Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Hill of Tara & the National Museums

I have really enjoyed the opportunity to take several classes in completely different disciplines here at UCD.  I am taking everything from International Financial Management to Irish (yes, the language).  Another unique course has been Exploring Archaeology, a subject that isn't really offered back home.  Through the course I have taken two local field trips, one to the National Archaeology Museum of Ireland in Dublin and the other to the more rural Hill of Tara site.  Both were interesting visits and I've included several pictures below.

The National Museum had a multitude of really amazing pieces inside.  Some of my favorite artifacts were those found in the bogs around the country (that would have otherwise decomposed had it not been for very specific environmental conditions).  Ireland's peat bogs surround objects deposited within them with wet, low temperature, anaerobic environments that do not allow organisms to survive and break them down.  Some of the most well known examples of this are bog bodies, but there was also another item that was remarkably discovered in 2006 - a medieval manuscript.  The Faddan More Psalter was found during a peat cutting in Tipperary.  It was, and is, an unprecedented find and provides a unique look into the past - it was written around 800AD.  In addition to the Psalter and other bog exhibits, there was also a great Viking exhibit with countless tools and swords.  There was no shortage of gold on display either, with some of Ireland's most famous gold pieces, such a ornate gold neck collars, on display in the center of the museum.

 Above Left: Dugout canoe found in Galway - found in a bog in 1902, it is an astounding 50 feet   long, one of the largest in Europe. It's made of a hallowed out oak tree, dating to 2,500BC!
 Wooden cauldron & wheel recovered from an Irish peat bog
                                         The famous Faddan More Psalter (4 images below)

                        According to the plaque, below is the best preserved medieval Viking sword discovered in Ireland. 

In addition to the National Archaeology Museum of Ireland, I also took a look inside the Natural History Museum.  It was essentially a large taxidermy museum, but nonetheless an interesting stop.  There were a great diversity of animals represented, the most eye catching for me being the Tasmanian Tiger.  I had done a project on this species in middle school and - it unfortunately went extinct in the first half of the 20th century, so it was quite amazing to see one in the museum.
                                                                          The Tasmanian Tiger (above)

The Hill of Tara trip was organized as a class trip on a Saturday last month.  Tara, located in Co. Meath, is one of the most significant archaeological sites in Ireland, with several monuments, (like ring barrows and a Neolithic passage tomb) dating to many different time periods scattered about the landscape.  I would recommend a visit to Tara since it is a place of great importance in Irish history, but only if you have a guide/someone who is very knowledgeable about the site.  We were fortunate to have several archaeology professors with us to detail what and where each monument was, otherwise most monuments would have looked like nothing more than a grassy hill or ditch.  With the history behind everything though, it was very interesting.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Parisian Whirlwind of Crepes and Iconic Images

When I realized we would have just one Monday off from classes during the semester, I knew I wanted to choose a place to travel where I could make the most of my four day weekend (no classes on Fridays as well).  Paris immediately came to mind, and I could not have been happier with the decision. 

My roommate John and I arrived in the Paris Beauvais airport, once again via Ryanair, landing about an hour's ride from the city center.  Upon our arrival, I had my first glimpse of the signature Eiffel Tower, and honestly had to sit back for a second in disbelief that I was fortunate enough to be traveling throughout Europe for the semester (and yes, a little studying sprinkled in there as well of course).
A small map and a lot of ambition = 4 amazing days
"Paris was a very old city and we were young and nothing was simple there"..."it stays with you, for [it] is a moveable feast," as Hemingway puts it.  There was certainly nothing simple about this city of fantastic sites, and it is indeed a place I would like to return to and stay for more than just a few days. It seemed that there was an endless stream of deliciously filled pastry shoppes, world famous monuments, and awe inspiring works of art constantly tempting my hand to reach down and grab my iPhone for another photo.

After finally getting our bearings and finding our hostel, we set out to take advantage of the second half of our first day.  With a few tricky conversations in broken English (neither of us speak any French at all) we made it past a few unexpected sites before arriving at are first planned destination: Notre Dame Cathedral, or Notre-Dame de Paris.  As was the case with nearly everything in Paris, it did not disappoint and was spectacular. Construction on the cathedral began in 1163 and it took about 100 years before it was finished.

         Bastille Memorial (above left), Saint Jacques Tower (above right), and Hotel de Vill (below)      

Notre Dame:

We made our way from Notre Dame to the Luxembourg Garden, a park that is in the 6th arrondissement (Paris is made up of twenty - they are essentially districts by which it is divided up, with the lower the number generally being closer to the city center).  We found the Medici Fountain and walked around the 50+ acre park before catching the Metro north across the Seine River to see a small stand-up comedy show to end the night.  It was very enjoyable to finally sit down for dinner and relax before the show.  We ending up eating at Le Gymnase Café (there are more great Cafés than anything else in Paris) where I got some sort of ham and cheese flat bread melt and experienced my very first crepe - the classic banana nutella.  Needless to say, I'd be indulging in many, many more.
Medici Fountain

Day 2 in Paris involved several more famous undertakings, including a visit to the Louvre, a trek up to Sacré-Cœur, and an evening bike tour around the Eiffel tower (and much more - it lasted over 2hrs and was really neat, I would recommend Fat Tire Bike Tours if you're interested!). 

