Tuesday, January 24, 2012

In Closing - Susan

So, it's our last night in Ireland before heading home tomorrow.  It's been a packed experience filled with contrasts of history, culture, people and different forms of technology.  We've traveled many miles by foot, public buses, trains, ferry, coaches, shuttles and planes.  We've stayed in everything from hotels to bare-bone hostels to a grand manor.  It's been a great trip and a great group, who have taken in much of these packed travels.  One of the Irish coach drivers complimented the gang on being "an honor to their parents, to their university and to their nation" - and they have been!

Over our group meal today at the "Bunratty Creamery" just outside of Shannon, Ireland - I asked for each to speak of something that had made a lasting impression.  All were memorable responses.  Just a few included included the warmth and hospitality particularly of the Welsh; a genuine pride held by the Irish of their culture and their young nation; the amazing and diverse history across the Isles; the imagination and cultural connotations associated with Irish folklore; and incredible beauty of the countryside and natural sites.  We've learned so much from seeing, listening and doing.  Just a few other activities I heard recounted included amazing theatre with the Wicked play; unique British humor in the Robin Hood interactive "Panto"; and Welsh lessons where we learned to sing "My hat has three corners" complete with motions.  We saw ground-breaking technology development and dedication of Bletchley Park; incredible museums; heard of IBM business philosophies from an Irish executive, and saw technology beyond our modern explanations at the 5,500 year-old world heritage site, Newgrange.  And who can forget the "cliffs of insanity" of Princess Bride - more commonly known as the Cliffs of Moher!  We've had meaningful experiences in ancient churches and in a modern church, the beautiful Book of Kells, in devotion discussions and in seeing ancient Celtic Christian crosses that were used to teach Biblical stories in ancient monasteries.  Conwy castle was another great tour.  Staying at Plas Llanmihangel (a renovated 12th century Tudor country manor in Wales) complete with our own banquet in the great room was most memorable.  And so much more...

Finally, I think the group has bonded and made lasting friendships while eating, traveling, learning and experiencing new cultures together.   Back to America tomorrow.  We hear of snow in Spokane - we've been exceptionally fortunate to have unseasonably nice weather throughout the trip.  We didn't even need an umbrella in Britain or Ireland!  Nevertheless, we're all happy to head home tomorrow! 

Kelli: Final Destinations Bunratty and Shannon

The Majestic Cliffs of Moher
 I write from the city of Shannon, our final city in Ireland. We leave tomorrow morning, and even though we all are excited to share our adventures with friends and family, we have enjoyed these past few days. Yesterday we had the opportunity to take a coach from Galway to Shannon. Along the way we learned more about the landscape and history of Ireland. As well, we were able to stop at some amazing sites. One of these being the famous Cliffs of Moher, or known by fans of The Princess Bride, the Cliffs of Insanity! Yes, the Cliffs of Moher have been used in many movies, like The Princess Bride and Harry Potter. For good reason, these cliffs have fascinated, terrified, and ignited wonder from visitors for hundreds of years. The cliffs rise to 700 feet at the highest point and the range is five miles over the Atlantic Ocean. The waves below crash violently on the cliffs on a relatively calm day, like yesterday. But on most days when it is rainy and windy, the waves pound the cliffs with great force. Although we did not see much wildlife while we were there, wildlife like Puffins, Guillemots and Peregrine Falcons. As we left this destination, the mist and fog began to settle on the cliffs. It really is amazing that such a beautiful and magnificent place exists. It was definitely one of my favorite places on the trip.
The girls take a quick photo
Today we ventured to Bunratty Castle. The castle, used by the O'Briens for years, was built in 1425. It was given its name because it is located beside the Ratty River and the Ratty River flows into the Shannon River near by. The original walls and flooring still stand; however the other parts of the castle have been restored. Although the furniture is not the original furniture from the structure, the furniture is from the 16th century. Bunratty Castle, unlike the Conwy Castle, is actually a tower structure and, though built for defense, was used more as a house for the O'Briens. After King Henry VIII reign though the O'Briens moved out and soon no one lived in the tower. Today, the tower is still beautiful and stands as a type of symbol for Ireland. When it was restored to its current splendor in the 20th century, the Irish people began to see that if a structure from old could be restored, so could the country of Ireland. Instead of dwelling on their past history, they saw how it could empower them. They could use their past history to help them know where they had come from and where they were going, a concept we all should remember.
Bunratty Castle
We wake up early tomorrow morning and leave from the airport of Shannon! We will be home to all of you faithful followers soon!


