it looks (and was!) super fancy, but also so cheap! food everywhere in berlin was really, really, amazingly inexpensive, at least when compared to ireland. everyone got the most amazing curries and noodles, and we were given free glasses of mango bubbling wine with our dinners. so so so delicious. why don't restaurants in the states give out free booze? they do that everywhere over here! mmmmm...

after dinner a couple people split and headed back to the hotel but simon, john, suzanne and i wanted to check out kunsthaus tacheles right across the street, which is this huge building that was built originally as a department store, then taken over by the nazis and used as a main headquarters during the war, but after the fall of the berlin wall is now home to a collective of artists who use the space as studios and galleries. on the bottle level is a place called cafe zapata that we headed into since the boys wanted a few drinks. the inside was like a mixture of palmer's bar and hard times cafe in minneapolis. nice and scummy and dirty, just the way we like it! and since there are quite literally next to no young people in ballyvaughan it was really, really nice to be back around people our own age again.

we were told there would be music at 10:30, and since it was almost 10 at that point we figured we'd stick around a bit longer, and took turns buying a few rounds in the meanwhile. at about 11 the music started and the place filled up and space was cleared for a dance floor. i swear, i've done more dancing in the past two months than in the rest of my life combined! luckily the germans are much more willing to dance than these prudish, insecure irish boys, so we all got on our feet and boogied down for a few hours. what better way to ring in a new week in a new city? and one famous for their techno as well! simon is a huge, huge, huge techno fan (he's from london, of course he is!) so we was in heaven all week.

i'm not even sure what time it was once we started for home, maybe 2? the pubs and clubs and such don't really close over here, so it's difficult to gauge time. despite the doubts of the other three, i managed to lead us back home perfectly. as those of you who know me well are aware, i have a really killer sense of direction no matter what, so always follow me! i know where i'm going, i promise! first night in a new city and i got us back safe and sound going along streets i'd never been before, and without a map! so proud! it's only about a 20 minute walk from mitte back to hauptbahnhof, and by that time it was raining and we were all a bit tipsy, so the walk was a blast.

such a good first day in berlin! doing you proud, papa!

Friday, February 26, 2010

safe and sound!

hey all! just wanted to check in to say that i made it safely back to good ol' ballyvaughan after a riotous week in berlin. i fell in love with the city right at the end, but it sure does feel good to be back here as well. i'll try to take some time in the next few days to update all about the events of this past week, so please be patient with me! for now i'm going to ignore resizing photos and focus on trying to catch up on the hours/nights of sleep i've been skipping. such an epic time in that epic city! and here's a funny little photo of me while creeping around the hamburger bahnhof tuesday morning. tschüs!

Sunday, February 21, 2010


clearly this is a poor excuse for snow when compared to minnesotan winters, but - it snowed last night!

the burren four at monk's.

by now i've seen the group 'the burren four' play at a few different pubs around ballyvaughan, but monk's is the best! i'm usually awful at taking my camera out with me at night, but i made myself do it on friday night so i could share a little bit of the 'nightlife' we've got here. i love these guys! the man on the far right is married to anne, who works in the cafe at the college. he keeps telling me he's going to teach me how to play the spoons like he does. let's hope so!

whoaaa, monk's is hoppin'!

(this one's for shauna. sorry about the terrible quality, but do you remember this fireplace?! my favorite in all of ireland!)

every time they play he pulls out this puppet for a song and makes it 'dance' it to the song. so amazing! i've got a video of it but our internet connection is so slow it won't upload. ask me when i get back to the states and i'll show you! it's really, really, really fun.

corcomroe abbey, kilmacduagh, dysert o'dea, and kilnaboy.

on friday's irish studies trip gordon took us to a bunch of old abbeys and churches around clare.

our first stop was just outside ballyvaughan, at the corcomroe cistercian monestary (mainistir chorca mrua). the cistercian monks came to ireland around 1142 and started construction on this huge abbey shortly thereafter. the graveyard is still used by a number of local families, but the church itself has clearly been out of commission for ages.

i love these carvings of flowers on the pillars. it's thought that these were depictions of healing flowers that the monks grew for use in the infirmary.

this texture is unbelievable! the mortar in corcomroe is unique, having been made out of ground seashells.

carving of the bishop.

the ceilings have this impression from woven hazel branches that were used as a scaffolding, which the mortar would be formed over before being removed.

here's a grave marker for the o'loughlains, trying to claim that they're the true princes of the burren. no way - o'briens all the way!

conor o'brien's tomb.

i'm in love with all this amazing stonework. look at the font!

here are a ton of photos of brian being... well, brian...

next we went quite a bit south to kilmacduagh (cill mhic dhuach), which was founded in the 7th century by saint colman mac duach. the cathedral itself was erected in stone in the 11th century, probably replacing a former wooden structure. it was plundered extensively during the 13 century, but remained the seat of the bishop until the 16th. the coolest part, though, is that kilmacduagh still has a full intact round tower - that bastard cromwell didn't touch this one! the tower is dated from the 12th century and now leans about a meter off perpendicular. you can clearly see a ton of stress fractures in the rocks at the base on the south side of the tower, and chances are the tower won't remain standing for (relatively) too much longer. oh no!

here are the various outbuildings, including the bishop's house and another church in the background.

leaning tower!

another bishop's head carving.

such a nice day out!

next was dysert o'dea (an díseart)! this monestary was originally called 'dísert-tola,' which meant 'the quiet place.' saint tola founded it in the early 8th century, but the structures surviving today weren't built until the 12th century. dysert o'dea has an original high cross, re-erected in 1683 by conor o'dea. it also showcases a nice example of romanesque style carving on the doorway, gordon says one of the best examples of such carving in ireland.

ohhh, gordon...

cromwell did get to this tower!

check out this high cross!

here's an image of the bishop, complete with a hollow that would have held a box containing a relic.

here's christ on the top.

back of the cross.

and a short distance away from the church itself is the dysert o'dea castle.

our final destination was just a quick stop at kilnaboy church (cill iníne baoith). one of the exterior walls has a big double cross built into the stonework, which we hadn't seen elsewhere. there were also some nice smaller carvings in the stones inside the church which were really nice. we only spent about 15 minutes poking around there (it's a pretty small place) and then it was back to good ol' ballyvaughan!

sil e nagig (? how is it spelt?) above the door to ward off evil spirits.

carved stone of a devil figure.