“Sláinte”

I feel like most places I go, I have a pretty good idea of what the destination has to offer. Between reading travel books and just generally browsing the internet about my next adventure, I’ve usually had a decent impression of where I am going. To my happy surprise, this was not the case with Dublin, Ireland.

The River Liffey at night was so still and serene, at least until 3 drunken Irish men asked if I needed a hand jumping in.

The feel of Dublin was not at all like other European cities I have been to – it didn’t really seem like the major touristy city one might expect. You could go from residential areas to historic district to college campus to tourist hotspot in a 5 minute walk. There aren’t obnoxious retailers everywhere in the streets trying to sell you anything they can with the words “Dublin” or “Ireland” plastered across it (although there definitely are a few shops around the city to quell your souvenir-buying urges). And in general, I have felt less like a tourist and more like a member of the city than anywhere else I’ve gone. Not to say that Dublin doesn’t have its great attractions: visiting the Temple Bar area is a must and the city has numerous museums and monuments to check out.

Dublin is also a city that is very proud of its rich heritage of great literature, and there are dedications to authors such as Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, Bram Stoker, James Joyce, and others everywhere.  Nearly every city street has a statue commemorating a famous cultural or literary figure.  And nearly every statue has an alternate (slightly offensive) nickname, that for some reason always rhymes.

Officially she is named Molly Malone, from an old Irish folk song of the same name.  Unofficially, she is called "The Tart with the Cart".

Officially she is Molly Malone, from an Irish folk song.
Unofficially, she is called “The Tart with the Cart”.

Officially, this is James Joyce.
Unofficially, Dubliners call him “The Prick with the Stick”.

Dublin was surprising in more ways than just its unique city layout and feel, because I thought it would be more of a major metropolitan city than it seemed.  However it was only about a half an hour bus ride from pure countryside, complete with sheep as far as the eye can see.

Countryside and Ruins

Before going to Dublin, even after doing all my research, I didn’t know that there was a 400ft spike called the “Spire of Light” built on top of the old Nelson Pillar.  I knew about the Pillar because it was bombed by the IRA in 1966 and is the subject of quite a few Irish songs. As it turns out, the Spire is almost as unpopular as the Pillar was (probably why its not well known) and I didn’t meet a single resident of Dublin who seemed to like it. The fiery old Irishman named Seamus who ran our hostel said that the only thing he disliked more than the Spire was when people added blackcurrant flavoring to Guinness, which apparently ought to be considered the 8th deadly sin.

Officially named, “The Spire of Light”.
Unofficially called: “The Stiletto in the Ghetto”, or my favorite, “The Stiffey over the Liffey”

Seamus also told us not to miss out on getting as much Guinness as we could while we were in Dublin, and that it goes great with any meal! He needn’t have worried, because the one thing we knew we were absolutely going to do in Dublin was tour the Guinness Storehouse. It was my favorite experience of Dublin – not just because I like Guinness Stout (a lot), but because it was like an alcohol-filled, adult version of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory, complete with winding walkways, waterfalls, and even a glass elevator that takes you to be served free beer.

Freshest Guinness possible, straight from the Storehouse!

This was the view of Dublin as seen from the Gravity Bar of the Guinness Storehouse, 360-degree views from the 7th floor!

While Dublin wasn’t what I was expecting, it is still a city with a lot to offer and 4 days wasn’t nearly enough time to do half the things we wanted to, which is okay I guess because that’s a pretty good reason to go back someday soon.

P.S. Sláinte is a drinking toast in Ireland, and literally means “health”.

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“Myth is an attempt to narrate the whole human experience”

Hi again! So the other night I refused to study for exams anymore and ran out of friends with whom to play Super Smash Brothers (Melee!), so I somehow ended up on Science Daily going through their awesome articles, then transitioned to Wikipedia, learned something new, and thought I would share.

Being the rabid fan of Indiana Jones that I am, and archaeology and mythology in general, I have always loved learning about the more abstract bits of history.  The really cool stuff that was potentially the result of aliens (not the stuff I am learning in my Classical Archaeology class right now that involves the statistical analysis of Pompeian housing structures and whatnot).  And I’ve always been a sucker for the borderline impossible things like Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monster (Nessie exists, I know it!), Crystal Skulls, and Atlantis.  And while Atlantis is in all likelihood nothing more than a bedtime story made up by Plato and never taken seriously until semi-modern-day archaeologists decided to start looking for it, there may be a scientific basis for a lost city underwater.  And it just so happens that Helike, Greece may be this inspiration.

