Igoumenitsa to Meteora – the unknown beauty of Greece

Due, I’m sure, to my lack of attention during Ancient Geography, I had no idea that the northwestern coast of Greece was so shockingly beautiful! The drive from Igoumenitsa to a glorious place called Meteora was beyond any beauty I have ever experienced. For those of you who don’t know me well, that is saying quite a bit. For decades I have sworn that Ireland (here and here and also here) is the most beautiful place on Earth. And in full disclosure, I still have an undeniable pull to Ireland that I cannot explain. However, the beauty of Meteora is completely different than the beauty of Ireland. It’s like comparing apples and chairs… they’re not even both fruit!

Greece was both luscious and rugged. The greens and blues were in such beautiful contrast to each other that I was really unsure of how to process that a place like this existed.

We left Italy on the Saturday of the Catholic Holy Week (the next day would be Easter). We entered Greece on the Greek Orthodox Palm Sunday (the week before the Orthodox Easter). In many ways it was like actually going back in time. A few of the students in our group had wanted to attend church somewhere in Greece for Easter services, but there weren’t any because the Orthodox calendar differs from the Catholic calendar. Who knew! Fortunately the kids weren’t too disappointed since we were headed to a monastery anyway.

We stopped along the drive from Igoumenitsa in Kastraki for a lovely dinner where my friend and I ate lunch on the outdoor patio. The weather was glorious — a little chilly in the shade, but the sun gave the air just enough warmth to make you comfortable.

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Behind us you can see the breathtaking cliffs of Meteora that at the time we didn’t know we were heading toward.

After lunch was over, we piled back into the bus and made our way to Meteora. All I knew was that we were going to see some monasteries that were built on top of mountains. I felt like that would be a fitting place for monks, but little did I know exactly what we would see there.

The Meteora monasteries are unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, and the closest comparison that I can come to is when my son and I visited the cliff dwellings of ancient Americans in the southwest. But those cliff dwellings were just holes in the sides of mountains. The monasteries of Meteora were phenomenal churches and living quarters that were hoisted up the sides of cliffs bit by bit and constructed on the tops of enormous outcroppings of rock. For years some of the monasteries were only accessible by a pulley system. There is still one of the monasteries that is only accessible through a gondola-style contraption that someone inside the monastery operates!

The monasteries are lived in, but for revenue, many of them allow tourists – even on Palm Sunday. We were required to wear skirts and keep our shoulders covered, and they supplied you with a wrap around piece of fabric to wear over your pants so that you could comply with the dress code.   After climbing up a horrifically primitive looking staircase up the side of the outcropping, we made it to the monastery. I am very afraid of heights, so this was no easy task. Most of the climb up I just focused on the shirt or shoes (depending on the steepness of the climb) of the person in front of me.

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It was truly an amazing experience on top of the world in Meteora, and the view from our hotel that night, was nearly as breathtaking.

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Kalabaka, Greece

I am sure that Greece will get at least one more stamp in my passport so I can come back here and spend a few days rather than a single night. It was a wonderful place filled with beautiful blue skies, amazingly green foliage, and ruggedly impressive mountains. I strongly recommend swinging by this lovely town!

The Enchanting Magic of Pisa

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On the epic trip that EF prepared for us, we were not “supposed” to go to Pisa. However, after we requested a side trip, our tour guide agreed to take us the Friday night after we had been in Florence.  I nearly didn’t go because it was an extra fee to pay the bus driver and a tour guide when we got to Pisa. However, since all the group was going, I decided to go as well… and my life is better for having gone.

We arrived in Pisa after dark, and like all of Italy, it was breathtakingly beautiful. Our tour guide met us by the baptistry (see my Florence post about the significance of the different buildings). She there gave us a brief history of the bad soil in Pisa that caused not only the bell tower, but also the baptistry to be slightly tilted.  People don’t often know about the baptistry because the tower is much more tilted.

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Because it was Good Friday, there was a quiet hush over the area due to actual services going on in the cathedral. Our tour guide even whispered as she gave us the history of many doors on religious buildings in Italy and around Europe. Much of the general populace (during the times the religious buildings were constructed) could not read. So often the doors told religious stories so that the illiterate masses could see them rather than read them.

These are the doors on the cathedral at Pisa, including one of the tiles that apparently has something to do with finding love… that tile is actually shiny from the humber of people who rub it for a blessing/good luck.

