Un blog Travellerspoint

Final Ireland & Versailles

overcast 12 °C

This morning, I took the RER C from Paris to Versailles - about a 45 minute trip. It is quite wonderful to be able to just take the RER to Versailles instead of a train from an actual train station. I didn't realize that Versailles was so close! I went by myself, as none of my friends wanted or could go.

Facebook photo album:


There was a HUGE amount of people at Versailles. I had to wait in line for about 20 minutes to get in, which was pretty good! Also, I didn't have to get a ticket, because students (studying in the EU) get in for free! That was super nice. But once I got inside, wow...multitudes of people just "flowing" from one room to another, pushing this way and that, trying to get photos! The stress of the people and my own camera (and my audioguide) made it hard for me to enjoy, and I tired pretty quickly, just wanting to get out of there!

Of course, the palace was sumptious. One room more beautiful than the next, one chandelier more gorgeous than the preceding one. There is an exhibition going on at the moment called "Thrones of Majesty." In every room, different thrones have been placed for people to look at. There are thrones from Napoleon, Louis XIV, XV, XVI...Czar Nicholas's throne, and then some from the Musee du Quai Branly from Indonesia, Africa, and other parts of the world. Very cool! But, that also meant less manuvering space.

The famous Hall of Mirrors was, of course, beautiful, but I feel like it was marred by the thrones and the throngs of people in it. I couldn't appreciate the effect as much.

I went out into the gardens after getting through the palace. They are beautiful. Unfortunately, it was pretty cold, and I was too tired to meander around.

After Versailles, I came back to Paris on the RER and returned a book that Amir borrowed from the American Library of Paris (since the return date is when he will be in Israel). He took out 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a book that I read in high school and pretty much disliked because it was so raw and I'm so sensitive. I read some of it while on the RER and can definitely say that the first part isn't as bad as the middle and the end...

Looking forward to Shabbat, crazy as that is after Pesach.

By the way, fantastic news! I finally got my flight itinerary for Israel! I'm going to be there June 5 through August 17, studying at the girls seminary Neve Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) in the neighborhood Har Nof. So excited!! Unfortunately, this means I'm missing my friends Izzy and Jessie's wedding (Aug 14)...

To finish up my Irish roadtrip adventures:

(Last hotos in next blog post, I promise)

Dublin – Wednesday, April 13

After Henry left, Daniela and I ate dinner and then asked the guy at the hostel reception desk for a recommendation for a bar with live music. He recommended O’Shea’s (pronounced O’Shay-ahs instead of O’She-ahs), just two blocks down the street. We went and listened to a man sing and play guitar and a woman accompany him on a small accordion. These songs were more like Irish bar songs than Jo-Anna and her partern’s, which were sweeter. But it’s good to have heard a variety! Daniela and I got shots of Power’s whiskey. 4.30 euro each! Wow! Dublin is quite expensive. I’d think that they’d have enough of a supply of alcohol to lower the price a bit! The whiskey was terrible in my mouth and on the way down to my throat, but once it was gone, I had the warmest feeling in my throat and chest! Later, on Daniela’s insistence that we couldn’t get away with being in Ireland and not having a Guinness, we each ordered half a pint. It was gross! So watery! Isn’t this the national drink that everyone’s been raving about? Even though I knew it was absolutely against all European standards, I decided it was time to be American and complain. I went up to the bartender and told him that I was very unhappy with my drink and that I wanted to exchange it! He looked at me like I was off my rocker! “There is nothing wrong with your drink.” I know there’s nothing wrong with my drink, sir, but it’s watery and I’d like to exchange it. He looked at me, exasperated. Then, to my utter astonishment, he took a bottle of blackberry syrup (used for garnishing vodka and other mixed drinks) and proceeded to pour it into my Guinness! “There, that should make it better,” he grumbled. My mouth was hanging open. I tasted it. It was actually kind of better, kind of sweet, at least. I muttered “It’s ok” under my breath and went back to Daniela, relating the story to her. Is blackberry syrup the antidote to watery Guinness?? And isn’t it almost blasphemous to pour anything into a Guinness except more Guinness?? I suspected that the bartender thought I was making excuses and actually didn’t like the beer’s bitter, manly taste. So, he added sugar to it! Excuse me, sir¸ but I’ve had a better Guinness thank yours in Chicago, thank you very much! And it wasn’ t watery and it wasn’t so bitter that I couldn’t drink it.

At midnight, the bartender shooed us out of the bar. Midnight! Come on, Dublin! Aren’t you supposed to be the drinking capital of the world? Lame. Daniela and I had been listening in on a French conversation happening between a few guys at the table behind us for some time. We turned around to leave and saw that one of the guys was the one who worked at our hostel and gave us the bar recommendation! I said “Bonjour,” thinking he’d recognize us. He didn’t, but all of the guys were astonished to hear Americans speaking French. The hostel guy ended up being from Ile Maurice (Mauritius), just as Daniela had guessed earlier. We ended up talking and moved the conversation outside. It was nice to speak French again. They told us that we were the first Americans they’d ever heard speak French well. They didn’t know it was possible.