In all honestly, I still did not really understand what the iconic glass prism that topped the Louvre actually was until I did a bit more Googling and visited myself.  Nonetheless, it is indeed a unique entrance to an even more unique place.  Sculpture after sculpture, painting after painting, artifacts of Egyptian, Iranian, African, Asian, Roman, Greek, and Spanish decent - I could go on for ages, and so could my photos.  Below is only a very small sampling of what we saw.  A few of the most famous works include the obvious Mona Lisa, the Code of Hammurabi stele stone, the Winged Victory of Samothrace (Nike of Samothrace) sculpture, and the Aphrodite of Milos sculpture.

Sacré-Cœur was a fantastic visit as well.  It was completed in 1914 and is located at the highest point in Paris, so it is a great place to get a unique view of the city.  There was also an absolutely phenomenal street performer there juggling a soccer ball - it doesn't sound like much, but the guy literally climbed a light pole, hung from the top, and started juggling.  One of the best I've seen.

The room in which the Mona Lisa is displayed (wall on left side of the picture) - it was packed.

This is my number one favorite meal that I have had abroad - (my first) duck and golden seasoned potatoes.

The night bike tour consisted of a nice ride into the city center, where we stopped to learn about several different monuments and areas.  It was cool to see the city at night and, equally as rewarding, my legs got a break from walking all day.  It is amazing how much more ground one can cover on a bike.  The tour concluded with a boat ride down the Seine River.  Unbeknownst to me at the time, the Eiffel Tower is illuminated via a glittering display of 20,000 special light bulbs every hour on the hour at night - our boat driver, as I'm sure is his job, passed by with impeccable timing.

And of course, another crepe stop before heading to bed - ham, egg, & delicious.

As it turns out, we only made one major stop on Day 3, but I would say major is not a grand enough term.  The Palace of Versailles (the Château de Versailles in French) was the most ornate and extravagant place I have ever seen.  The palace itself consisted of 721,182 square feet and the gardens surrounding it made up another 230 acres.  In total all of the grounds cover  87,728,720 square feet. The grandeur of the entire place was unbelievable, and it is hard to comprehend a family actually lived there at one time.  Here, again, photo opportunities abounded and I have several below, including the inside and outside of the palace, the surrounding gardens and fountains, and Queen Marie-Antoinnette's estate.  Her estate lies a bit of a walk away from the palace into the more secluded garden area.  It looked more like a child's fairy tale than real life.

The photo below takes up a lot of real-estate, but I thought it was a great opportunity to show a vertical panoramic photo of the Hall of Mirrors, one of the most well-known parts of the palace (I am standing in the very center taking the photo of the ceiling).

We left the palace around 5:30pm, got back into the city in the evening, and visited Tour Montparnasse - one of the region's only skyscrapers.  Another savory crepe may or may not have also been in the mix.  Montparnasse was one of the few things we did not have free student access to (a huge perk in Paris: if you are an EU resident/student from ages 18-26, make SURE you show your ID everywhere, it will save a lot of money), but it was worth it to see the city from yet another unique perspective.  We also were able to catch the dazzling Eiffel Tower light show on the hour again.

Day 4. The day of days. Does that even make sense? Anyway, day 4 was perhaps the most intense, and successful, day of travel I have had.  In one day we: climbed the Eiffel Tower, visited Napoleon's tomb, saw Sainte Chapelle, got into Monet's water lilies exhibit, climbed the Arch De Triumph, and saw a show at the Paris Opera House.  All of these experiences are world class, and to have been able to fit them, and all the others throughout my time here, into my visit was an unforgettable whirlwind.  As you can see below, we were initially a little worried about the view from the Eiffel Tower, but things cleared up nicely by the time we made it to the top.
    Climbing the Eiffel Tower the right way - on foot.

     Above: Tour Montparnasse in the clouds

A plaque with a bit of interesting history (above  left) & the Arch behind me (above right).

A winding, snake of a line to get in by the time we were leaving

    Napoleon's tomb was very impressive

A quick bite to eat

Sainte-Chapelle, a royal medieval Gothic chapel, has nearly 360 degrees of remarkable 13th century stained glass

As many people know, Monet was a French Impressionist who lived from 1840-1926.  The exhibit displaying eight of his water lily paintings (left & below) had an hour long wait - amazing to see work that someone dedicated the last 30 years of their life to.  There were also several other artists' works on display in the lower level of the Musée de l'Orangerie, including Picasso and Renoir.

After another packed day, the hike to the top of the Arch's spiral staircase seemed never ending, but it was well worth it at the top - nailed it right at sunset!

A little snack before the Opera show

Seeing a show at the Paris Opera house was an amazing last stop, even if it was performed in German with only French subtitles - hey, it added to the experience! cap it all off - one last crepe
Until next time, Paris!