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Friday, July 6, 2012

Ireland's Northern Coast

About a month ago I took a trip with my friend Bethany to Dublin and Belfast. We only got a couple of days in each city, so we tried to stick to some of the tours so we could make sure to hit the highlights. Our second day in Belfast, we decided to hop on a tour up to the coast, and I'm really glad we did, since it was possibly the amongst the most beautiful landscapes I've ever seen.

A snapshot from the inside the bus.
Our first stop was Carrickfergus Castle, just outside Belfast, which has a lengthy history, including the landing of King William III of England in 1690.

A boat in the castle's present day harbor.

Commemorative statue of King William III
As we continued up the coast, we stopped by a small fishing village for a washroom break and some snacks. There wasn't much to see, besides a nice little harbor with gorgeous coastal views.

I like boats in harbor.

Me on the see wall. Photo by Bethany Schmidt.

Bethany, relaxing on the sea wall.
Then we continued up the coast through a few small villages until we reached the Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge. It's a bridge that was built by fishermen to get out to an outcropping where the salmon gathered. It's now a part of the National Trust, and is preserved for everyone's enjoyment. The bridge is 5 pounds to cross, but the experience and views are totally worth it.

Views of the cliffs from the island and paths:

The fields near the paths were filled with playing children and
picnicking families.
The rope bridge was only about 80 meters above the water, and the gentle sway wasn't enough to make me uneasy. It's also reinforced with steel cable, so I felt pretty safe crossing it. Bethy wasn't as logical about her crossing, though.

The rope bridge to the out cropping.

She didn't quite realize what we had signed up for.
Once we were across, though, the views were stunning, and everyone was having a good time.

There was a group of kayakers who came to explore the caves
in the cliff faces. Photo by Bethany Schmidt.
After the rope bridge, we were running late back to the bus, so we ran through the paths back, without time to stop at the souvenir shop. Apparently, the others on the tour weren't as concerned with timeliness though, since the last girl strolled on to the bus almost 20 minutes late with snacks from the concession stand in her hands. It ended up not being a huge deal, though, because the next stop was the Bushmill Distillery, and neither Bethany or I had the money or interest to spend a lengthy amount of time in a whiskey gift shop.

There was, however, an iconic red phone booth
at the distillery.
After what equated to a washroom stop at the distillery, we were off to our last stop, the Giant's Causeway. This is a formation of perfectly hexagonal stones, said to be ruins from a feud between a giant in Ireland and a giant in Scotland. I had never heard of the formation before, and had no idea what to expect, but it was absolutely breathtaking.

A view of one of the smaller formations from above.
There were several inlets like this, reaching out into the sea.
The stones formed perfect, hexagonal pillars
The smaller rocks were almost like inside-out geodes.

The cliffs overlooking the causeway.
If you wanted to take the risk, you could climb the rocks quite far out
into the inlet and watch the boats go past.
Another view of the cliffs, with the top of the causeway.
We got quite a bit of time to explore around the causeway, since it was our last stop for the day, and after about an hour of climbing on the rocks, splashing in the water a bit, and exploring the trails, we decided to reward ourselves on a great day of touring with a bit of ice cream from the shops near the top of the trail.

Bethany, enjoying her strawberry ice cream.
Overall the tour was great, and I'm really glad we got to see the coast. It's definitely a place I want to go back to when I can afford to travel and explore a bit more on my own, instead of being limited by a tour schedule. I think it would also be a neat place to do a tour by sail boat or kayak, and we saw quite a few adventurous souls sight seeing via boat.

Quite shortly after we got back to Paris from Belfast, it was time for Beth to head home. She had a great time in Paris, even if she did spend a lot of it sick in bed, and it was nice to see a face from home, especially since Beth and I don't get to see as much of each other as we used to. I'm glad she made it out, and I was happy to have a travel buddy again.

I still have a few posts from my last few weeks in Paris, and I have some non-photo posts brewing about coming home and readjusting to life here. Those should be coming up soon, so stay tuned!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Full Circle

Well, I'm home. After a hectic travel day, I landed safe and sound at Cleveland Hopkins, and that's when it hit me that it was all over. I had done it. I moved to France, made some from friends and some memories, and moved back. I had to look like a mildly insane person walking through the airport softly crying to myself. The finality was hard to deal with.

And this is what I'm worried about with my move back, is that people won't understand the emotions I'm going through. It's hard for people to realize that I wasn't just on vacation there, I lived there for 6 months. When I left, I was just starting to feel like Paris was home. Now that I'm home, I feel out of place. Looking out the window and seeing nice lawns and suburban homes is unsettling. I've forgotten the light switches at the house. I feel more like a guest than a resident.

