Our Emerald Isle Adventure

We recently got back from the country I’ve long dreamed of—Ireland! It was the trip of a lifetime, even though we were only there for three and a half days. I am so thankful we had the opportunity to go and that the Lord provided beautiful sunshine-y weather while we were there. Here are the highlights… Actually every moment was a highlight… I’ll try my best to keep this concise.

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My number one photo from the trip… Aren’t those cliffs amazing?

Day 1—Galway

We picked up a rental car from the Dublin airport, and Tex very promptly learned how to drive on the left side of the road in a right-side driver’s seat. Let me just say, he did amazing. I had envisioned it being very stressful, but it was not. Even Tex would agree. It takes a lot of concentration at first, but once you get the hang of it, it’s easy (Note: I am speaking from my very extensive experience as a passenger seated on the left side).

Arriving a couple hours later in Galway, we made a beeline for food on Quay Street. We slid into The Quays Bar and Restaurant just in time to take advantage of their afternoon lunch menu. It is a quirky, rustic Irish pub and happened to be pretty quiet while we were there in the late afternoon. Tex ordered the roasted lamb plate, which came with a smorgasbord of yummy sides (including some very tasty sautéed greens). And I had the Irish seafood chowder with brown bread. This was when we first realized our love for Irish food!

The rest of the evening was spent browsing the sweater market nearby, grabbing (expensive) gelato further down the street, and strolling along the water’s edge. Galway is a cute and buzzing town.

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Day 2—The Cliffs of Moher and the Burren

Leaving our Airbnb fairly early in the morning, we arrived at the Cliffs of Moher around 8:30am. That was the best possible time to go, I think. We had the lush green cliffs to ourselves. It is hard for me to even know how to write about them, because they were one of the most incredible sights I have ever seen. Tall, windblown grass lay in wave-like patterns, rolling hills met with sheer-cut cliffs, and blue waves turned white as they beat the rocks far down below. There is a mortifying aspect too… Just knowing that one step too close to the edge could be your last. If you ever get the chance to go, please be careful, and please take me with you!

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We drove over to the nearby town of Doolin for lunch at a pub, where we also got to experience watching a rugby game with the locals. After fattening up on Irish beef stew and fish and chips, we took the waitress’s advice and stopped by the Doolin Chocolate Shop. We spent the afternoon making a loop through the Burren and stopping at various places. The Burren is such an interesting region and not exactly what I expected to see in Ireland, though it is gorgeous. It’s basically massive rocks. Massive hills made of massive rocks. We stopped first in Kilfenora where we picked up a map and nosed through a beautiful cemetery of Celtic crosses. A little further down the road, we found Poulnabrone, an ancient portal tomb. It was similar to how I imagine Stonehenge, though it was just four rocks total and not very busy with people. We thought it was fairly impressive, especially given the fact that it was built about 5000 years ago! Our next stop was the Burren Perfumery. It was a cute little shop but honestly wasn’t a lot to see. Driving along the coast that evening, we made a couple more stops, including Dunguaire Castle and another cemetery in the shadow of a crumbling church, and then turned in for the night.

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The cemetery at Kilfenora…
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And the Church
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The rocky Burren
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Poulnabrone portal tomb
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Another cemetery
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Dunguaire Castle at sunset

Ooh, and I forgot to mention that early in the morning we spotted a bright double rainbow just as the sun was rising. And then we actually drove THROUGH it! We had no idea that was possible and were just waiting to see a leprechaun jump out. Ha!

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The Burren at sunrise

Day 3—Aran Islands

Though I might have thought that nothing could compete with the prior day’s experience, our day on the island of Inis Mór certainly gave the Cliffs of Moher a run for its money. We expected a day of rain, rain, and more rain. But the Lord surprised us with a gloriously sunny and almost warm day. We had one fierce, five-minute shower, and that was all.

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Anywho, we took the morning ferry from Rossaveal out to the Aran Islands. We promptly rented bicycles and took off along the low coastal road. Inis Mór, the largest of the three islands, was larger and had more sites to see than I had expected. We didn’t have time to hit them all. The main attraction is the ancient, semicircular fort called Dún Aonghasa. Here’s why it is so impressive: 1) it was built around 1100 BC and is still intact, and 2) it was built directly on the edge of a 300 foot cliff. Tex was impressed by the “Chevaux de Frise,” which is a network of sharp stones placed around the fort as a defense. The views from within the innermost wall of the fort are breathtaking. I felt as if I were in another world. And we got to watch this rain cloud come straight toward us over the wild Atlantic waves. What a thought to imagine living there 3000 years ago, with the blustering wind and raging ocean and secure walls of stone and verdant grass all in one heart-stopping place.