Helike was a thriving Greek city, one of the largest in Achaea, and an important port city in Ancient Greece.  That is, until it completely disappeared, literally overnight, during 373 BCE.  Like the city of Atlantis, it was swallowed by an earthquake that caused a massive tsunami to flood the city and wipe it from the face of the earth.  And like Atlantis, it was thought to be a myth of ancient lore – that is, until Helike was discovered in 2001 by archaeologists.

The myth is that Helike was punished for its disobedience by the wrathful Poseidon.  Poseidon was the patron god of the city and he was angry that they potentially dishonored Ionian (Greek) colonists of Asia.  Ironically he is the same patron deity as Atlantis’ and, perhaps more ironically, he is the god of earthquakes and of the sea.

What I found most interesting about this story is that the city wasn’t lost right away, and there  are reports of people sailing to the city to look for survivors, and later to try to salvage statues and stone.  It also became a sort of tourist hot spot for ancient Greek and Roman travelers.  Strabo and Ovid, among others, were known to have sailed over the city, whose deteriorating walls and statues could be seen through the waters above.

Due to the similarities between the events at Helike and the story of Atlantis, historians have proposed that this city may have been some of the inspiration for Plato’s references to the lost city of Atlantis.  Slowly, as silt built up and began to cover the city, it was lost to memory until it was rediscovered by the research efforts of Dora Katsonopoulou and her research team.  They have painstakingly uncovered remnants of the city walls during the dry season (hence why in the picture above there isn’t actually any water visible) and every summer continue to make advancements in their research.

So there you have it, all you Atlantis-believers out there.  Don’t give up hope, Helike-believers were victorious in the end and you may be too!  (But probably not, so accept that Atlantis most likely didn’t exist)

What’s coming soon:

Whoa, this is kinda weird right?  Curious yet?

“You’ll be in my heart”

I have been thinking a lot about my future travels, which always leads me to think of past adventures: I went to Italy this past summer with some of the most amazing people I know and it was my first international experience. As a group, we are now all obsessed with Italy, to the point that we talk non-stop, repeating the same stories over and over when we are together. I am sure our other friends are probably so annoyed by us talking Italy every time we get together, but the experience was just so amazing we cannot help it. Really, we cannot stop ourselves, we have tried to reminisce less and it just does not work.

I think it is because our month-long immersion was so life changing and amazing to all of us for so many reasons. Our program leaders and advisors were amazing – we still invade their offices at the University on a semi-weekly basis just to talk and visit (and sometimes play pranks). And the friends family I made there will be a part of my life forever. The memories made while sleeping 6-to-a-room, on the floor, in a freezing cold Italian farmhouse will probably never grow old. And I sincerely hope they never do.

But by far the things that we talk about the most are all food-related. Wine. Coffee. Gelato. Pasta. Chocolate. Oh so much of these five things we consumed, and the adventures related to these things made our trip amazing. So first on the list is coffee.

Mention the name Tazza d’Oro to anyone in my group, and we all grow a little teary-eyed just thinking about the place that literally means “cup of gold”. It was the first authentic coffee shop we visited in Roma. And Sant’Eustachio holds a special place in my heart as well, being the last place I got real Italian espresso. I almost got a cappuccino at Fiumicino Airport because I was so sad to be leaving and in dire need of caffeine, but I just couldn’t let an airport coffee be my last in Italy. So I will forever remember my sugared cappuccino from Sant’Eustachio.

What is special about both of these places is, ironically, they are very close to each other – quite literally 230 meters apart. A mere 3-minute walk according to Google Maps. What’s better: they are both centered around Piazza della Rotonda, which to anyone who knows Roma as we do means you can see the Pantheon from their front doors.

I think this amazing view is really what seals the deal. Somehow, you just cannot hate waiting in line when you can stop and stare at one of the coolest buildings in Roma.