But this time I don't have a built-in support group for dealing with my reverse culture shock. With the exchange group in Paris, we were all going through roughly the same emotions and problems. We understood. We could talk about all of it and nobody would try to forcibly cheer you up or give weak consolation, because they knew how much it sucked. Here, my friends don't understand why I'm not ecstatic about being home. They don't get why I don't have a laundry list of great stories to tell them. They, like the people staring at me in the airport, don't understand why it's so emotional, and say things like, "Don't worry, you'll go back," or, "But you had such a great experience." I understand that, and that's all well and good, but it isn't what I need to hear right now.

So if you're a friend from Paris, expect a lot of messages, and maybe even Skyping, and realize that you aren't alone if you feel out of place or a little depressed after your move back. Call me. I want to talk about it too.

If you're a friend here in the states, expect me to be emotional and moody. Expect me to be a little tired and disoriented. And if I have an emotional moment, try to understand more than console. Also, hanging out and going out and about are really important to me feeling like I'm home again. So drop me a line; I want to see you.

Finally, I'm keeping the blog up and running for a few reasons: 1) I still have some things from the last month that I need to post. 2) I want to use it as a way to document my return and sift through some of the emotion. 3) I have plans to travel again in the near future, and I plan to continue posting travel adventures and photos. 4) I want to be able to leave it as a resource for other students preparing to study abroad. So look for more posts in the future, and thanks for all the love and support I've had over the last six months. I look forward to the next adventure!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

We'll Always Have Paris

So I guess the daily list went to hell in a hand basket. Oops. Maybe I'll write a poem or something and post it before I fly out. We'll see if I can handle the emotions.

This post isn't about that, though. Well, it's about emotions, but not those emotions. This is a post from me to all of the fantastic people I've had the honor of meeting and spending time with while I was here. For almost all of us, the time to say goodbye is quickly approaching. Some of us have already left. Soon we will be quietly spread across the U.S. and Puerto Rico, going through our days, back to our lives. I'm not sure yet how this whole experience has changed me, but I know that everyone I met here had a major part of it. Without my friends here, I would have never found a place to live, a job, or places to hang out. I would basically have never left my apartment. All of the picnics, nights out, and adventures to landmarks, were some of the highlights of my time here. So thank you. All of you.

Ok. Enough gushing. Because if I try to type everything out, this post would become unreadable. So I made a video instead. (Available in HD on Vimeo)

This is a video I made to mark the end of my study abroad in Paris, France. All photos are copyright of myself, the music is copyright of it's respective owners (20th Century Fox and Green Day)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

13 Days, 15 hours.

Continuing the countdown of things I’m going to miss about my study abroad, the number six thing I’m going to miss about my trip is the high volume and quality of my photography and blog posts. I’ve gotten a lot of support about the quality of my photos, but I have to admit, I feel like I’m cheating a bit. I’ve been surrounded by hundreds of new places and experiences, it would be difficult not to get good photos of it.
I’m a little worried what that means when I get home to my safe and familiar.  At best I hope this experience has taught me to look at things with the lens in mind. I’m hoping that while my life back in Cleveland hasn’t changed very much that I’ve changed enough to make in new and interesting.
I’m also worried that I simply won’t have the time I did here to go out and explore with my camera. That’s not to say that my life back in the U.S. is going to be off the charts hectic again, but I was lucky to have a light course load and a lot of free time here, so I had a lot of opportunity to just walk around with my camera and snap photos of things that intrigued me.
To make the point, I’ve taken over 7,350 digital photos and 360 film shots since I arrived in Paris. That’s more than my totals for 2011 and 2010 - combined. There’s no way I’m going to keep those numbers up when I get home, and that scares me.
In the same vein, I’m really going to miss my blog. I know I wasn’t the best with regular posts, but the posting I did was really fun for me, and I’m worried about having the same time crunch that I’m going to have with my photography, and the same content crunch. I’ve really had to think hard about what my blog is going to become after I get home. Of course I’m going to keep posting about my reclamation and getting some the adventures I’ve had that I just didn’t get a chance to post while I was here (out of 7,350 photos, only about 350 have been posted…), but I can’t ride that wave forever. Right now I’m debating between keeping the blog running to document the other trips I want to take, padding the lulls in between trips with travel and photo tips, and sharing the photos I do take, or just letting it fade off into the annals of the internet, an archive of this fantastic time in my life.
On one hand, I intend to continue traveling, and I want to document and share those trips much in the same way as this one. It would be difficult to justify starting a new blog every time I want to hop on a plane, so it would make sense to keep this one running. On the other hand, I don’t want the gaps between trips to get so long that this lulls into a “daily life blog.” I don’t have the time to blog my daily life, and it really isn’t interesting enough to share with all of you. For now, though, I plan to run the blog and share whatever trips or adventures I can muster, until it feels right to close up shop and move on.
As for my photography, I’m hoping that taking Digital Photography will help force me to go out and take new, interesting, and high quality photos, as well as teach me more digital editing techniques and give me some practice on them. As long as I’m looking to improve, I’m hoping my will power will keep my blog and my photography going.