Thursday, April 14

Genia, from IES, had taken a free walking tour in Dublin her first days of spring break (she went separately from us, with a tour group) and recommended it to us. These walking tours are available in many large European cities. But first, Daniela and I had some business to attend. The day before, on our way to the hostel in the bus, Daniela spotted a Romanian grocery store, the Alimentara. She got so excited! Apparently, there are enough Romanians in Dublin to warrant a grocery store. We even saw another, similar one, later. So, we went early that morning, for we had to make it to the walking tour by 11am. We bought some Romanian treats, notably chocolate and “champaign” - filled croissants that were Daniela’s favorite. Yum! Then, we headed over to City Hall to meet the group. The tour guide was Peter, a funny, outgoing, born-and-raised-in-Dublin guy. He took us to see many monuments and areas such as the old 13th century prison/castle tower, Trinity University (attended by Bram Stoker, William Butler Yeats, and others. Even Courtney Love, for one year. And Peter, too). The University houses the famous Book of Kells, a 9th century illustrated Gospel book, one of its kind, by Irish monks in Scotland (yes, that makes sense). Peter took us to Temple Bar, a cute, old street with many…bars. He showed us the Irish Parliament and the Archeology Museum. The latter was very architecturally pretty. Apparently, the White House architect was Irish and was inspired by the Georgian-era design of the Parliament when building our Presidential residence. Also, Berkeley University in California is named after someone from Trinity University called Barklay.

After the tour (11am-2:30pm), Peter invited everyone to join him at a really nice pub for lunch. Daniela and I took him up on it, after giving him a nice tip, of course. Two Spanish girls joined us as well. I finally had fish and chips. The fish was delicious! It was whole with yummy batter (I know, the farthest from healthy). The “chips” (fries) were really big. I couldn’t finish them, of course. Definitely needed Daniela’s help. Then, she and I went to a souvenir shop to get some Irish trinkets. I got my keychain and a shot glass for Diana. When we got back to the hostel, we got to take the Paddywagon bus that we’ve been seeing everywhere, to the airport for free.
At security, I was told I needed a visa stamp because my ticket said my nationality was Belarus while I had an American passport. Um, why did I put Belarus as my nationality? Maybe I had gotten it mixed up with place of birth, but that was completely stupid. This should have rung a bell, though, because Daniela put Romania on her ticket and also had an American passport, but at the time, I didn’t quite realize what had happened – I was just following instructions. I got my visa stamped and then waited at the gate with Daniela for about an hour and a half. We were flying with RyanAir, and they have a completely ridiculous method of checking the size of your carry-on luggage: you have to fit it into a special box. If it doesn’t, you pay 35 euro on the spot for them to check it into luggage. I was busy rearranging some of the stuff in my suitcase, because it was barely fitting. Just as I got it to work, Daniela frantically came over, crying. She told me that she was told to get her visa stamp, too. The desk for that was far away, and because of a leg operation some years earlier, she couldn’t run. And they wouldn’t let me do it for her. There wasn’t a long line of people left. Daniela started walking back. I just stood there, numb, praying that somehow she would get back in time to board the plane. Would we really be forced to miss it because of such a small detail?? Why hadn’t the lady at security told Daniela to get her visa stamped, too? Why hadn’t I thought about it? Daniela’s was easier to miss because EU citizens (Romania, being part of the EU) don’t have to get visa stamps. But she didn’t have her Romanian passport. That was the problem.
The men working at the flight desk were closing the gates. I squinted to see if I could spot Daniela. I didn’t. Last call, they said to me. I said I wasn’t getting on. They looked at me, apologetically. And the gate was closed. I asked when the next plane would be. It was 8pm already. They said 6:30am the next morning. For 100 euro as a reissue price. 100 euro??? Each, they said. Each??? They must be kidding! In America, if such a thing were to happen, we would be put on the next flight for free, or practically free. But right, this was the stupid RyanAir company, a tiny airline. In Europe. Daniela came back some 7 minutes after they closed the gate. I hugged her; she told me she thought I would get on the plane without her. I wouldn’t do that! We found out that buying a whole new ticket would cost some 150 euro, and at AirFrance, it was some 200 euro! Crazyness! We grudgingly paid the 100 euro , went to McDonald’s, settled down on one of their “sofas,” and tried to fall asleep. I felt like I was in Tom Hanks’s movie The Terminal. I felt like such a bum! There were some other people trying to do the same. The t.v. was blaring wrestling matches and wrestling news. What a sleepless night! I heard Dmitri Salita’s (Orthodox Jewish wrestler) name at one point.