We were not allowed to go inside the cathedral as it was invitation only due to the presence of a very important Cardinal… or something like that. We were disappointed, of course, but it made sense why they wouldn’t want a bunch of American teenagers just bursting in.

So we walked around the outside and over toward the tower where our guide talked to us more about the tower’s history. Apparently, no one wanted to take “credit” for the starting of the tower, so there is some controversy as to who began its construction. It was only two floors high when it began to sink. They took a nearly 100 year break in the construction due to conflict with Florence and other surrounding towns. This was apparently a good thing because it gave the foundation a chance to settle.

The tower continues to sink a little bit from year to year. It was even bolstered up in the late 90s to decrease the degree of the leaning, but it will likely need to be done again at some point. It was quite an impressive sight to see. I’d heard about it, of course, but I really had no idea how dramatic the lean was. It is positively impressive that it doesn’t tip over. The uppermost floors are smaller than the others to reduce the appearance of the lean and also to add less weight to the structure.

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As we finished our official tour with the local guide, our main tour guide gave us ten minutes before we needed to head back. However, just a few moments later we started to hear singing coming from the speakers mounted on the outside of the cathedral. At first we didn’t know there were speakers, and it was a very beautiful and eerie collection of voices coming from… well, we didn’t know where.

And then, someone pointed out that there was some kind of procession off in the distance from the direction of the town. At the front of the procession was this very important Cardinal carrying an enormous cross, and people were just falling in step behind him, creating this long chain of people from the town who were all singing the same song that was coming from the cathedral. It was obviously in Italian, so I don’t know what the song was, but it was haunting and magnificent.

The procession went into the cathedral, and everyone poured in… so I did too! I got some amazing video of the procession – the Cardinal, other important religious looking people, civilians, and also first responders (police, firemen, etc). Everyone was singing and pouring into the church… it was positively magical!

I’ve mentioned before in other posts that I am not Catholic, but Italy has this way of making you feel a part of the religious experience even though you technically aren’t. The emotion of it all makes it very understandable that nearly 90% of Italy identifies as Catholic (even though only 36% of them consider themselves devout). On this religious holiday, it seemed as though the entire city of Pisa was in or around the cathedral as we open mouthed tourists stood outside.

I called my parents afterward (my father was raised Catholic) and actually cried as I described the beauty of the experience to them.

I don’t remember how much money it cost me to go to Pisa, but it was worth it a million times over! Pisa is a glorious place to spend Good Friday… and probably regular Fridays too.

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Birthplace of the Renaissance – Florence, Italy

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There are few places on Earth that give me the kind of joy that Florence, Italy did! The pictures I took on this dreary day do not come close to highlighting the beauty that Florence offers.

In preparation for the trip to Italy, I watched the first season of the Netflix series The Medici – a bit too rated R for me, but it highlights the rise of the Medici family and everything they did for Florence in the 13 and 1400s. Along with a healthy amount of unnecessary sex and love… quadrangles (?) was some of the history of Florence. It is a fascinating city!

The construction of the duomo is filled with scandal, sabotage, and political gain, but dear God it’s beautiful! Once again, the religious holiday made it impractical to inside due to the lines, but we did get to see all of Florence that day.

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This is the bell tower and cathedral in Florence (the duomo is behind this). The detail is unimaginable – so intricate, it is no wonder it took a hundred and forty years to complete this masterpiece!

A short history about the construction of cathedrals and their surrounding buildings in Europe:

  • Cathedrals and bell towers were originally constructed as separate buildings- unlike today where they are constructed together.
  • Originally, the you were not permitted to enter the cathedral until you had been baptized, so older cathedrals have a separate building called the baptistry. That way people could (pay to) get baptized, and then be able to enter the cathedral in order to worship, receive the sacraments, and to attend confession.
  • Baptisteries were octagonal in shape because in Christian numerology (which was very popular at the time), the number eight follows the “perfect” number 7, thus symbolizing a new beginning.

Pretty cool, huh! Who knew!

Below is a picture of me at the Paradise gate on the baptistery in Florence — so there is Ms. Paradise, in front of Paradise gate 🙂

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Also on our tour we passed the sculpture garden of the Medici family. One of the many things the Medici did for the city was finance artists. The sculpture garden was more of a courtyard than a “garden” – but it was insanely impressive, and during our free time I sat there and wrote in my journal to try to process the beauty of the city.

We had lunch at a beautiful little cafe with tasty, albeit expensive sandwiches, and of course a glass of red wine that was the same price as a Coca-Cola- one of the many reasons why I loved Italy!

