Sep 19, 2012

The day I leaned over the edge of a cliff

One new development, friends, before I tell you about my first class excursion:

Those of you who know anything about me know that dance is a surefire way to keep me happy...and I haven't done any real dancing in months, so imagine how glad I was to find the Dansoc at Socs Day.  This society offers weekly classes in a whole bunch of different styles (i.e. hip-hop, Irish dance, salsa, ballet, contemporary), which suits me just fine because I'm always raring to learn something new.  Anyway, the Dansoc had a meet-and-greet on Monday evening, so I gave myself permission to leave the library early that day.  As I mingled a bit and got a feel for the crowd, I was surprised by how quick the Irish students were to approach me and introduce themselves.  (Perhaps I've been too quick to judge them...)  Before I had to leave, I was able to watch a mini-demonstration given by one of the student teachers, and was quite impressed.  I can't wait to check out the classes!

On to more pressing news: I visited the Aran Islands on Sunday!  (These are actually a group of three islands, but we went to the largest one, which is called Inishmore - in the Gaelic, Inis Mór.  Together, the Islands are an official "Gaeltacht", which means that they're one of the few communities left where Gaelic is the main spoken language.)

So early Sunday morning (by which I mean 9 am), twenty sleepy students piled into a garishly-painted double-decker in Eyre Square:

It would be an hour before we reached Rossaveal, the main ferry port for the Islands in Galway Bay.

On our way out, we passed the beach I visited on my first trip to Salthill!
A law established as early as middle school: the cool kids always sit in the back.
Somehow, we all managed to navigate the mob at the port without losing anyone, and made it to a ramp that took us down to...
...the boat!
It was drizzling a bit by this point, so we all retreated into the ferry's lower (read: indoor) deck and settled in for what would be a fairly bumpy ride.  I don't have an issue with seasickness, really, but I'll admit that I was a little queasy.  It was a great relief to see the island's outline creeping over the horizon forty-five minutes later:

Here's Kilronan, the main settlement on Inishmore.
Once we were all on land, Prof. Jenkins informed us that we would be biking to an ancient Iron Age fort on another part of the island.

I didn't use a helmet.  Shhh...
It ended up being a far longer, bumpier, and hillier ride than I was expecting.  To be specific, it was a seven-mile trip.  Seven.  As we negotiated the coastline, I remember hearing someone yell, "There was no physical fitness requirement for this term abroad!"  My thoughts exactly.  I mean, I'll run seven miles, no problem...but biking seven miles apparently requires a whole different set of muscles, all of which were strained by the end of the day.

I have to admit, though, we had plenty to look at as we trundled along.
Thankfully, we did make one pit stop to catch our collective breath and take in the view at this beautiful beach:

We were so lucky to have weather like this!  The usual Galway weather (that is, drizzly and overcast) would have put a damper on the trip...
When we arrived at a little tourist trap at the base of the cliffs (which I'll explain in a moment), I parked my bike and wasted no time in finding a place to sit and rest my worn-out body.

Here's the view from the bench where I was finally able to put my feet up.  Aren't those rocks peculiar-looking? They were strewn all over the island...and when I say "all over", I mean that.  (You'll see what I mean in some later photos.)
There were quite a few small shops like this, selling those famous "Aran sweaters" to unsuspecting tourists.  They looked warm for sure, and I appreciated the intricacy of the knitting, but they were a little out of my price range.
The aforementioned shops were all arranged around this courtyard, where we would later see residents picnicking and generally shooting the breeze.
Apparently, biking is not the only way to get around Inishmore; for every bicycle, I must've seen two or three of these horse-drawn buggies.  For a little while, I seriously entertained the idea of hijacking a horse, throwing the bike in the buggy, and galloping back to the port at day's end.  Anything to escape that second bike ride...
After an hour or so of free time which we all spent exploring this village, we gathered to make our way to the main attraction: 

The second word here happens to be pronounced like the word "Angus".  So naturally, the boys (carnivores that they are) had a grand time making jokes about cheeseburgers and other such frivolities.
Thus began our hike up to the fort...
Here's my ticket - check out that aerial view!
To this day, no one knows what these huge slabs of stone were used for.
One of many stone walls...
See?  When I said there were rocks everywhere, I wasn't kidding.
It was a little steep...
...but this view kept me interested enough to keep clambering up the makeshift steps.
Of course, we did end up at the top...and everything I saw from that point on made it well worth the climb.

See that doorway?  That was the original entrance to the fort, thousands of years ago.  And the pit in front of it is where the workers building it would take coffee breaks.  (Clearly, they had their priorities straight: coffee first, construction later.)
The fort itself is composed of four concentric stone walls.  These curious clusters of stones were arranged just inside the outermost wall.  Can you figure out their purpose?  (Hint: think about why one might need a hillfort at all.)
The chevaux-de-frise (which translates to "Frisian horses").
Still guessing?  It's the simplest of medieval defense obstacles.  When enemies rode in to attack, their horses would be either thwarted or hurt by these very sharp stones, which were deliberately arranged to protrude from the ground at all sorts of odd angles.

After we'd finished scoping out the periphery of the fort, we climbed a few more steps and finally saw what our tour guide deemed "the crown jewel of the Arans":

That person there is standing 285 feet over the Atlantic.  (Come to think of it, so was I...)
One important note: I'm terribly afraid of heights.  As most of the other students were getting to their hands and knees to peer over the edge, I hung back and swore up and down that I was happy where I was, thank you very much.  Of course, my mother says I shouldn't swear, so that backfired on me...and here's where I ended up:

I carefully held my camera over the edge of the cliff to snap this shot of the impossibly turquoise waves.  Don't be fooled - it doesn't look like it, but there are a few hundred feet between my lens and that water.
Given all of the effort involved in getting to this point, it seemed only logical that we should all take many, many photos.  Here are a few:

Me and C.  It was quite windy up there.
Just the girls...
...and then, of course, the boys got jealous and wanted in.  Here's everyone!
I'm pretty sure I wasn't supposed to be up there, but no matter.  It was worth it for the photo.
After we horsed around and did all sorts of embarrassingly touristy things for a half-hour or so, we were ready to make our way down the hill and back to Galway.

Sadly, I didn't end up stealing a horse to get back to the boat...but I did get to stop at the beach from earlier in the day!  A few of us tossed a Frisbee around, all the while marveling at how close we were to the great Atlantic.

This classmate of mine was feeling terribly ill the whole day, but you wouldn't be able to tell from this picture.  Isn't she pretty?
The classic "Titanic" pose, minus the boat...and Leo *sigh*
And here's the icing on the cake, friends: when we were five minutes away from the pier, this wild horse ambled to the edges of his field to say hello!  We all put our bikes aside and huddled in like small children at a petting zoo...and to my delight, when I pulled some grass out from the base of one of the rocks, he ate right out of my hand.

I was just taken by the way he moved in for a nuzzle...
Fourteen miles of biking made for a very tired when we boarded the ferry at 5 pm, most of us slipped back to the lower deck to nap.  It was really stuffy down there, though, so I decided to opt for some fresh air and ride back to Rossaveal on the upper deck.  (I would have taken some photos of the Bay from that top deck, friends, but to be honest, I dozed off for a bit, too.)  The bus ride from the pier was relatively sedate as as we all stumbled off the bus at Eyre Square, I couldn't believe that people were debating hitting the pubs that night.  For my part, I speed-walked home without a second thought.  You see, there was a cup of tea just calling my name...

So there you have it friends - the first excursion.  The next one, incidentally, is this weekend...on Friday morning, I'm headed to Dublin!

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