Tuesday, June 22, 2010

72 Hours of Daylight

So apparently I'm a Bachelorette fan now. I watched an episode with the roommates and now I'm hooked. Embarrassing I know. But last night's episode took place in ICELAND! So between all the weather warnings for tornados in the Milwaukee area, I got to relive my little trip to Iceland with Katie.

We got there on a Friday, after leaving the rest of the family and my GIANT overweight blue suitcase that had practically my whole life in it. As we got off the plane and onto a bus to go into Reykjavik we noticed the ash in the air. It seemed just like fog but there was a layer of ash in our hair and on every surface around town that fog definitely didn't do. We asked around and found out that is was ash from the infamous volcano, but that this ash in the air had only happened one other time. It had been unusually winding around the volcano in the south.

We walked around for a bit, then had traditional Icelandic food for dinner, which consisted of weird food in jars. I had fish stew, which sounds pretty safe, but actually kind of tasted weird. To me Katie's was even worse, but she liked it.

Every night, we were beat from a full day of touring, but Iceland just didn't want us to go to bed. It stayed light pretty much the entire time we were there, hence the blog title. It was weird getting ready for bed, brushing your teeth, and laying down to sleep when the sun is saying its basically the middle of the day. By the last night there, I was used to it.
Saturday we went on the Golden Circle Tour. We saw geysers, waterfalls, and tectonic plates. I was actually in North America and Eurasia at the same time! Also, Iceland uses tons of geothermal energy, so we got to tour their power plant, which was really interesting. A long day in the bus seeing lots of Icelandic horses and strange scenery led to another early night in. The landscape went from snow covered mountains, to green fields, to this weird rocky desert like landscape covered in grey moss.

Sunday was a great day planned by me. A free tour of the city, the flea market, the Iceland Museum and hot dogs for lunch. The Maritime Festival was going on that weekend, so we got to see lots and lots of dead fish and a dead whale. They had a Coast Guard rescue simulation straight from The Guardian so we obviously were into it. All this right before we went whale watching.

Now you would think whale watching would be really amazing. We were imagining a giant humpback or sperm whale swimming beside our boat, jumping around, splashing us, and blowing out of his blow whole. It didn't happen. Needless to say we were pretty disappointed. We did, however, get to wear sweet jumpsuits that kept us warm and saw lots of puffins. As our boat got close to them, they tried to fly away but sometimes are too full from eating so they just barely skim the top of the water.

We did get lucky enough to see some dolphins. A huge pod of them that kept coming up, just enough to see their top fin. We got our pictures and were ready to head back but instead circled these dolphins for about..... a half an hour. I was done with the dolphins after about 10 minutes. Finally we headed back. Kate and I were both freezing cold and pretty bored, so we went inside and read books about saving Keiko, the whale from "Free Willy" who was originally from Iceland!

The next day it was time to head home. We took a quick stop at the Blue Lagoon before our flight. Unfortunately, there was a mix up with our tickets so we couldn't actually swim in the steaming blue water, but still got to snap some cool pictures.

We were on our way home. An amazing end to my semester spent with a great travel partner.

I sat on the plane, a five hour ride home and thought of all the things I had done and people I had met. As I watched "Marley and Me," (a movie I had seen before) I cried my eyes out, trying to hold back loud sobs so people wouldn't think I was that weird girl crying on the plane. But I knew I wasn't just crying for this dying golden retriever, but was crying because an unforgettable five months was ending and the next part of my life was beginning. I would be back home to Quincy and Milwaukee soon, and knew that I had to take everything I had learned about myself and the rest of the world and actually do something with it. I must admit, it is a little harder to come back than I imagined, but I am slowly but surely getting back into the swing of things, happy that I have good friends and family to help.

Some great craic

Sorry, sorry everyone. I've officially been done with my study abroad experience for a week now and still no posts. I know you are all dying to know how the family trip went, home amazing Iceland was, and how I'm adjusting back to American life. Well- here ya go. Picking up from where I left off.