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My friend and I also took the advice of our tour guide and found a glorious cafe at the top of a department store that gave us an amazing view of the city. There we had a cappuccino (of course) and sat and talked while enjoying the view of Florence from the air.

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Florence’s most famous tourist attraction is the Ponte Vecchio. It is one of the most recognizable bridges in all of Italy, and it is basically an ancient high-end strip mall. I’m over-simplifying of course, but it was interesting to see the beauty of the bridge lined with jewelry shops and leather purses. However, it is historically accurate. The bridge was the center of commerce when it was first constructed.

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The day was sunny and glorious – but there was so much more of Florence that I would have loved to have seen. It would be very easy to spend a week in Florence, and we were only there for a little over a day. There is, of course, the museum where they have the statue of David. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see that. It was an option, but due to the crowds and our time constraints, I chose to see more of the city and experience more of Florence rather than wait in lines. However, on the outskirts of town they do have a replica that was rather impressive too!

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Next week’s post will be about the most amazing evening of the entire trip – our impromptu trip to Pisa!

Take me Down to the Vatican City

After lunch on our second day in Rome, we left our little pizzeria and walked up to the wall surrounding Vatican City. As I mentioned in the last post, we were there during Holy Week, which for the Catholics is a big deal – and since the Vatican is the central hub for Catholics, to say that it was crowded would be a vast understatement.

This was my first struggle with traveling with a group: You go to see the things that everyone goes to see. It makes sense. We want the students to get the best glimpses of a country and go home with things to tell their friends and family about things that they have heard of before. It makes sense. But Going to Vatican City during Holy Week does not make sense.

I’m not sure how much it costs, because as I mentioned in my post about deciding whether or not to go on this trip, EF covers entrance fees within the cost of the trip as a whole.  But whatever it was, I’m sure it would be worth going to during a normal time.  But there were points when we were on our way to the Sistine Chapel that I felt so claustrophobic, so pressed on by so much of humanity, that I wanted to be anywhere but where I was in that moment. And at times it stole my joy of the moment.T  he sites were still beautiful, though.  And I did my best to ignore the close proximity of so many other humans.

IMG_8287  Above is a picture of the ceiling of just your basic hallway covered in artistically drawn maps. And yes, it is beautiful and the history of Vatican City is so deep and powerful. However, the thing that haunted me throughout the entire place was how much senseless opulence there was. In the time this place was built and decorated, the money could have been spent on things that truly reflected the faith of the Catholic Church rather than only demonstrating its power and wealth.

Once we did get to the Sistine Chapel, I was stunned. I imagined the high ceilings of a cathedral- long and narrow. But the Chapel is… well… a chapel: a relatively small box of a room. It is supposed to be a place of peace and reverence, but because of the large crowds, all we heard were the guards calling for silence. You are supposed to be still and reverent in the chapel, but when nearly 500 people are crammed into a room 132 feet long, 44 feet wide – that’s not easy. The ceiling is a mere 68 feet high (in comparison the main part of St. Peter’s Basilica is 151 feet high). However, despite it’s relatively small size, the art is as stunning as you think it would be.

I stood under Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam”! Unfortunately I do not have pictures of this, because it is illegal to take pictures in the Sistine Chapel. In the cell phone age, lots of people sneak pictures, but I’m a rule follower, so I didn’t. But I don’t need a photograph to remind me what those few moments felt like (they don’t let you stay very long because there are so many people trying to see it). I feel blessed to be among those who have seen that painting in person.

After exiting the Chapel, we walked over the Saint Peter’s Basilica– most definitely the largest church I’ve ever been in. The beauty is overwhelming– and again, the glaring riches of the Catholic church are all on display. To give you an idea of perspective. In the picture below, the letters on the wall are 7 feet tall! IMG_8292

They were setting up for the Easter service with the pope — the covered stage in the middle is where he was going to stand for the service. It truly was an amazing sight. And it was difficult to leave the church, despite the difficulties I had with the gratuitous wealth everywhere.

Overall, the Vatican was a beautiful place that I am glad I was able to see despite my aversions to large crowds. And I am glad I went to Italy with the tour group, because I would never would have braved the Vatican on my own.

Next week I’ll talk about heading out of Rome and the wonderful time we had in Florence!

Italy: Rome, day one

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If you are expecting a glorious beginning to my travels, you are going to be very much disappointed.