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Galway through the eyes of Rachel and Colleen

Galway. The Culture Heart of Ireland.

When we got to Galway, the first thing that we made us fall in love with the town was the fresh air. Especially after staying in Dublin's smokiness. Everything was so much cleaner and more...ancient.

After dropping our bags off at the hostel on Friday we got to explore the town.Of course eating lunch was an important part of our exploration! Colleen was able to go to an adorable local tea shop and had afternoon tea while Rachel experienced the closest restaurant due to what felt like starvation...

Next we all explored the town and did window shopping and/or real shopping. Galway seemed to really focus on more locally made souvenirs ranging from claddagh rings (which were invented in Galway) to woolen sweaters (which we assumed came from local sheep frolicking happily around the Irish countryside). Another moment of excitement came when we found real Irish people as opposed to tourists!

That night we all decided to find local musicians in an authentic Irish pub. After finally finding a pub where the music was going to start before the ghastly hour of 10pm we spent time observing the Irish culture while waiting for the music to start. Part of this was watching a local rugby team win a professional match on T.V. When the music finally began, we enjoyed the live Irish music we had been looking for.

Saturday was a lot of the same old same old...OF EXPLORING AN IRISH TOWN!!! On the weekend there is a local market filled with a lot of yum yums and fresh produce. The girls in the group decided that we were going to feast like kings and bought some of that produce. Red strawberries, fuzzy kiwis, golden bananas, crisp carrots, juicy apples, sweet pears, and rainbow peppers all for 15 euros for this luscious display of fresh and organic locally grown goodness. Not to mention the wonderful array of breads... Including gluten free for Anna! Lets just say that we had the best home cooked dinner since the Manor.

Sunday the girls woke up when it was still dark to go to 8:30am mass at the Galway Cathedral aka "Cathedral of our Lady Assumed into Heaven and St. Nicholas". Sitting inside we felt incredibly tiny because of the high ceilings raised alter. According to the two Catholics with us, we went to the quickest mass of 25 minutes. Afterwards, we had plenty of time before meeting the rest of the group for lunch at 1pm, so we decided to watch the sunrise at the beach! It was one of the most incredible views all trip.

During lunch, we found out that Susan and the boys went to the St. Nicholas, a traditional Anglican church in town. It sounded like they really enjoyed the service. Following lunch there was more exploration and Kelli's continued quest of finding an Irish dress that led to two other girls buying dresses. Three down, three to go...Poor Kelli...

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Michael and Kevin: Dublin, Ireland

We have now finished our first few days in Ireland! After crossing the ferry and arriving in Dublin, we explored the city a bit, but found most of the attractions closed. The next day, we took a guided tour of Dublin, which helped orient us to the city and show us some of the famous sights in the main downtown areas.  After a quick lunch some of us visited the Guinness Storehouse and found out a lot about the making of the famous Irish brew.  It is amazing how much the culture here has evolved around drinking and particularly around Guinness.
The next day we visited the Trinity College Library, which housed the book of Kells, an old ornamental copy of the Bible which has amazing artwork and embellishments on the text. It was mainly left on the altar as decoration and for use during ceremonies, and not for daily use. It showed the incredible dedication and passion the Celts had for their faith. We also visited the Science Gallery in Trinity College, which currently has a water-themed exhibit with different interactive displays set up to raise awareness about water consumption around the world and reduce waste. Afterwards, we got to listen to a talk by someone from IBM, who told us about the strategies behind innovating new technologies and challenged us to think about how we would go about building the things we saw, such as how Newgrange had been built. Next , the group visited the Irish National Museum of Archaeology, which had several major interesting exhibits on display. The first was about ancient Celt inhabitants of Ireland and had a few preserved bodies extracted from peat bogs as well as offerings the ancients had given to mark the boundaries of their territories. The museum also had a Viking exhibit with artifacts from the Viking founders of Dublin. Finally, there was a Roman exhibit on display with some of the details of life and death in the Roman Empire.
On our last day in Dublin we visited Newgrange.  It is a ceremonial mound that was constructed thousands of years ago (about 500 years before the great pyramids), which still to this day does not leak any water through the roof. The entire structure was massive, but had only a long narrow entryway and chamber (directly behind us in this picture).