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Dun Aonghasa

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This view from within the fort doesn’t do it justice.

After the fort, we decided to make a stop at the medieval ruins known as the Seven Churches. That was where we found the oldest gravestones I’ve ever laid eyes on—from the 800’s and 900’s AD. Crazy! From there, we started the long cycle up the high road. It was tough, but we found some horses to pet/laugh at along the way. We finished off our day on the island with some shopping for Aran sweaters and wool-knit goods. The ferry took us back to the mainland (if Ireland can be called that…?), and we made our way back into lively Galway for supper. Tex had an AMAZING dish called Fisherman’s Pie that was similar to Shepherd’s Pie but with a seafood chowder-like filling. I had a hamburger that supposedly contained black pudding.

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The Seven Churches and cemetery
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We made friends with this sweet horse.
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And this guy had somehow gotten up ONTO the fence and was just hanging out!

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Day 4—A Bit O’ Dublin

To wrap up our time in Ireland, we wanted to get a taste of the capital city. While we did enjoy it, I am so very glad that we chose to spend most of our time near Galway instead. Dublin has some lovely churches, including St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Christ Church Cathedral. But we didn’t feel like paying the money to go in, so we enjoyed the architecture for a moment and moved on. We grabbed a bite at the South African food chain Nando’s and moseyed on down to Trinity College. It would be cool to go back there and see the Book of Kells. But that’s really the only thing I feel like we missed.

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Christ Church Cathedral

All in all, this is a trip I would take again in a heartbeat. The outdoor wonders were more stunning than I ever dreamed. God did a mighty work when he created that country.

36 Days in Spain

¿Qué hicisteis el fin de semana pasada? This was the common topic of conversation for a whole month of my summer. As you may know, I spent 5 weeks studying sophomore-level Spanish in Seville. Well, sophomore-level Spanish means only one thing—verb conjugations. We spent a decent chunk of time practicing the preterite tense, especially asking questions like the one above, “What did you all do last weekend?” (Please do note the use of the vosotros/”you all” verb ending which is a necessity in Spain, but is obsolete in Mexico!) Let me just say… I had four thrilling weekends while I was there, and I would love to tell you what I did. Yo tenía cuatro fines de semana emocionantes cuando estuve allí, y me encantaría escribir sobre eso.

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View over Seville from La Giralda tower

PEOPLE

As a backdrop to the rest of my musings, you must know that the Spanish people are simply lovely. My host mom, Nancy, was the first to demonstrate this. One of my favorite times of the day was our late-night supper and learning more about Nancy and her husband, as well as about Spain and Andalusian culture, through our many conversations in Spanish. At first, these conversations were intimidating. I didn’t know half of the words that I wanted to use. But Nancy was so gracious and patient as we tried to describe what we meant to the best of our abilities. I remember one time, as Nancy was serving us eggplant, I described the vegetable as “una planta de huevo,” literally “plant of egg.” How confused she was! And for good reason. Haha!

Aside from my host parents, I also got to know a few of the Spanish tutors who worked with our class. These guys and gals were fun to be around and were a wealth of information about the language and how to navigate life in Seville.

PLACES & THINGS

The Alcazar and Catedral in Seville— According to our guide, approximately 100 grams of Christopher Columbus is buried in the Catedral.

Italica Ruins—These were some neat ancient Roman ruins, the birthplace of Emperors Trajan and Hadrian.

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The arena at Italica

Bullfight in Seville—This was a very interesting experience. And I’m glad to have seen it, just so I know what it really is. However, I don’t know if I would sign up to go again, as it is rather gruesome and sad. For those of you who think a bullfight is mainly just a matador saying “Olé!” (as I did), here are the nitty-gritty details… The bulls are raised in an environment such that they never see two-legged animals (aka humans) until they charge into the ring. They are colorblind animals but have a keen sense for movement, which means that it’s actually the waving motion of the cape, not the bright color, which entices them. In the first “tercio,” or round, the matador and his accomplices (I forget what they were called) engage the bull in a series of cape-waving and charges. Then the picador comes out, riding on his horse, and stabs the irritated bull in the upper neck muscles with a lance. As the second tercio begins, the bull can smell his own blood. The banderilleros run out on foot and stab the bull in that same neck region, using colorful, small, barbed sticks. This part looked terrifying, since the bull was already incensed and the banderilleros were relying solely on their ability to escape by running faster than the bull. By this point in the fight, the bull’s neck muscle has been significantly weakened. The third tercio begins as the main matador makes a few skillful passes of his cape (called the “muleta”), keeping one foot in place if he is top-brass. Finally, after some dramatic gestures and facial expressions and yelling, the matador goes for the kill and guides the curved sword down through the neck into the chest cavity towards the heart. In the entire evening, we saw three matadors each kill two bulls. Some fights were obvious successes for the matador, accompanied by loud “Olé’s” from the crowd and the waving of white handkerchiefs. A couple of times the kill was not very clean, and the crowd showed their disapproval by whistling at the matador.