It was wonderful to get back to Paris the next morning. Daniela went straight to bed. I did my errands before Shabbat, and only went to sleep at Danielle’s that night. What a way to end my Irish adventures! Daniela and I will have to save money a little more tightly now to make up for that loss. But it’s almost over in Paris. I can’t believe how quickly time has gone by. I feel like I haven’t seen so much! I feel like I need another semester to be able to do what I want to do in this City of Lights. The next couple weeks will have to squeeze in: Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, Catacombes, Giverny, and the Champes Elysees. Very touristy, I know. But when you start living somewhere, the last thing you want to do is be a tourist, so you end up putting it all off toward the end! I was also hoping to see a play or musical, but I don’t think I have time. Next Tuesday is the Negocia final and next Thursday the French final. I have a presentation for PolySci on Monday. Whew, it’s coming to a close! Thank goodness I have a few days in the Basque Country with my wonderful host family (from 4 years ago) there. I’m going to have to improvise Shabbat. Going to bring candles, wine, and challah for everyone. There’s no Chabad nearby, but I’m not sure I’d want to leave, because I have such little time with them, and then I’d have to awkwardly leave Daniela with them, too. Time to improvise!

Posté par parischica 10:38 Archivé dans Irlande Commentaires (0)

Ireland part III - western coast & the Cliffs of Mohar!

sunny 12 °C

Yesterday, I was trying to be productive at 9pm, when I suddenly get a frantic phone call from Amir. He had just gotten off work, where he was offered to take a special class in order to be able to work in a different section for El Al. This 3-week class would be in Israel. And he was flying out tomorrow (today) AND they were going to make him work the morning of the flight. He would be back May 20, two days after I'm leaving for Chicago. I immediately took the train to Chateau d'Eau (not a good area at all - he met me at the station) and spent at hour with him, going over what he had to pack and chatting. Saying good-bye was not fun at all. But these Israelis love to travel, so at least there's hope of seeing some of them in Chicago, or at least back in Israel. It was supposed to be the other way around! They were supposed to be saying good-bye to ME! Now that makes Henry and Amir. I hope no one else leaves early...

Daniela and I woke up this morning early in order to go to the famous Parisian Catacombes, which happen to be right near our school. This is an underground cave with skulls and dead things that have accumulated over the years. Not so sure why it's famous, but since it is, we figured we'd give it a try. Not that we're morbid or anything...We thought it opened at 9am; we got there, saw 3 people standing in line, and found out it opened at 10am. It was quite cold outside, very different from the other nice days we have been having! We decided to go to school and sit in the computer lab for a bit, and then go back to the Catacombes. We came back at 9:50am, only to see a long line! We didn't think that so many people would be there right at the beginning, and on a cold day, too! We stood in line, hoping to be able to get to the front by 10:30am (Daniela had a class at 11am and I had a lunch rendez-vous at noon). Didn't happen. We made it 1/3 of the way. Maybe, just maybe, we would have gotten in at 11am. Darn! That was so annoying! We rescheduled it for next Thursday.

I had a wonderful lunch date with my two French girfriends from Negocia (Montaine, who goes by Monty, and Laura), the business school where I'm taking one class. They suggested a cute restaurant called WATT, right near the Sorbonne. Yep, the Frenchies know where to go for food and not-so-expensive food! The menu was a make-it-yourself kind: salad, pasta, fish, and meat. I had eating a bit beforehand, so I wasn't hungry enough for that. Instead, I had a pumpkin soup, a tapas that was a little piece of bread with cheese (St. Marcellin) and confiture du figue (fig jam) on it, and a tiny pot of chocolate with pralines for dessert. Total: 12 euro. Yumminess level: 100%

French class got cancelled today because Mme. Benoit had to go to a funeral ( :-( ), but we were all secretly happy. The next session, we are all meeting at her house in the southern suburbs (apprently, a really nice area) for hors d'oeuvres and a round table discussion about the French books we've read and the CORE project we recently handed in. I'm very much looking forward!

Tomorrow, I'm going to Versailles in the morning, by myself. It's a bit sad, but no one wants to join me. A lot of people are going to be in Geneva, Switzerland this weekend - two polysci classes are going. This includes Daniela. Oh well. But, on Sunday, I'm going to Giverny with Caroline, Raphael (Moroccan Jew randomly met through Amir), and possibly Deb and Jenny. I'm so excited!

Now, to continue my Ireland adventures!

Facebook photo album:


Tuesday, April 12

We left Galway early in the morning (11am being early for us). We drove through scenic areas with lots of ruined little stone houses. There were also more pieces of watchtowers. It seemed like there was a ruin every 5 minutes! We climbed to another watchtower, this one more intact. We also spent time on a limestone bed on the coast. It was gorgeous. Toward the late afternoon, we made it to the Cliffs of Mohar. Wow, what magic G-d creates! No wonder they are extolled in every guidebook. There was supposed to be a puffin colony somewhere, but we couldn’t find it! We took a car ferry across a river to the tiny town of Terbart. It was 8:15pm when we were on the ferry, the exact time that I was supposed to register for classes at Loyola for next semester! That morning, I was in a panic, because Henry told me he wasn’t sure we would be near internet in the evening so that I could sign up for classes. I hurriedly sent an email to Mom and Dad, explaining how to sign me up for classes in case I couldn’t do it. We sped off the car ferry into Terbart; the first thing we saw was a hostel! I ran in and asked to use their wifi. The nice man let us, for free, and, using Henry’s computer, it being 8:40pm already, I hurriedly signed on to my school account. To my huge relief, I saw that my parents had signed me up for classes, and that I was only waitlisted for an evening class, which I was sure would open up (lo and behold, it did, a few days ago). THANK YOU so much to my parents!! I was SO worried! I had to get into all those classes in order to be able to start the 5-year BBA/MBA program Spring ’12. After the panic, we all went to get dinner at an Asian restaurant, surprisingly located in this tiny, middle-of-nowhere Irish town. The Korean waitress was so nice! She even brought Henry extra rice and kimchi from the kitchen because he said that he missed it and used to eat it before. She told us that she and her business partner opened the restaurant just the last week! We were even the first to sign the guestbook (but not the first to eat there, of course). She said that it was rare for Koreans to actually live in Ireland. Some come to learn English but go back afterwards. She said she likes it and finds it peaceful. It was sad to say good-bye to her, but we had to be off and find shelter for the night in Tralee, a bigger town an hour away. When we got there, it was close to midnight. The hostel was, unbelievably, closed, and so were the Bed&Breakfasts. We meandered around in the car for a while, hoping to find something. Henry suggested we sleep in the car for the night. Daniela and I looked at him, horrified! Of course, army/guy/experienced traveler Henry could sleep in the car no problem. But Elina and Daniela had other plans. We told Henry to return to the main street, where we had spotted a bar/hotel earlier. Thankfully, because of the bar, it was still open. The nice host let us have a 2-person room for 3. There was a bed big enough for Daniela and I and a single bed for Henry. For 60 euro. Not bad; thank goodness for the host! It was wonderful to sleep in a nice bed that night and not worry about hostel showers the next morning.

Wednesday, April 13

We left the hotel at 11am. We drove to the Dingle Peninsula (Henry wouldn’t stop making fun of the name!), which was highly recommended to us by Damien. It started raining in a misty way, giving the gorgeous Irish country landscape a different touch of beauty and freshness. The heavy rain clouds gave off a foggy mirage when they heaved over some small mountains. Yep, Ireland does have some small mountains. We saw more sheep, of course. When we got to the coast of the Dingle Peninsula, we stopped to eat some pub food at a nice place. We walked around the small port, but it was raining, so we hurried back to the car. Then, we drove right back the way we came from Tralee. We didn’t have enough time to round the Dingle coast, because we had to turn the car in by 7pm in Dublin. Any driving in Ireland is worth the trip, but this would not be worth if it if we were going to be late getting into Dublin, where they would charge us an extra day’s worth of car rental for tardiness. As it is, each of us had to pay 120 euro for the car for the trip! Ouf! Were we going to make it? It would be the longest drive yet. Amazingly, we made it, with 15 minutes to spare. We only stopped for bathroom breaks. We took the bus to the city center afterwards and found our last hostel: Paddy’s Palace of Dublin. Not part of the same chain as in (London)Derry. Henry left his stuff in our room, since he had an hour and a half in Dublin before he had to jump on a plane to Scotland (lucky duck!) where he would be staying until Saturday night. He has a friend from the army there. So, we walked around town a bit on one of the main shopping streets. We saw Dublin’s spire and stood over the bridge, admiring the river that divides the city into two. Then, Daniela and I sadly said good-bye to Henry. He would be leaving Paris for good the following Tuesday. He is going back to his home town of Waco, Texas for the summer before he gets stationed in Germany for a couple years.

Posté par parischica 11:32 Archivé dans Irlande Commentaires (0)

Ireland Part II - Northern coast & (London)Derry and Pesach!

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I am back, my dear friends, after a looong week holiday, Pesach! (Passover) Can I just tell you how much I LOVE bread? Pesach ended yesterday at 9:50pm, having started in the evening Monday last week. This morning, I bought a little loaf of BIO bread and ate half of it. That's how happy I was. And for lunch today, I made pasta. The first two days I spent by Danielle. Dede, her and her husband's old Tunisian friend, came for the first night. Let me tell you, it was quite funny! Dede is half deaf, so he likes singing Pesach tunes to himself and starting on the Haggadah before Danielle is ready. Danielle served some traditional Tunisian Pesach fare, such as a soup that looks a bit like our version of cholent, with 17 vegetables! Poor Danielle, having to cut up all those veggies...she also served lamb boulettes, which I really didn't like. I hate lamb in general, so this was no different. I tried to gulp them down to please her. But, I found out, I can manage eating dark meat from a lamb leg, which is also traditional on Pesach. Danielle also did a funny prayer by picking up the Pesach basket (with the matza and the other Pesach foods) and spinning it over my head. She had me do the same for her, and we did it for Richard, her husband, too. During those first two days, I walked to school without anything and just sat in class, trying to absorb lessons. That didn't work so well, but at least I didn't get marked off for not being there, and it helped pass the time. You know, two Yom Tov days (festivals, like Shabbat, where you can't do work) is really difficult! Danielle and I took walks, too, so that helped. My birthday was on the Shabbat in between the 4 Yom Tovs. No bread exceptions here! Danielle made me a surprise "cake." She bought a little loaf of Pesach cake, sliced it up, put fruit slices on top of it, and put marzipan at the very top. Mmm! I hadn't had marzipan for a long time! She also bought me a Jewish holiday cookbook, which includes both Ashkenazi and Sephardi recipes, even some of the ones she uses! I was very happy! That was so nice of her!!