Looking at it from the outside, we thought it would be large inside, but it ended up being a small cave (we would have taken pictures, but they weren't allowed--Sorry!). Nevertheless, it was very impressive and had artwork from long ago along the walls ,as well as some "artwork" from more recent visitors wishing to leave their mark. It also has a small window (the small hole above the doorway) which allows the sun to shine into the main chamber precisely on the morning of the Summer Solstice.  It is amazing how much engineering and scientific knowledge went into this fantastic structure.  We also visited the Hills of Tara, but found them in much worse shape; they were the remnants of an ancient Irish king's buildings and halls, but only small mounds of dirt remained where their walls had been. Since it was very cold and windy, we didn't spend very much time here, but only briefly looked at them and came back to the bus. Finally, we had a grand meal with Irish traditional music and folklore, where the host shared stories of faeries and leprechauns, and told us how these related to the everyday lives of the Irish common people of old.  Also, a couple of Irish musicians performed some Irish songs for us, and they were really fun and engaging.  It really was a great look into the traditional Irish culture.

Dublin was a fun place to be for a few days, but definitely had more of a big city feel to it, though the people here are still friendly.  The people here seem very welcoming and willing to strike up a conversation, particularly when it is about Ireland or something that relates to their culture or national identity.  

Monday, January 16, 2012

Anna and Kelli: Aberystwyth!

We had a great few days in Aberystwyth, sunshine the whole time! We spent Friday and Aberystwyth University, learning about some of their computer science work, and having our Welsh lesson. Welsh...lots of hacking and "flemmy" tones, and we can almost accurately repeat the Welsh alphabet. Friday night, I had the opportunity to meet my Dad's cousin and her husband who live in Aberystwyth. It was great to meet them and they were able to instruct us on what we absolutely had to do when we were exploring.

Saturday was our day to explore, and instead of waiting for a bus into town, we trekked the three ish miles into town on the edge of the rode. Very safely of course... In town we headed to the waterfront promenade to "Kick the Bar." This is a tradition that has been going on since before WWII, and if you kick the bar on the end of the pier, you will one day return to Wales. Unfortunately the bar was no where to be found. We finally found it a few hours later after we had hiked up the hill to the Welsh National Library, which was really more of a gallery/museum. For the evening we headed back to the University for a very clever pantomime of Robin Hood. After a day full of walking it was straight to be for everyone when we returned.

Sunday was our nothing day. People sleeping until noon, staying in PJ's all day and relaxing. We did venture into town for an evening church service at the church of the computer science professor from the university. It was a college service, so it was great to get to talk to other students about what they were studying and what they liked to do in Aberystwyth.

It is very apparent how tired everyone is, but everyone seems excited for more adventures in Ireland!
Below was the last stop in Wales before Holyhead.  You'll have to click and enlarge but notice the long Welsh name of the town with the meaning below and the woman in traditional Welsh dress!


As Anna mentioned, at Aberystywyth University, we had the opportunity to speak with Professor Price about smart phones and the new "app" trend. Smart phones can download program, called applications or apps, and then the smart phone user can access these apps when they would like. Instead of the technical computer science aspects of creating apps, Professor Price explained the general purpose of apps and what important features apps should include so that they are marketable. Professor Price explained that the app must have value for the customer. In order to create value, the app should consider its target audience and utilize the unique app aspects, such as the zoom in screen, GPS tracking, and the size of the smart phone. He emphasized that applications that merely copy information from a print source, such as a brochure, and then use this as an app are inconvenient and don't add value for the viewer.

From his lecture, I came away with this advice from Professor Price: find your niche. If an app has a small but devoted market, then it can not only make a profit, but it can continually benefit this market and improve the app to appeal and help this small market.

Until Shannon!


