Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A Short Recap and a Plan

It has been a crazy eight days in Rome. We have been learning about Italian culture (language, habits, public transportation, etc.), life in community with a small group of people, expectations (both of us and what we can expect from the program), classes, food, and much more. In the first week I saw the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Pantheon, St. Peter's Basilica, a dozen other churches, and the tombs of about twenty Saints. I have learned how to get fresh bread and meat from a market and navigate the buses and trams (at least to a certain extent). I have tried a variety of wine (they charge you for water here, so wine is often about the same price) and pizzas, all of which were good. I have heard Mass in Italian (twice) and I have seen Pope Francis and prayed the Angelus with him (and a bunch of other people). I am sure there are other things, but it has been kind of a whirlwind of information and experiences, so I cannot think of all of them.

From now on I will be doing less of a chronology and summary of everyday events. I cannot imagine that everything in my day is interesting to read about, particularly because there are many parts that are boring for me to write about. Instead, I am going to focus on telling individual stories about experiences I have, subjects we cover in class, or musings about topics that come to mind over the course of the semester.

For my first musing (perhaps more of a brief rant), I will just say that I despise taking pictures (from either end of the camera), and I see little use for them. They cannot do their subject justice, and they usually leave viewers wanting to see the thing for themselves, rather than content with the image. Also (from a more selfish point-of-view), it forces me to stop taking in the present moment, which I believe is far more important and good than a picture. However, out of obedience to my parents and the chance that some unforeseen good may one day come of them (kind of like how Gandalf says that it might be a good thing for Gollum to be left alive, even though there is no foreseeable good that can come of it), I will take and post some pictures. If you want more pictures, go to nicholaswaddell.com. With all that being said, here is a picture of St. Peter's Basilica.

Good night, and God bless.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Roving Through Ireland (Days 4, 5, and 6)

On Day Four of the Ireland adventure, we went to Inis Oirr (inish ear), one of the Aran Islands off the coast of Ireland. We had to take a ferry out to the island (about an hour-long journey), and we were captained by Captain Robert, who will be discussed more later. Inis Oirr is a small island, about three kilometers by three kilometers, so it was easy for us to walk around. It is an incredibly interesting and beautiful island, giving a strong Lord of the Rings or The Last Jedi vibe. The island had many houses and several small businesses near the dock, but it appeared to be sparsely populated; we saw about four men and one woman that were not tourists during our entire time on the island. Another interesting bit of information is that, unlike the rest of Ireland, Gaelic is still the primary language of the people of Inis Oirr. While walking around the island, we saw two ruined towers and an old (no longer used) church that was over a thousand years old. We walked from one end of the island to the other, and there we hung around by the ocean for a while. The ocean is a truly magnificent and humbling thing. It is incredibly vast and powerful, and it was awesome to look out across it and see the Cliffs of Moher to the left and blue as far as the eye could see to the right. From the ocean we walked to a wrecked ship and then back to the dock. We had a little bit of time before it was time for the ferry to leave, but it was not enough time to go to any of the other sites, so we sat down near the dock and talked. A short while later, we saw Captain Robert approaching us. He said that he was waiting for the time to board the ferry as well (he said that he is too old to get on the boat without the gangplank). We (meaning mostly me) talked to Captain Robert for about an hour. He looks like the most stereotypical sea captain you could imagine: short, a little round, missing teeth, and a big grizzly beard with just the chin shaved. He told us that the first time he had sailed was around 61 years ago. He had served in the UK's version of the Merchant Marines, and then had worked on ferries for the past 30 years with a brief break for international sailing again in the mid-90's. He also knew a lot about poetry, reciting a lot of it for us, singing us a song, and talking about some of the stuff that he had written. Eventually, we made our way back to Galway. We decided to go get food and began looking for a good, reasonably priced restaurant. However, an online menu that was different from the real menu led us to a very expensive, fancy restaurant. We ended up getting appetizers and calling it good. The food was awesome, but not really filling. We then decided to buy some beer at a store to save a little money. I purchased a Beamish (good, but not as good as Guinness) and then we all split a small bottle of Jameson (also very good). We took this stuff back to our room and hung around and talked and drank for a few hours and went to sleep, ending probably my favorite day of the trip.