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The Alhambra and the Royal Chapel in Granada—The Alhambra was another beautiful example of Islamic and Western architecture in combination. Granada was the last Muslim stronghold in Spain to surrender to Ferdinand and Isabella, the Catholic Monarchs. Those same two monarchs are buried in the Royal Chapel… And by the way, did you know that Granada means “pomegranate” in Spanish?

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One example of intricate tile work
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A courtyard in the Alhambra
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Another courtyard…

The Mezquita (Mosque) in Cordoba—Apparently, this iconic building has Roman origins, was later converted into a Muslim mosque, and eventually acquired an enormous Catholic cathedral nave right smack in the middle of all the arches.

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One of my favorite pictures… Heading into Cordoba!

Malaga—A group of girlfriends and I visited over a free weekend. We hit Picasso’s museum and, of course, the beach.

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La Rabida Monastery and Palos de la Frontera—This monastery was where Christopher Columbus stayed before he left for the New World. The monastery itself was just beautiful. Plus, not far from there, we were able to see life-size replicas of Columbus’s three ships. They were much smaller than I had imagined!

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The Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria

Cadíz beach—Tex and I thoroughly enjoyed this beach trip. We went in the morning to avoid crowds and took a picnic. It was pretty windy, but that didn’t keep us out of the water. The sand was some of the best my toes have ever felt.

Madrid and Toledo—The highlight of Madrid, in my opinion, was the Prado Museum of art. After a semester of taking Art Appreciation, it was pretty cool to see the actual Las Meninas by Velazquez, Goya’s Saturn (though creepy), and Van der Weyden’s The Deposition of Christ. On the last day of the program, we visited Toledo, only a short trip from Madrid. I want so badly to go back to Toledo again (but this time, take Tex with me!) during the celebration of Corpus Christi. We were there at the end of the week’s festivities. The entire town was dressed up—colorful banners draped from the windows, flower baskets and garlands hanging over the streets, bows and streamers tied in the trees. All of this, added to the town’s already medieval ambiance, bewitched me. We also walked to the edge of town, where we stumbled upon the Don Quixote Trail. How fun is that?! He was “from” the Toledo area and “adventured” along this trail. If we go back, I would love to road-trip along it. Sorry in advance for the uncanny number of photos…

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Celebrating Corpus Christi in Toledo
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From the Don Quixote Trail in Toledo
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How cute is this?!

EXPLORING SEVILLE ON MY OWN…

Las Setas—This is the modern icon of Seville, and its name actually means “the mushrooms.” If you go, there’s a lively market down below… including a stand crawling with snails! It is also a great place to get to know some local Sevillanos. So great, in fact, that our teacher thought it would be nice for us to go there and interview people in Spanish. It was tough but made for a great memory.

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La Plaza de España—Tex and I made a stop here in the heat of the afternoon to ride a boat around the little canal. The architecture and tiles are beautiful!

“Yemas” at the Convent of San Leandro— I’m so glad I had a free morning to hunt down this gem. After hearing about a few different convents that make and sell their own sweets, I decided I had to try some. The sisters of this particular convent are completely cloistered, meaning that their direct contact with the outside world is limited. Thus, to sell their egg-yolk and sugar sweets (called “yemas”), they have devised a rotating door with shelves. I waited for a few minutes, until I finally heard a voice ask what I wanted, then I ordered and placed my money on the shelf. She spun the door, around came my bag of treats, and then next my change. I never saw a soul.

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The quality of this picture isn’t great, but I had to show y’all the rotating door 🙂

El Torre del Oro— The Tower of Gold

Shopping the streets and the markets (Mercadillo Historico del Jueves—Thursday Flea Market in the Feria)

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Antique tiles at the flea market

FOOD

Pisto con huevo- This is basically the Spanish version of ratatouille, though in my opinion, much better… It’s tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, bell pepper, onion, and garlic all stewed together with a fried egg on top! I’ve already made it a couple of times at home, though it’s hard to replicate Nancy’s recipe.

Freshly squeezed orange juice- My roommate and I discovered this reasonably-priced treat in one of the many cafes on our first walk to campus. And we enjoyed it many more times after.

Churros con chocolate- Thanks to a sweet friend who wanted to celebrate my birthday, I was able to finally try authentic churros with chocolate at the Virgen de Lujan Chocolatería.

