Letter to myself

Please get involved. I know you aren’t doing enough. It is not enough to talk about politics with friends and family, discuss events with classmates or colleagues, or post on social media from time to time. No. You must organize or participate in peaceful protests, volunteer as a poll worker, vote, actively register new voters, write personalized letters to your local representative, continue to sign petitions, and increase your knowledge base. By this I mean, keep learning about the issues, and don’t let yourself be deterred. Read books, watch documentaries, ask questions, and be sure to not only historically contextualize what you see today but also remember to look at today’s events from different perspectives that question if you see that just and equitable society that you want to live in. It’s important now as well as in the future to keep asking whose interests do certain decisions, statements, policies, etc. serve.

Summer Travels VII. Edinburgh, Scotland

While in Edinburgh, I visited the Royal Mile, Old Town, and spotted the sights where JK Rowling is speculated to have drawn inspiration from for the Harry Potter books.

Both perfectly overcast and small enough not get lost in with professional bagpipe players populating every street corner, Edinburgh indeed had a certain magic to it.

Arthur’s Seat

Located at the end of the Royal Mile, I started to climb up Arthur’s Seat, the remains of an extinct volcano that last erupted 350 million years ago. Some claims say Arthur’s Seat may have been where King Arthur’s legendary castle in Camelot was located whereas others say the name stems from Gaelic to mean “height of Arrows” that may have evolved into Archer’s seat then Arthur’s Seat.

There was a single dirt trail that gradually increased in incline until I reached Arthur’s Seat. It was the same path that led the descent back down. At its highest point, I saw Edinburgh Castle and ultimately a panoramic view of Edinburgh. The winds caught high speeds at Arthur’s Seat, but since it was the summer in Scotland, the temperature was in the 50s-60s.

Summer Travels VI. Ireland: Galway, Dublin, Howth

All in a Day’s worth

Since I was staying in Dublin, I booked a day excursion so that I could see Galway and the Cliffs of Moher.

Galway

Although I was only in Galway, a harbor city located on Ireland’s west coast, for only an hour, I loved it. You could walk the streets where Irish folk musicians and dancers would entertain. You could explore the seemingly endless supply of traditional pubs and shops. You could observe some of the city’s maintenance of medieval city walls. On this bus tour, I even met a Study Abroad advisor Ally and a couple from Texas. It was interesting to see other Americans abroad, as for most of the semester, the amount of Americans in Clermont-Ferrand were sparse.

Cliffs of Moher

Next, I was off to the Cliffs of Moher– Ireland’s most visited attraction, and of course the site of the caves used in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. For some context, ‘Mothar’ (meaning ‘the ruin of a fort’ in old Gaelic) was a ruined fort razed during the Napoleonic Wars (in the early 1800s) to make a signal tower at Hag’s Head. Hag’s Head, located at the southern point of the Cliffs, was strategic because of its peculiar rock formation. The rock formation resembles a woman’s head looking out to sea, thus providing a useful vantage over much of the cliffs.

Walking some of the 5 miles (or 8km as the crow flies) that the Cliffs stretched upon, I could only describe seeing the Cliffs of Moher as witnessing pure beauty unfold before me.

The Cliffs of Moher’s highest point reaches 702 feet (214 m). So it was no surprise that I could see collections of islands and mountains in the distance. Though, I must caution that if you plan to visit the Cliffs, not to get too close to the edge. The Tragic Reality of Deaths at the Cliffs of Moher puts into perspective the dangers that coexist with the breathtaking nature of the Cliffs.

The Irish adore Barack Obama

On the walking tour, I learned about Irish history and their fascination with former President Barack Obama. Obama had only come to Ireland for a day, but 12 hours was all it took. Unsurprisingly, Obama’s ancestry, like most Americans, had been traced back to Ireland. So he traveled up to his distant Irish cousin to share a pint of Guinness.

But this trip would live on beyond the day Obama spent there. On the ride back to Dublin from the Moher cliffs, the day excursion I took stopped at the Barack Obama Plaza in Moneygall who dub themselves the ancestral home of Barack Obama.

The Plaza had authentic Irish food, Michelle and Barack Obama cardboard cutouts, and a museum dedicated to Obama’s visit (complete with the glass of Guinness he drank out of). Finally, my understanding of Ireland’s fascination with Obama had come full circle. Obama, like previously adored US presidents with Irish ancestral roots like JFK and Bill Clinton, were symbols of a Democratic party, strong with immigrant party ideals. But, do those other presidents have such a glorious folk song written about them by the Irish themselves: There’s No One As Irish As Barack O’Bama?

Howth, Ireland

Howth was a cool opportunity to see a bustling fishing village. While there, I walked the Howth Cliff Walk Loop where I saw Howth Summit and Bailey lighthouse. Then I ended the visit with the best fish and chips I’d ever had in a nearby park where several people were doing the same. Just watch out for seabirds like this European herring gull. Albeit being a delight to see, these birds will steal your fish and chips if given the opportunity.

Getting Around All this Time

As a final word, I got the LEAP visitor card when I arrived in Dublin. The LEAP visitor card includes unlimited travel on the DART (train), Dublin Bus, Airlink (to and from the airport), Commuter Rail, Luas, and Go-Ahead Ireland routes in Dublin. The LEAP visitor card is an excellent option if you prefer not to rent a car.

Summer Travels V. Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Landing in Amsterdam, I was surprised to learn that navigating was reasonably straightforward. I knew what to do, and getting lost was a thing of the past.

We took a canal cruise, walking tour, and time to eat their famous dutch pancakes (and fries)! To do something out of the ordinary, we bought tickets for the Amsterdam Dungeon.

The Amsterdam Dungeon provided a fun way to learn about a city’s dark past. The guide took the group through a series of rooms where strange characters exhibited what it would be like in that time in history for that city in a scarily fun manner.