But there were definitely other perks: You could smell the espresso before you even walked inside.  When you did conquer the line, there were several gorgeous young male Italian baristas (baristos?) to greet you. Sant’Eustachios offered a signature drink, which is what you get automatically unless you order something different. Ladies and Gentleman: it was a sugared cappuccino, the most glorious coffee drink I will ever taste (besides the alcoholic-coffee-drink-we-acidentally-ordered-in-the-morning-in-a-museum, but that’s another story to be told). The cup was adorned with a yellow stag, and the rim was sugared much like a margarita glass with salt. Mix with an amazing cappuccino that leaves a few grains of cane sugar in the bottom of the glass and drink with good friends on the last night in Italy, and you have amazing memories that last forever.

What we really value about our experiences is the places that we can call our own, the places we all recognize and reminisce over as a group. Simple places like coffee shops. Or tacky souvenir stores. Seemingly forgetful places. But these are where we all bonded together, and now dream about. And you can be sure that when I make it back to Roma (yes, WHEN, not IF), I will definitely visit and perhaps never leave these places. Though simple and seemingly out of the way, nevertheless they are some of my favorite places in a place that now seems so far away.

“Being good is commendable, but only when it is combined with doing good is it useful.”

This site will first and foremost be about traveling, volunteering, and living life in adventurous ways. That being said, this is my one little rant about not taking advantage of your travel experiences.

I will be visiting Nicaragua this summer with a student-run volunteer program called ATRAVES (click here & get involved), which works at schools and health clinics in Managua and the surrounding neighborhoods. ATRAVES does a variety of public service tasks like health education, English lessons, etc.

Wait, nope, long story, I am actually on the delegation for the Pangea World Service Team to Ecuador this summer to promote sustainable agriculture and social justice.  It is run through my University, and just seemed a better fit for both me and my future goals (plus I get to climb a volcano).

But anyway, I have been thinking a lot, and I mean a lot, about what this trip will be like. And more importantly, what I want to get out of it. And one of the things I had been thinking about specifically was how to let people know that we truly want to help them – but how to do that without seeming like a typical American tourist, or worse, a condescending tourist who is simply there to see how others live. As it turns out, this presents a somewhat interesting situation.

I am a firm believer in the fact that international volunteer work is an important and amazing way to make your personal impact on the world, especially for students like myself who are simply trying to find themselves. But – it is always important to remember WHY we want to travel and volunteer somewhere.

My interest in traveling has led me to read countless blogs and articles, and far too many seem to always center on people traveling around poverty-stricken countries to distribute things like clothes, shoes, and personal hygiene items, all the while reflecting on how good their own life is. People often write about how an experience in a third world country made them truly appreciate their own cushy life in America. My personal favorite story involved parents reflecting about how such a trip would “teach their kids a lesson about the necessities of life”.

But here lies a murky area in volunteer work, where there is a line between being helpful and life-changing or being condescending. At what price comes feeling better about your own life in America? By looking down on those in other countries and seeing how little they have? Telling yourself that you can now overcome anything because you at least have running water and electricity? Because make no mistake, poor people of impoverished “third-world” countries aren’t stupid. They aren’t ignorant of the fact that most Americans will possess more than they could ever hope. And they know how much money you spent on a plane ticket to come pass out bottles of shampoo, they see the difference between your clothes and the clothes you pass out, and they understand that when you tell your children “be thankful for what you have”, you really mean you could never live the way they do.

Too often I feel that sometimes we volunteer for ourselves. Coming from a large, competitive college, I see people refer to volunteer work as a “resume builder”. Or we volunteer to seem exotic and adventurous. And yes, such work can have an overwhelming positive impact on your life while also helping you score that big job. But don’t let that be at the cost of the dignity of others. Because what may seem like a cool, exotic, or old-fashioned lifestyle to you is someone else’s everyday life. And we must all be careful not to allow an international experience to turn into sightseeing and photography shoots to prove to the world how cool and well-traveled we are.

What I am saying basically is that your work and interactions are very valuable, but they lose some of this value if done for the wrong reasons. Always be mindful that when reflecting on your experiences, looking at photos, and telling your friends about your amazing experiences, it is important to be respectful.  Plastering your Facebook wall with photos of African children or sharing stories with your friends about the poor village in South America where you “roughed it” isn’t cool if you did it just to seem exotic. You have to actually mean it. Or it’s not really the life-changing, eye-opening experience it could be.

So by all means travel, just remember why you want to do it. For the human connection and the innate understanding of life from another’s perspective, which can only come from immersion, living, and most importantly, understanding.