To explain how terribly the start to this trip went, we have to back up to October 2016. I was less than a month away from my first solo trip abroad when my son got the stomach flu. One thing that I was not prepared for as a parent is that when your children get sick, it is truly only a matter of time before you also get sick. Sure enough, just as my son was starting to feel better, I got kicked in the gut with the worst stomach flu I’d ever had.

At the time I was not too worried about my trip being in jeopardy since my son had gotten better in just a few days. Mine did last longer, almost a full week before all was said and done. However, even then, I still had a very tender stomach for a few weeks.

When I got on the plane in late November, I really didn’t think there would be any problems, but during my eight hour layover (yes, eight hours!) in New York City, my stomach felt increasingly … bleh. And approximately ten minutes after take-off to Dublin, I began vomiting and didn’t stop until about two hours after I landed. I’ll eventually tell that story, but not today.  Then I blamed my sickness on my weakened stomach from the flu.

Flash-forward to ten minutes after take-off on the flight from JFK to Rome. Sandwiched between a dear friend and a former student I began throwing up. I continued to throw up every 20-30 minutes for the entire flight. Fortunately (?) once we landed I felt relatively “fine,” though I did get a little queasy on the bus ride into the city.

So… apparently I get motion sickness on planes. WHO KNEW!

However, once we started walking around Rome (much like when I started walking around Dublin), I began to feel much better.

At the airport, we were greeted by our tour guide, Raquel, who spoke about six languages fluently and is possibly the fastest walker in the history of humankind. We basically hit the ground running. We arrived in Rome about 10am and went straight to the city center.

Our first stop was just a couple of blocks from the Trevi Fountain (pictured above). Immediately I was in awe of Rome. Of course I knew it was an old city, but even having been to Ireland, I had no concept of how old Rome would be. The cobbled streets can be quite treacherous, but they are positively beautiful. It was intense to imagine the centuries of travel those stones had seen. How many feet? tires? horses? had walked on these very steps? I couldn’t wrap my brain around it.

One of the first things on my agenda was to get a cappuccino in the birthplace of cappuccinos. So, my friend and I found a cafe just off of the square where the fountain was and ordered our first cappuccinos. We sat outside and listened to the people and the fountain and drank slowly, trying to soak in every minute of amazingness.

 

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Chelsea’s first Italian cappuccino

And it was there that we first learned the pace of eating in Italy is NOT the same pace at which they drive (or walk). Despite the fact that they drive as though they were fleeing Satan’s wrath, they eat and drink as though they have all the time in the world.  We finished our cappuccino, but waited another ten minutes for the waitress to bring us our check. However, we refused to get flustered by it and enjoyed the time watching people and listening to the water of the fountain.

After the fountain, we walked all over and saw amazing things: the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps (they lead to the Spanish Embassy- which is where they got their name), and tons of other beautiful sites.

We ate lunch at a small cafe, and I decided to be brave and eat caviar. It actually wasn’t that bad! I had it with salmon risotto. I’m not a big fan of fish, but I figured having fish in Rome would be quite a bit different than having it in Indiana. I wasn’t wrong. It was much better than I had anticipated!

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Next week’s post will be more about Rome — the Colosseum, St. Paul outside the Walls, the Catacombs, and the Vatican.

Adventures in Italy and Greece

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In spring of 2018 I went with a group of students to Italy and Greece. We spent 11 days there – only 9 of which were planned (you can read more about that in a future post). And I have to say that the time I spent in Italy and Greece was some of the most surprisingly wonderful time I’ve spent abroad. Though Ireland will always have my soul, Italy and Greece awed me in a way that I never expected.

Consequently, I’m going to do a series of posts in November, and probably December, on my time there. I’m sure I will come back to talking about Ireland again, for those of you who have liked those posts. However, I encourage you to be surprisingly wondered with my posts, even if that isn’t a place you’re particularly interested in.

I’d wanted to visit Italy for several years, but it was honestly a place that I never thought I would actually get to. I feel comfortable traveling on my own in places where I speak the language, but going to Italy seemed unrealistic because the extent of my Italian is basically food related. And though I assume that would come in handy as well, it wasn’t going to be enough to get me where I wanted to go.

Greece was not on my travel radar at all. Though I had heard of the beauty of Greece and the friendliness of the people, I really didn’t think it would be worth the time in the airplane to go there. Also, the Greek language is extremely complicated. Therefore, I never imagined that I would ever see Greece.

The school where I teach (the best school in the state of Indiana, in my humble opinion) has a wonderful history of taking students abroad. For the last twenty-four years, Cascade High School has taken students abroad through EF Tours. Most of the trips have been in Europe, but this summer a group is going to New York City and next spring break one teacher will also be taking a group to Japan.