Tapas- gambas (shrimp in a garlicky butter sauce), albondigas (meatballs), calamari, salmorejo (a Cordoban twist on gazpacho… made of tomatoes, bread, and garlic). Nancy first took me out for tapas at Bar Bugarín, one of the neighborhood favorites. And then, it was so good that Tex and I made a trek across town for lunch.

Chicharrones!- This deserves a whole paragraph. If you are from Texas, you’ve probably had pig skins before, but you have NOT had Spanish chicharrones. Tex and I tried them at a market (Mercado Lonja del Barranco) that my host mom recommended. It was a memorable food experience. They are meaty, fatty bits of pork, deep fried so that they truly do melt in your mouth, and coated in a delectable spicy salt. Needless to say, I raved and raved about them to Nancy, who later bought me a large package of the tasty morsels. I ate nearly the whole bag in one afternoon and had to confess to Nancy as she was taking us out for our final “family” supper that evening. And I sadly do not have a picture.

Paella- (with a LOT of seafood… Mom, I still prefer yours.)

Berenjenas con miel- Fried eggplant topped with honey. This was another of Nancy and her husband’s specialties.

Gelato– Sometimes multiple times a day. Specifically, the flavor “Nata” (cream).

Tostada con jamón- Toast drizzled with olive oil, spread with pureed tomato, and topped with thinly sliced Andalusian ham. This is the quintessential Spanish breakfast.

And that’s all folks! Thanks for taking the time to read my long-winded post ❤

The Big Summer Recap

It has just been flat too long since I last posted. We have traveled a lot, and, obviously, I have written but little. While part of me hates to skip so many of the colorful and delicious details, Tex suggested writing a quick recap of our recent trips to catch myself up. So here goes.

Southern Italy—February

We hit the “trullis” of Alberobello, the white-washed walls of Ostuni, some interesting seafood in Monopoli, a pretty sea-side sunrise in Giovinazzo, and the ruins of Pompeii. Oh, and Tex learned to drive like a true Italian (in a tiny Fiat).

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Trulli houses
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Mt. Vesuvius in the background
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Pompeii

Prague—March

This was a wonderful trip over spring break with Tex’s sibs. We visited the Clementinum library where we got the best view of the city, tramped across the Charles Bridge, and took a fancy dinner cruise along the Vltava River. And most importantly, we ate as many trdelniks as our poor tummies could possibly fit.

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Stunning Prague skyline

The Netherlands—April

I keep telling everyone that this was my favorite place yet. We walked through the waterways and windmills of Kinderdijk and camped near Delft, where we shopped for the iconic blue and white dishes, followed by a day of biking through the rainbow fields of tulips. The last day, we headed down through Belgium for a stop at the Waterloo battlefield.

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Kinderdijk windmills
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Blossoming tulips

Spain—June

I spent over a month studying “abroad” in Spain to fulfill my foreign language requirements. It was an unforgettable experience of Spanish culture. Not only did I discover my favorite Spanish dish, pisto con huevo, but I saw my first (and probably only) bullfight. My class visited the Alhambra in Granada, the Mezquita in Cordoba, and La Rabida (where Christopher Columbus embarked on his journey to the New World). Tex came to visit for a weekend too! I showed him around Seville and took him to eat tapas in my host family’s neighborhood. We also hopped onto the train to Cadiz for a day at the beach.

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The Alcazar gardens in Seville
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Bull vs. Matador
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From the Don Quixote Trail in Toledo
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Celebrating Corpus Christi in Toledo

Rome—July

As soon as my family arrived, we all took off for an Italian adventure. To name the big sites, we saw the Colosseum and Roman Forum, the Pantheon, and the Vatican. But I’m also pretty sure that we saw everything else, walking almost 12 miles on one of the days 🙂 And, we had what could have been the best pizza in my life. Another day was spent in St. Francis’s town of Assisi, where we gawked at the mystical, medieval basilica. And finally we stopped in Florence to see the Duomo and the rest of the lovely city. And I can’t forget to mention our pit-stop at the Leaning Tower of Pisa in the middle of a torrential downpour!

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Our first glimpse of the Colosseum
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Assisi
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The Duomo
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Bonus picture: Berchtesgaden

Berlin—August

This was our latest little trip and our first time to the German capital. We visited the outstanding Pergamon Museum on Museum Island, where the Ishtar Gate of Babylon has been reconstructed. And we also made a stop at Checkpoint Charlie, before going out for… Korean BBQ. Ha!

I can hardly bear not sharing more stories and photos from each of these adventures. But for now, it will have to do.

We send our love to our families and friends back home. Thanks for reading!