Susan: On the Irish Sea between Wales and Ireland!

Hello from somewhere on the Irish Sea between Wales and Ireland!  We're on the 3 1/2 hour ferry from Holyhead, Wales to Dublin.  A little rough but not too bad, showers off the way.  We've had a great time in Aberystwyth, Wales.  More to come from Anna and Kelli on that, but thought I'd post a status.

Yesterday evening we went to a dinner and college/career age service at a church in Aberystwyth.  My CS professor contact of many years, is also a lay pastor at this church.  We had a nice time and meaningful service.  They made a big effort to welcome and include us.  Ace, Stephanie, Rachel, Michael and Lauren gave a "dramatic reading" on Samuel and Eli.  Josiah gave a phenomenal performance of a song he had written, with the keyboard (of which he played with more depth than I've every heard a keyboard).  They all made us proud!

The previous night they had a new experience - Robin Hood in the form of British Pantomine, of which you just have to experience.  Maybe Anna and Kelli can find the words to describe it!  During the performance, they announced our group.  We also had time at the university talking mobile applications for smartphones, looking at robotic research and a Welsh lesson of which they mastered, "My hat has 3 corners" in Welsh and complete with accompanying motions.

We've had the most beautiful weather that I've seen in Wales.  It was gorgeous on the coach ride through the mountains from Aberystwyth, this am.  Had a clear sky and the sun coming up over the beautiful green hills and the little stone farm houses/walls, with a light snow dusting in some places.  We've been fortunate to have very little rain, but sounds like we'll get it in Ireland.  So, out of beautiful Wales and onto Ireland (also beautiful, but in a different way).  All are excited for yet more new experiences.  All of us have been fighting off a bug, but doing pretty well.   Onward!!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Conwy & Llandudno - Josiah & Lauren

Us in front of Conwy Castle
Today we spent the first half of the day taking a tour through Conwy Castle.  Our guide was a charming older gentleman named Neil who was very knowledgeable about everything Conwy-related.  The castle fortifications were quite impressive back in the day, including one gate section that had seven different defenses within 4.5 meters!  We also learned about the history of the castle, built by Edward I in order to exert his rule over North Wales.  Conwy was considered quite innovative in its time, such as its indoor plumbing and one of the first known flushing toilets.  It was definitely helpful to have the guide; otherwise we would not have known the significance of the various buildings and structures in the castle and walled town.  For example, most staircases in the castle towers ascend in a clockwise direction, so that a right-handed defender would have the advantage.

The rest of the day we wandered around the town of Conwy.  Many headed towards the tea room to warm up after the cold and damp of the castle.  We split into different groups to check out the shops around the town, only to meet up once more.  Our group seems to have an uncanny knack of locating one another in any size town.  We were at Britain's smallest house, measuring 3.05 by 1.8 meters.
Us at the Smallest House
Yes, people actually did live here.  It was continuously inhabited from the 16th century until around 1900 when the owner had to move out due to hygiene concerns.  It was unfortunately closed for the winter so we couldn't see inside it at all.  One of the drawbacks of sightseeing at this time of year is that many things are closed.

We hiked around the town wall (yes you can walk on the walls), up to the highest point in the area which offered quite amazing views.
Us on top of the tallest tower, looking towards the Irish Sea
After this we continued to explore the town and surrounding areas in smaller groups, eventually gathering back at the hostel we are staying at.  The hostel is just outside the town, at the top of a rather steep hill.  After a long day of walking around the hill seems a lot steeper, let me tell you!  The hostel itself is very nice though.

Just a short bus ride from Conwy, is the resort town of Llandudno.  This wonderfully scenic town has been constructed in a mid-Victorian style.  It truly is the "Queen of the Welsh Resorts."  There is a waterfront promenade as well as a pier stretching out into the bay.  Next to the town is the Great Orme, a gorgeous mountain full of numerous attractions, including a 4,000 year old copper mine.  We didn't make it there, but we could see it from the hostel.  Conwy kept us busy, and some of us may have been too cheap to spring for bus fare.  If we had another day we would have wondered in that direction. We had a great time exploring Conwy.  Tomorrow we head towards Aberystwyth, taking a coach through Snowdonia.