In 2017 one of the teachers who often is in charge of trips asked me if I would be interested in going on a trip to Italy and Greece with her. Her usual chaperones were not going to be available for the trip, and she wanted to offer a slot to me since she knew that I loved to travel. Despite that chaperones basically get to go for free, I had to really think it over first. I wasn’t really sure that I wanted to travel with students, or with a tour, or be in charge of making sure teenagers survived in a foreign country.

Pros: 

  • Visiting new countries at a very minimal cost
  • EF provided: airline ticket, breakfast, dinner, transportation, hotel rooms, tour guides, translators, entrance fees to museums/attractions
  • The itinerary was planned out and arranged for me – I just needed to wake up and follow the guide (which wasn’t always easy)
  • The ability to see countries I didn’t think I would ever see
  • There were several parents/aunts/uncles going, so my chaperone requirements were going to be minimal

Cons: 

  • Being in charge of teenagers during a school break
  • The inability to go where I wanted, when I wanted

That last con was a big one for me. I’d just taken the trip to Ireland and had that freedom to come and go and do whatever I wanted because I didn’t have to accommodate for anyone.  However, the pros greatly outweighed the cons, and I decided to make the trip. And to be honest, when I got there I really didn’t mind that as much as I thought I would.

In next week’s blog post, I will talk about our first day in Italy — ROME!

 

I found my soul’s home in Glendalough

I left a part of my soul in Ireland right where I found it.

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As a high school graduation gift, my parents told me that they would take me to any place in the world that I wanted to go. I answered without hesitation, “Ireland.” Both sides of my father’s family hail from Ireland, and I’d always been amazed by the history, the accent, and of course the famed landscape of The Emerald Isle. However, I honestly had no idea how much that trip would shape my future and my love for traveling in general.

The trip was wonderful for so many reasons that I am sure I will write about at some future date, but the biggest reason that Ireland has such a pull on my heart and my passport is because of a single place — Glendalough.

Located in County Wicklow, just about an hour south of Dublin, situated in the beautiful Wicklow Mountains is a little town called Glendalough. One of its claims to fame is the churchyard situated beautifully with its iconic round tower, the  burial site of Saint Kevin, and celtic crosses galore.

My parents and I had spent a few days in Dublin upon our arrive and visited Powerscourt Gardens and waterfall before driving further south to Glendalough at the suggestion of travel expert Rick Steves. Though I was of course excited to be in Ireland, there was no particular reason for me to be excited about Glendalough.

However, as my parents looked through the graveyard for the family surname on a tombstone, I wandered off to journal — something I do often– and I found a rock perfectly situated next to the lake (or loch), and I began to look at the beauty that surrounded me.

I can only describe Glendalough as being the place where I finally felt like I’d found home. I even wondered if I had been there in another life or my ancestors had been there before. It was the only thing I could think of that could explain the visceral connection I felt while sitting on that rock looking over the loch. I was so disheartened when we had to leave to move on to the next place, but somehow I knew I would be back.

It took me 19 years to get back, but I did make it. On my “take-back trip” to Ireland, I made my way back to Glendalough on a bus trip from Dublin.  I visited on Thanksgiving Day. In Ireland they just call it Thursday, but it was still a day of celebration for me. Not celebrating with turkey, dressing, and family – but instead I celebrated with solitude and a return to a place that I had missed since the moment I left it.

It was just as beautiful and as powerful as I remembered it being. From the ruins of a church built by Catholics and burned by Anglicans where they now perform joint services on Easter Sunday (pictured below), to the moss that seems to cover everything in a cushion of incredible green (pictured at the bottom of this post) – Glendalough is a glorious place. IMG_5831

While everyone else on the bus had lunch at the local pub, I decided to wander off alone and found an adorable little grocery/coffee shop/deli. The woman apologized for not having turkey for my sandwich (how is it that obvious that I’m American? Couldn’t I be Canadian or something?), but I enjoyed my ham and cheese sandwich outside while I wrote in my journal and stared at the beautiful Wicklow Mountains.

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Shortly after I’d finished my sandwich an older man came outside and introduced himself. Apparently the proprietor told him there was a fellow American, so he came out to wish me a happy Thanksgiving. We sat and talked for a bit while he waited on the rest of his family to finish eating. They were from Texas and exploring their ancestry and traveling around the country. It was a lovely encounter, and added to the experience of the day.