In the evening, I went out to Hyde Out Bar with Caroline, her school friend Mark, Daniela, Sam, and Vanessa. A few of our friends were in London for the weekend and couldn't join. Instead of the bar and dance floor kind of party, apparently that night was polyglot night. We were made to write our names on name tags and "hello" in the languages that we spoke. Then, everyone would just talk to one another. I met a Russian Jewish guy from NY, Vadim, 31 years old and working at the Ecole Normale Superieur (Grand Ecole!) of Paris. This is one of Paris's most prestigious schools. I couldn't remember exactly what it is that he did there, but probably something smart haha! The next day, Sunday, my prayers for no rain helped, and G-d gave me a sunny, warm afternoon to have my birthday picnic at Chateau de Vincennes on the east side of the city. There really is a chateau (castle) there! It's not like Versailles, but it's a castle nonetheless! We picked a grassy spot near it and had a wonderful time! Caroline, Mark, Amir, David (the Moroccan Jew from Lions Pub!), Daniela, and Sam. Caroline was so cute - she went to the Jewish quarter to find food (it being Easter and everything was closed) and bought me a Pesach chocolate chip cake loaf! David happened to have Pesach Nutella, which we used for my cake icing. Then, Amir wrote Mazal Tov in Hebrew on it. Best cake ever!! Caroline had a funny slip up, though. She also bought lemonade at the kosher store, but when she tasted it, it was gross! I looked at the bottle and saw "jus du citron" / lemon juice written on it!! It wasn't lemonade at all! It was lemon juice, used for cooking! Poor Caroline! But, to support her, we all had a taste!

The last two Yom Tov days (Monday and yesterday), I spent by Pessy's family in the Parisian suburbs. That was super nice. I got to meet two more of Pessy's sisters - Bracha, from NY, and Sterna, who is studying in seminary in Israel. Also, my roomie for the two nights was Bracha Weiss, their cousin from North Carolina who is also studying in Israel. So now, I know a total of 8 Gourevitch girls! I'm missing two - the one living in Sweden (!) and one living in Israel. Chami and Miriam also came with their kids. So there was a lot of commotion in the house! I am not used to so many kids, I didn't even know what to do! Miriam's daugher, Zeldeleh (Zelda - yes, this is a Jewish girl's name!), asked me to tell her stories. I'm not good at making any up, and I don't know any religious ones, so I used the classic secular story templates, such as Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Mowgli, and the Princess and the Frog, adjusting them for a religious girl's little ears! It was so funny! For example, instead of the prince having to kiss Sleeping Beauty to wake her up, I told Zeldeleh that a talmid chacham (Torah scholar) had to come and say a verse from the Torah to wake her up! I loved seeing the little girl's open mouth, in suspense, during story time! I've never had to tell stories before :-)

And now, to continue my Irish fairytale:

New Facebook photo album for this post:

Sunday, April 10 (after leaving Belfast and Damien):

Making our way north of Belfast to the coast (English Channel!), we passed Carrickfergus! This reminded me of the song that I used to listen to from Charlotte Church’s CD when I was younger. And now I got to pass by the very place about which she was singing! We put on Jo-Anna’s CD in the car. Daniela and I recognized only a couple of songs were from the bar night, but the rest were pretty nice, too. What a beautiful green coastline we saw before our eyes! It was magic! Around every bend, there were more and more gorgeous green cliffs, jutting peninsulas, foggy with tranquility…We stopped at the roadside a couple hours into our trip to take photos of the ruins of what I imagine was a watchtower, wavering on a hill by the water. Basically, there were two crumbling walls left, facing each other. It was no bigger than Danielle’s French bathroom! Henry and I decided to climb up to it. First, we had to go down a steep hill. There was so much mud; I got my sneakers all gross! It’s a wonder that my long skirt survived (who does this stuff in a skirt???!!!) I went to wash my sneakers in the cold ocean water. Then, Henry and I finally made it up the hill to the watchtower. There were lots of sheep grazing nearby. Henry had me take photos of him shooing them away. They had such funny black faces and red numbers on their wool!

Our destination for the night was (London)Derry. I’ll explain later why I put London in parenthesis. On the way, we stopped by a famous rope bridge, but just as we got there, it closed! Bummer! Nevertheless, there were great photo opportunities from the parking lot of a beautiful little island floating not far from the coast. We were not to be disappointed…a little while down the road was Giant’s Causeway, perhaps one of the wonders of the world. It is a bunch of hexagonal and octagonal rocks, stacked on one another. Very hard to describe with words, so I will refer you to my facebook album. There is a legend that the rocks were stacked by a giant, trying to get to Scotland to escape another giant. Amazingly enough, across the channel, the Scottish coast also contains similar rocks. Wonders of nature!
With all the winding, small roads, we made it to (London)Derry at night, and we were still only on the northern coast. Thankfully, we found a great, cozy hostel called Paddy’s Palace (kind of a weird name, though) and fell asleep quite soon.