On the last full day in Ireland, we attended Mass at Galway Cathedral in the morning. It was a lightly attended Mass, mostly of elderly Irish men and women. Breakfast followed Mass, and then a journey back to Dublin via a bus. After arriving and getting settled into our Airbnb, we headed back into the city to see some of the bones of St. Valentine. While winding through a bunch of narrow streets to find the Whitefriar Street Church, we happened upon a large music store. Upon entering the store, my eyes were met by one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen; it was the biggest music store I had ever seen, filled with hundreds of instruments (many of which I had never seen in a store before), and all were available for me to play. I played a Gibson Explorer electric guitar, an upright bass (which sounded excellent but was slightly out of my price range at 6500 euros), a violin bass guitar, a mandolin, and a harp. The upright bass and harp were a lot of fun to try and figure out, and I could have spent a lot of time playing them if there were not other places to go. Nick and I each ended up buying cheap tin whistles (a traditional Irish instrument that is similar to a recorder--listen to "Devil's Dance Floor" by Flogging Molly or the beginning of "Concerning Hobbits" to hear it) for five euros. After some more walking, we found the church we were looking for. It is a perfect example of a common occurrence in many European cities: on the outside it was very unassuming and easy to miss, but on the inside it was magnificent. I do not have pictures of the inside of the church, but it was much bigger than it looked from the outside, and the art and ornamentation of the church was incredible. Besides the beauty of the church, there were also the bones of St. Valentine that we came there to see. However, it was not just St. Valentine that was represented there. Pope St. Pius X, St. Albert of Sicily, and St. Jude all had relics at this church as well. Judging from its location and how it looked on the outside, I would never have thought to go in it. Food was next on the list, followed by a fairly early return to our room and beds; we had to be up at three for our flight to Rome.

At three in the morning we arose and silently prepared to depart. When we met our taxi driver who was to bring us to the airport, we found out from him that we had been staying in one of the roughest parts of Dublin (we never would have guessed from the look of the town or the kind family we were staying with), and that we "could have gotten any drugs or hitmen that we wanted." We were all alive and undrugged, so we did not care, but we were curious if he was telling the truth. Checking in, security, and getting to our gate at the airport all went smoothly. However, we were delayed forty-five minutes by a late flight with passengers that needed to be on the plane to Rome. Normally this would not have been a big deal, however, we were supposed to meet all the other Rome students at the airport and bus over to the campus; the forty-five minute delay was going to make that incredibly difficult to be on time for. We were all a little nervous, but things went smoothly and we found Dr. Lombardo (the head of the UMary Rome Program in Rome) waiting for us at the airport. We then found out that the group flight that had most of the students had been delayed through some ridiculous weather and other events at JFK airport in New York. This led to the three of us having lunch with Dr. Lombardo while we waited for the rest of the group. It was a very enjoyable meal, and it was good to get to know Dr. Lombardo a little bit. With the arrival of the rest of the group about an hour later, we departed for campus. Once there, we moved into rooms, filled out paperwork, received a tour of the campus, and went out to eat at a pizza place. After a Divine Mercy Chaplet, we went to bed.

While the trip to Ireland was a blast, and I would highly recommend a visit to that beautiful country, it was good to see friends, and it was reassuring to be on the campus and know that the real adventure could finally begin.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Roving Through Ireland (Days 2 and 3)

Day Two of the Ireland trip began in Belfast and ended in Omagh. We started the day by packing up and leaving the house we were staying at and walking to the bus station in Belfast. We traveled to Downpatrick--a short bus ride away--and visited Down Cathedral, the sight of the Tomb of St. Patrick, St. Columba, and St. Brigid. After asking for the intercession of these Saints, we walked a couple of miles to Inch Abbey. This was one of my favorite stops of the trip. Inch Abbey was a Medieval Cistercian monastery built in the 12th century. It is in a beautiful spot, right on the River Quoile. We walked around the ruins and marveled at what the monks were able to build. We then had a pipe inside what used to be the nave of the church. It was a very peaceful and enjoyable smoke. On the walk back to Downpatrick, a light rain began to fall, which we all thoroughly enjoyed. We ate at a little sandwich shop in town. The ladies working there were very friendly. They remarked that the weather was really terrible. We said that it beat the weather we had back in the States. They then told us that some of the states (including North Dakota), had been in the news because of their temperatures. After we had our food, they pulled out the one table they had so that we would not have to wait for the bus in the rain (this was after they looked up the time it left for us), and then they gave us some of their freshly made soup for free. When the time for us to leave had arrived, we thanked the workers profusely, and departed for Belfast. We went straight from Belfast to Omagh.