The grounds of Glendalough are vast. There are several trails through the mountains, a beautiful round tower, Saint Kevin’s cross, a frigid stream, and an incredibly picturesque lake surrounded by the mountains. In my mind there are few places that are more beautiful.

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Perhaps it is because of that overwhelming beauty that I find it difficult to fully express my connection to this place. Honestly, I cannot think of another place on Earth that I’d rather be than Glendalough, Ireland. There are many other places in the world that I love, that I want to see, and that are probably more breathtaking than Glendalough. However, this loch, these mountains… they hold on to me. Even as I write this, I find myself becoming “homesick” for it.

As I left Glendalough in 1997 I knew I would be back, and when I left again in 2016 I knew that eventually I would find my way back there. Though I did not make it on my most recent trip to Ireland (I did not set the itinerary, obviously), I am sure that my feet will find their way back to a rock on the shore of the loch, to the trails in the mountains, and the paths through the graveyard because I left a part of my soul in Ireland right where I found it.

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The Healing Balm of Ireland

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Recently I’ve been doing some travels with my students. Though it is a very different way to travel than the solitary trip to Ireland back in 2017, this trip to Ireland with students was a beautiful reminder of how seeing an old place through new eyes can be a supreme joy in and of itself.

The trip was glorious – I saw things I hadn’t seen in ages (The Cliffs of Moher, Blarney Castle, and Cork) and places that I had never been before (like the picture above in Spiddal as well as the beautiful town of Bray).

Despite the multitude of people around me, it was still a time of amazing self-reflection.  For some reason travel does that. Is it the beautiful surroundings? Is it the feeling of infinite smallness in the face of giant oceans, imposing mountains, or stunning valleys? Is it the lack of things familiar? Whatever it is, I find it amazingly refreshing.

The trip was not free from heartache, however.

On a gloriously sunny morning in Killarney, I readied myself for the trip to Cork – a likely departure site for my ancestors who came to America for unknown reasons in the 1700s – when the lead chaperone pulled me aside and asked me to have a seat.

No good conversations start with the person asking you to sit down.

She gave it to me straight, without any sugar-coating.  A former student of ours who was in the military had committed suicide in his barracks.

The world stopped, and for a moment I forgot how to breathe.

This young man had been in my creative writing class. We talked about the death of his brother and how that changed him as a young teenager.  He wrote funny poetry, and smiled a grin that would make you doubt that he was the same person who could bench press a small car.

He came back to visit the school during a volleyball game after he got out of boot camp, and seeing that I wasn’t there he asked a teacher to take a picture of him and send it to me so I would know what I had missed by not going to the game that night.

That is the last picture I have of him.

I remained stoic as she told me that we needed to tell the remainder of the chaperones and then the children. Game face. Do what needs to be done. But as she told the chaperones on the sidewalk outside of our hotel, I could not stop the tears. I could not stop hating the birds for singing or the trees for daring to be beautiful in that horrible moment. I could not stop hating myself for being out of the country. What if he’d tried to call me? My phone could not accept calls overseas. What if he’d needed me, and I wasn’t there?

What if…

What if…

What if..

The beauty of Cork meant nothing to me that day. The countryside outside the bus window was lost on eyes that saw only a watery reflection of reality. I truly don’t remember the drive there or much of the museum we went to that day.

I do remember the smell of the ocean as I stood outside the museum, unable to stay inside a moment longer. I remember the sound of the shipyard and the smell of brine and fish. I remember the overwhelming desire to get away… from people, from sounds, from my own mind. And I remember repeating over and over again to myself that this could not possibly be real.

Eventually my mind slowed down that day – my journal helped. I wrote volumes. Emotional vomit that purged the sadness and fear and self-loathing.

And then Blarney.

The kids went with the other chaperones to the castle to kiss the stone and I went off alone and hiked the trails around the grounds. And nature restored my soul in those few hours of solitary reflection. The ivy, the moss covered rocks, the clover, the waterfalls, and the trickling stream calmed my troubled mind until I could breathe again without a searing pain in my heart. My photos of that day chronicle the gradual healing that took place in Blarney – a journey through shadowy darkness to the bright green that gave Ireland its nickname.

Since my first visit to Ireland in 1997, I have often said that though my body lives in the United States, my soul will forever be in Ireland. There was never a time that was as true as it was that day in the solitude I found in the shadows surrounding Blarney Castle. My soul, broken and crushed, found solace in Ireland’s beauty, and for that I am ever grateful.

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