Monday, April 11

(London)Derry is a very special place, and one can see it in its name. The Unionists (loyal to the UK) call it Londonderry. The Republicans (loyal to a united Ireland) call it Derry, or even “Free Derry.” Damien is from Derry. The city is actually separated by an old castle wall. On one side live the Unionists, on the other, the Republicans. Crazy! In the morning, we all went to the wall and walked all along it. It was crazy seeing the differences on both sides. We were staying on the Derry side, where Irish flags were flying and IRA/Republican murals could be seen everywhere. The Irish Republicans are revolutionaries who would gladly uphold any people feeling oppressed. So, of course, there were also our friends Che Guevara, the Basques, and the Palestinians, represented by flags. On the Unionist side, the UK flag was flying, Unionist murals were scattered, and the curbside was painted red, blue, and white. I wonder if people go to work on either side, or if everyone just sticks to their own area…

Our goal for the end of the day was to make it to Galway, on the western coast. Damien recommended it, extolling it to no end. We didn’t find it to be too magical, but maybe that’s because we came on a Monday night. Henry stayed in at the hostel while Daniela and I went to the King’s Head Bar. There were two guys playing chill music and singing. Jack Johnson was on, Galway Girl (Daniela’s favorite song from the movie P.S. I Love You), the Beatles, Bon Jovi, the Doors, and Simon & Garfunkel. Then, the bartender sang Sinatra’s Love song; he had a fantastic voice! Daniela and I ordered fruit cider. Mmm!

Posté par parischica 05:44 Archivé dans Irlande du Nord Commentaires (0)

Ireland Part I - Belfast (Northern Ireland/UK)

sunny 12 °C

I am back, my dear readers! My, what an amazing country Ireland turned out to be!

I apologize for the delay in writing about my vacation adventures; there has been a backup of homework (of course, no one does any over vacation!) and I spent half of yesterday cleaning for Pesach! Whew...I know most people start Pesach cleaning after Purim, but even half a day of it gets tiring! Danielle and I put our chametz (bread/grain products) into the second bedroom in my apartment and some stuff into my freezer, both of which are now "sold," as is customary, because we are not supposed to have an chametz in our possession. Yesterday, we did the special thing the night before Pesach where we turn off all the lights, light a candle (we lit a Havdallah candle :-) ) and "find" any remaining chametz (little pieces of bread that Danielle wrapped) and throw it out. That was sympa. Anyway, I know I still owe you some adventures from the week before vacation, when Margarita was visiting, but I can't wait to talk about Ireland, so that will have to wait!

All right, what you've all been waiting for...let the adventures begin!

Facebook Belfast photo album: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?fbid=1928949100860&id=1156170130&aid=2107199&l=b1b9141522

Thursday, April 7
Daniela and I took EasyJet from Roissy (Charles de Gualle airport) to Belfast, Northern Ireland (UK). I was super excited to see the Isle of Man out the window! I was looking into ferries from Dublin to the island, but they were super expensive :-( The bus ride from the Belfast airport into the city was so nice…green pastures, sheep everywhere…The bus driver was so nice; he dropped us off right on the corner of the street where our hostel is located. Right off the bat, I discovered that Irish folks are SUPER nice. We two were going to stay at a hostel while Henry, who would be joining us Saturday night, was staying with a Couchsurfer, Damien, whom he was lucky enough to find. (To remind you, the Monday bar night is for Couchsurfers…these are people who put their “couch” (or bed) up on the website to let other stay the night in whatever country they live in. This is especially common in Europe, where people travel and backpack across countries a lot more easily than we Americans. Henry found Damien on this website)

I’ve never stayed at a hostel before; there’s always preconceived notions about staying at hostels…dirty, loud people, bedbugs…throughout all my Ireland trip, the hostels were all quite fine. This first one had 6 bunk beds. There was a really nice half-French, half-Mauritanian guy at the front desk, Nick. He let me call Rebbetzin Brackman to make Shabbat plans. She told me to call two Bed & Breakfasts near her home so that I don’t have to walk two miles from the hostel to her house on Shabbat. I ended up making a reservation at one that’s 10 minutes walking distance. 25 pounds = near $45.