Upon arrival in Omagh, the people we were staying with picked us up at the bus station, saving us the walk or taxi. We then found out that there had been a miscommunication somewhere along the line and our hosts had only been expecting two people, not three. Without batting an eye, they set up another bed in our room and then offered to take us back into Omagh in an hour, saving us a walk or taxi again. Once in the town, we ate at Sallys. I had a delicious burger, some garlic potatoes, and a pint of Guinness (still my favorite beer from what I have tried). Following food, we went to a High Kings concert; it was phenomenal. For those of you who are not familiar with this band (probably most people), they are an Irish folk band. The four guys who make up the band are ridiculously talented singers, and they each play multiple instruments. The show was incredibly fun, with a good mix of upbeat, raucous folk music and slow, beautiful ballads. One of the highlights was when they opened the song "Finnegan's Wake" with the intro to "Thunderstruck" played on accordion (here is a link to a version of it if you want--https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QGIwzGcu3-Q). With the end of "Parting Glass," the concert ended. We took a taxi back to the house and talked and went to sleep. The following morning we were fed by our host. We had a delicious breakfast of bacon, eggs, sausage, and toast. They then called a taxi for us and we went to the bus station. Before leaving, we thanked our host profusely for her kindness and helpfulness. If you ever end up in Omagh, Northern Ireland, I would highly recommend staying at Arvalee Retreat House. From the bus station, we departed for Dublin where we could get a bus to Galway.

Day Three of our trip was uneventful. We rode buses for most of the day, arriving in Galway in the evening. We walked to our hotel and checked in. We then walked back into town to eat (I had sausage, potatoes, and soup), and we went to a bar (I had a pint of Guinness again). We then walked back to the hotel and hung around until we fell asleep.

A two general notes about Ireland. First, the country is exceedingly beautiful. People do not exaggerate when they describe it. It is incredibly green. The look of the rivers running through the countryside, the ruins of monasteries and occasional castles, and the old towns remind me strongly of how I picture the Northern areas of Middle Earth. Being a history major, having the ruins pop up randomly on the landscape is awesome.

Second, based on our interactions with several people, as well as what we saw on newspapers and TVs, people in Ireland pay attention to American politics. It was really interesting and kind of eye-opening to see how much people pay attention to America.

Well, that's all I have to say about that.

(Here is a link to Nick's blog: https://www.nicholaswaddell.com)

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

So It Begins

30+ hours, 3,657 miles flying, 100+ miles of buses, and 17 miles of walking since I woke up on the 2nd of January and prepared to fly to Dublin, I am now preparing to sleep. For those who do not know, myself and two of my friends, Ethan and Nick, decided to take a few days to visit Ireland before beginning our semester of study in Rome. On our first day, we arrived in Dublin a little before 5 in the morning Dublin time. At a little after 6, we exited the airport and started walking. Our first place to visit was the Round Tower in Swords, a little town outside of Dublin. The Round Tower was a part of an old Irish monastery built by St. Columba in the 6th century. One interesting aspect of it is that the original door is built much higher than any person could reach without stairs or a ladder. This enabled people to retreat to the tower and then cut off access to it in case of an attack. Unfortunately it was still very dark when we arrived at the tower, but it was still a marvel to look at when I considered the technology that the monks would have had to build the tower.

After visiting the Round Tower, we walked to Malahide, a town a few miles away from Swords, where there is a castle. The castle was very impressive. It was a new experience for me to be walking through a bunch of trees and having a castle appear around a corner. The chapel next to the castle was interesting as well. There was a restaurant on the grounds of the castle, so we ate breakfast there around 9:30. At this point, we decided to catch a bus back to Dublin. We learned that exact change was required for riding the bus--3.3 euros as we were informed by one of the ladies working at the castle. However, it was quite a search before we were able to get everyone that change; apparently it is not common for a business to have much change in its till. Eventually, we had the money we needed to ride the bus and made it back to Dublin.

Once back in Dublin, we decided to make our way to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells. The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript of the Gospels. It was written and illuminated by Irish monks in the 9th century. It is remarkably beautiful and ridiculously detailed. It was said that the monks would use crystals to magnify the work, and that they used brushes of a single horse hair. All the paints were made using berries, leaves, rocks, etc. It is an incredible feat of patience, dedication, and art. It is definitely worth Googling and taking a look at some of the pages.

Following the Book of Kells, we decided to figure out how to get to the house we were going to stay at (and are currently in) in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Getting the tickets was very easy, but finding the bus stop proved difficult. After a lot of walking and asking around, we found the stop and were soon on the bus and leaving Dublin at 3:30 pm. We were all trying to stay awake so that we could adjust to the new time zone, but we all took naps on the bus. We arrived in Belfast a little after five and set to work figuring out what we had to do for buses tomorrow. After that, we ate supper at the Crown Liquor Saloon. I ate an Irish Stew that was very good, and (because I know my father will be curious) I drank a Brewdog, Jackhammer, an IPA made with "spicy, citrusy, and peppery hops," that was also good.

After our supper, we walked about two miles to our lodging and have been relaxing and getting ready to sleep ever since. An early day tomorrow will hopefully have us on our way to see the tomb of St. Patrick in the morning and a High Kings concert in the evening.

Good night and joy be to you all.

(P.S. I left my camera in my stored bag, so I will not have any pictures from Ireland. I will put a link to my friend Nick's blog in my next entry for those who want to see pictures.)