Family arrived on Thursday morning to Dublin. They were expecting me to surprise them at the airport but no, not there. They were expecting me to be waiting in the lobby, but no, not there either. I was just waiting in the room with Emily and Pat, eating a scone. Katie and Dan knocked on the door, I jumped up to open it, and that was where I saw my family for the first time in 5 months. So happy I didn't really have anything to say to them . Just sat there with a smile on my face.

Thursday we just hung out in Dublin. Took a trip to the Guinness Brew House for my family to enjoy their first Guinness and tried to get the family adjusted to Irish time. It took awhile, and the grumpyness of everyone left us all a little nervous for the rest of the trip, but once Friday morning came, we were ready to go.

Sam, our wonderful guide, and the Vagabond van came to take us on our journey Friday. We piled all of our things in and were on our way.
I won't bore you with the detail, just some highlights. But, let me tell you, we had a great time.

I was fortunate enough to get to see The Burren, a castle, Doolin, and the Cliffs of Moher for the 4th time. Lucky me.

Galway. I got to show my family where I lived for the past months. We were lucky enough to be there on a Saturday, so the market was in full force. Definitely a highlight of Galway. I showed them the best food stands and trinket shops. The city was bustling, not too rainy. I think they totally understand why I loved this place so much. A walk to Salthill, some classic Galway Oysters, and dinner with Emily and Pat. For me, it was one of the best parts of the trip. I think everyone else would agree.

Beautiful weather let us climb next to Ireland's fjord. A little path with great views, no one else around, and lots of sheep just hanging out as we walked right past them.

Climbed a couple mountains, ending in great views as we reached the top. Even Mom and Dad made it. No problems for Laura.

Ennisgrone in Co. Sligo was probably my favorite place we stayed. We got there in the evening, dropped our stuff off in our nice B & B. We were pretty sure we had the entire house to ourselves that night. The house overlooked the beach, with a great sunset from our bedroom window. Before dinner we took a walk along the water, cows on one side, ocean on the other. The waves crashed onto the small rocks and as the waves rolled back into the ocean, it dragged the rocks back too, creating to coolest noise I’ve ever heard.
Dinner at another pub but this time with amazing tomato soup and goat cheese tarts, and of course Guinness. Katie and Dan were loving Guinness by the time we left; Mom and Dad, not so much. Mom was more of a Smithwicks fan. She couldn’t get enough. A walk along the beach and playing in the sand to end the night.

While in Donegal we took a boat ride with Paddy to see the biggest sea cliffs in Europe (I think) Too bad is was super cloudy and we could only see half of them. The water was really choppy and I must admit a little scary at times. But I always LOVE a good boat ride. ( No one was as scared as Katie though. She isn’t quite a rough water boater.) After taking my turn driving the boat, Paddy even offered me a job! I knew my plan of finding a job and staying in Ireland forever would eventually work out.

Finally we crossed into Northern Ireland, touring Derry and Belfast. Due to Sam’s stories, Mom was a little bias but I loved it. Seeing Giant’s Causeway and walking along the cliff path for 4.5 miles was gorgeous. Another climb up a mountain, in record time for Vagabond, and we were headed back in to the Republic of Ireland and ending our trip.

The best times were just sitting in the back of the van, laughing at mom writing in her “journal,” eating lots of Irish food, drinking Irish beer, and seeing the gorgeous sights of Ireland all together. For me, it was a perfect end to a wonderful 5 months.

Everyone always asks where my favorite place to visit was. I always reply that is was traveling around Ireland, hands down. I’m so happy my family was able to see it and hang out with me for 9 days. The people are wonderful, the sights breathtaking. No other place compares to it. I dream about going back, to Galway and all the other places I didn’t get a chance to see. No matter how much I saw, I will always feel like there are endless things to see in Ireland. Maybe I won’t be back soon, or maybe next year we’ll have a little Niland House reunion, I’ll never know, but either way you can bet that I will be back someday. You just can’t stay away from a place so great.