That evening, Daniela and I went out. Henry was going to come Saturday night, so he and Daniela would pick me up from the Bed&Breakfast after Shabbat. We asked Nick for bar recommendations, and he told us to go to Robinson’s. On the way, we saw Crown Bar, the oldest bar n Belfast; Belfast Metropolitan College; and the Opera House. We also went into a mini mart to see what the Irish like to eat and drink. Boy, were there a lot of candy bar options! Many that we don’t have in the States. And some of their sodas were different and even had different packaging. Then, we finally went into Robinson’s. We ended up loving that night! We had Magners cider, a popular drink in Northern Ireland (in Southern Ireland, the equivalent is called Bulmers). Mmm! Cider is good! They had original and pear flavors. There was live music in a room toward the back of the bar. A man and a woman – two voices and his guitar. They sang traditional, sweet Irish songs (not the dancing, fast ones). They were superb! Some of the songs: No Frontiers, Rose of Clare, a song about Chicago (!), and many more. When they took requests, I asked them to sing Carrickfergus, a song which I have loved since I was young (from a CD by Charlotte Church). The woman (Jo-Anne) didn’t know it, but her partner did, so he sang and played it for me. Was it lovely! It was a different rendition, but great all the same. At the end, I asked Jo-Anne if they have a CD. She said she forgot hers at home but would be playing in a bar Saturday night nearby if I could come. I said only around 9:30, because of Shabbat. She would be done by then, but she said she’d leave the CD with the bartender! (10 pounds for it) I was very happy! Unfortunately, it was just her solo, not with her partner, but better than nothing!

Friday, April 8
Daniela and I woke up early in the morning in order to walk around Belfast. We went to St. George’s Market, which operates between 8am and 2pm every Friday. There were fruits, vegetables, meats, clothing, and trinkets for sale. We bought a homemade lemon cupcake. We took that cupcake over the river’s bridge and walked around, trying to find a bench. Apparently, the Irish don’t sit outside much, because we failed miserably. We headed back to the town center, found some Dali-inspired murals and a no-drinking-alcohol sign with a beer mug with a cross on it (haha!). We sat on the grass outside of City Hall and let the sun flood our faces. We found Queen’s University, which is a gorgeous, old university situated in the southern part of the city. Next door are Belfast’s Botanic Gardens; we strolled around and sat on the grass, Daniela sipping a “slush” (slushie) that she obtained from the ice cream man. We went back to Crown Bar for some day-time photos. Then, we headed off to the suburbs – I had asked Rebbetzin Brackman (who told me to call her Ruth) if Daniela could come to Shabbat dinner (I didn’t want to leave her alone; Henry not having arrived yet). The wonderful Ruth said, of course. We took yet another bus to get there; we told the bus driver which street we were supposed to get off for the Bed&Breakfast, where I needed to check in before heading over to Ruth’s. He was such a nice, cute old Irish man! But oh man, was his accent hard to decipher!! Maybe he thought mine was, too! At one point, I just had to nod my head and say “mhm”…I really didn’t know what he was saying! We got to the right street and then told him the number. He wasn’t sure where it was, but some super nice people who were standing behind us told us that we passed it a little bit. We got off there and walked. What a beautiful view there was of green hills in the distance!!

On the door of the B&B was a note with my name on it, apologizing if the owners weren’t in, and giving me the code and directions up to my room, where the key was already in the door! Wow! Only in Ireland…The owners did end up being there; they didn’t know exactly what time I’d be arriving. Daniela and I hurriedly showered (I let her use the shower, figuring it was much nicer than the one at the hostel…little did we both know that the screen door was transparent with no shower curtain in sight!!) Then, we got walking directions to Ruth’s and made it just in time to light candles! Ruth has two cute little boys – Shmulie and Zalmie. We started helping Ruth make salad and set the table. Meanwhile, Rabbi came in, and I asked him if he happened to have a brother or cousin in Chicago, because the Chabad Rabbi of the University of Chicago’s last name is Brackman, too. It turns out that they are brothers!! What a SMALL Jewish world it is! If you remember from my last vacation, in Nice, I met Rabbi Brackman of Chicago’s wife’s sister randomly in the apartment building where I was having dinner by Shoshana’s family! Oh boy…Jewish geography…What will happen next? (Side note – the Brackman’s of Chicago pronounce their name with a long ‘a’ like in the word ‘almost’ while the Brackman’s of Belfast say a short ‘a’ like in ‘apple.’ The Rabbis come from London and Ruth comes from Leads, north of England, I believe. Rabbi and Ruth hadn’t had time to develop Irish accents, but they sure had a cute English one!
Then, I was in for another surprise. Rabbi had turned up with a mixed group of Israelis and Arabs (both Muslim and Christian) who were going to spend Shabbat dinner all together with us! This group is a volunteer group from Daniel Yellin Teacher’s Institute in Betuchon (Jerusalem). 5 Israelis and 4 Arabs, in their 20s and 30s, who got together and formed a discussion group about the conflict going on between the two groups in Israel. They chose to come to Northern Ireland because they saw similarities in the conflict there. I can see that, though, of course, the situations have huge differences. But wow…I never thought in my life that I’d see this kind of thing happen…Muslims and Jews together at a Chabad Rabbi’s home for Shabbat dinner. In the middle of dinner, one of the married Muslim women, wearing a veil and a long traditional dress, toasted the Rabbi in her broken English, thanking him and Ruth for inviting her into their home, saying that it was her first time in a Jewish home and that she was so grateful for such an opportunity. I swear I almost cried. To know that such people as her exist gave me hope in the midst of all the hopelessness that I feel. I went up to her when we were changing courses and thanked her so much for her warm words, telling her how I felt. Her face was all scrunched up, trying to understand my English, but she understood the general feeling I was trying to convey. When the group left (2 stayed, being Shomer Shabbat), she took my hand, and we held hands for 5 seconds, in an amazing connection that, I feel, very rarely happens in the world. May G-d bless her and let her shine her light onto her brothers and sisters and bring us all peace soon in our days!

I didn’t set an alarm beforehand at the B&B, so I prayed that G-d would wake me up on time to check out (10:30am) Wouldn’t want them knocking on my door while I’m still asleep! Thank goodness, I woke up at 9:15am. The lady at reception was nice enough to let me leave my bag of things in the reception area so that I wouldn’t have to carry on Shabbat. I stuck it under a table. Then, I went to the Rabbi’s, because I didn’t know where the synagogue was. Shmulie and Zalmie were acting crazy and didn’t want to get dressed. Finally, Shmulie was persuaded to get ready so that he could show me to shul. He held my hand and took me, only a couple blocks away. What a nice building! I was surprised. I met a woman there, Marion, who told me that 30-40 years ago, when she was a little girl, there were about 1200 Jews in the area! Now, there are some 80 left. No wonder there is a big shul! They even had to sell off a part of it when so many people left, but it’s still big! I’m glad. Lunch was much quieter than dinner; it was me, the two Shomer Shabbat Israelis (Adi and Micha), and another lady. Adi and Micha talked about how they were trying to keep kosher in kosher-less Belfast. Basically, they brought their own pots, Micha brought couscous, and Adi brought a bit more variety: rice, pasta, and a few other things. Both were super happy to be eating normal food, and especially meat, on Shabbos. I was happy about the meat, too :-) But wow, they are super troupers! After lunch, we all took a Shabbos shlufie (spelling?). This means nap. I slept for almost 4 hours! That wasn’t exactly the plan; I wanted to take a walk around. But I guess my body was quite tired. The boys were misbehaving again, but Rabbi and Ruth were SO patient! They are truly role models. I woke up in time for the 3rd meal and found out that there is a castle nearby…darn! Should’ve woken up earlier! All in all, I had a very unique Shabbat experience :-)

Henry and Daniela picked me up from the B&B (where I retrieved my bag) in the car with the driver’s seat on the right and that drives on the left side of the road. Scary! Henry didn’t want to go out, but Daniela and I took the opportunity to go out before we left Belfast the next morning. Daniela and I asked two ladies for directions to the bar where Jo-Anna left her CD for me. They showed us, but by the time we got there, it was midnight, and the bar was closed! The two ladies reached us and asked if we had “rapped” on the door. We hadn’t. So they did. The bartender opens the door and says the bar is closed. I told him Jo-Anna left her CD for me there. He said, “Oh, it’s you! You’re three hours late!” Yeah…I was supposed to come at 9:30pm, but after Shabbat, we had some dinner, and you know how these things are…
Sunday morning, we checked out of the hostel and went to Henry’s Couchsurfer, Damien’s, place. Damien is an archeologist-turned-community center builder (whatever this means) who is from Derry on the west coast. He is so typically Irish! His place was super nice but quite a mess; a total bachelor. Three things I loved: his fireplace, his spacious bathroom, and his kite-skateboard! I didn’t even know such a thing existed. You fly a kite (it gets windy on the Irish coasts) on a skateboard. Sounds like fun! Henry wasn’t the only one staying with Damien; there was also a nice German girl, Franzie. Honestly, it’s pretty bold of Franzie to stay with Damien, not knowing who he was before coming to spend the night. He turned out to be a fantastic guy, but you never know…Anyway, Damien recommended a route along the Irish coast, going west from Belfast and ultimately reaching Dublin. He called places “magic” and “wee.” We went to Tesco (the local supermarket) to stock up on food for the road, and we were off!

Posté par parischica 08:03 Archivé dans Irlande du Nord Commentaires (0)

Vacation - II!

Dear readers,

Margarita and I spent a fantastic 1.5 days together! She was enamored with Paris - who would say anything otherwise about the City of Lights? Of course, she was very sad to leave. And I was sad to let her go. It was really nice to have a companion, for once! We went to the top of the Eiffel Tower (very top!), took a boat ride on the Seine, ate at a cafe in the Latin Quarter, went to buy wine and cheese for her friends...She took an open bus tour while I was on a field trip to the Museum of Decorative Arts (housed in the Louvre palace, but not part of the Louvre itself).

Today in the evening, I will be on a plane off to Belfast, Northern Ireland with Daniela! I have to pack, do laundry, go to Danielle's, and prepare lunch before this. I will be coming back from Dublin to the Beauvais airport in Paris, which is 1.5 hours away from the city! Thankfully, there is a shuttle that goes to Porte Maillot (near the Champs Elysees). I will be back next week Thursday late in the evening! Our trajectory will be Belfast - Cork - Limerick - Dublin (we might switch Cork and Limerick around). Henry will be joining us on Saturday!

Once again, I pray you forgive me for the lack of photos and lack of descriptive adventures this time around. I am in debt to you!

Have a wonderful, wonderful week!!

A la semaine prochaine! (Until next week!)

Posté par parischica 01:13 Archivé dans France Commentaires (0)

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