Northern Ireland and Other Thoughts and Updates

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The view from the upper trail at Giant’s Causeway

So, once again, I just finished a two week break from school (thanks, French school system!!!). It’s starting to hit home that it’s nearly the end of my time in France. I have less than two more weeks working with my students and them my contract ends, though I’ll be in Europe until the end of May. But more on that later….

I was lucky enough during this break to meet up with a lot of people that I haven’t seen in a while and visit a few things that I’ve been meaning to see.

Firstly, I spent a day in Tours and got to meet up with my high school French teacher to catch up.  It was so cool as well because I got to have dinner with her, her students, and the other French teacher at my high school, who was the student teacher in my class my senior year! Tours is a lovely city with a lot to see, but obviously my favorite part of the day was getting to catch up with my teacher. If you’re reading this, Madame Kort, thanks for making time to meet with me 🙂

Later in the week, I went to Beaugency to see the chateau there with my friend Graicey.  It was a lovely little chateau in a tiny town, and we couldn’t have asked for better weather!

On Thursday, I went to visit Claude Monet’s Gardens in Giverny with my friend, Katie.  This has been something I’ve been wanting to do for quite some time.  I missed the opportunity to go when I was studying abroad, so was really pleased to finally make it there.  We had to get up quite early to get to the gardens in good time and got very lost on our walk there from the train station, but it’s not an adventure unless you’ve gotten a bit lost!  Especially for any fans of Monet or Impressionist art, I’d say Giverny is definitely worth a visit.

The next afternoon, I hopped on a train to make it Paris in time to catch my flight to Belfast, Northern Ireland to meet up with one of my friends from college, Dustin.  Dustin has been living in Northern Ireland for the last two years, so I hadn’t seen him since he moved away. It’s always great to catch up with friends, especially ones that you haven’t seen in a long time.  I feel like I’ve been really blessed that my time in France has allowed me to travel and have quite a few nice reunions like this.

Anyway, on Friday evening I arrived in Belfast. I checked into my hostel and got dinner at Maggie May’s (more on this wonderful place later, but if you’re in Belfast, please do yourself a favor and eat here).  The next morning, I met Dustin at St George’s Market. The market had food and crafts made locally and was a dream for a market lover like me. We walked around the market for a bit and then made our way to get some coffee. According to Dustin, Belfast is a big foodie city, so of course the big foodie that I am was beyond pleased to hear this. After coffee/tea and lunch we headed over to St Anne’s cathedral.  The inside had the most lovely stained glass windows and some beautiful mosaics as well.  It was cool to see this cathedral that was a bit newer than many that I’ve seen in France to be able to compare the architecture and style.

After the cathedral, we went on a tour of city hall.  While we were waiting for our tour, there was a wedding party taking photos in the main area of the hall.  It was a lovely place for photos as the building was gorgeous, but this poor couple now has several dozen disgruntled looking tourists immortalized forever in their wedding photos.  The tour of city hall was nice as there was a bit of history thrown in and like I said, the city hall building was gorgeous, so definitely something worth seeing.

After city hall, we wandered around town a bit and ended up taking a bus to see Belfast Castle.  The walk to get there had amazing views and we got to pass by the university building where Dustin had his master’s classes. Also, it had snowed there earlier in the day so I was pleased to see a bit of snow that actually stuck to the ground, unlike the snow that we’ve gotten in France.  Snow in April always feels just like home.  The castle was mostly closed for private events, but the building and grounds were lovely! While at the castle, we stopped for tea and scones, and can I just say that thus is one of my favorite things.  Tea and scone breaks should be a thing in more places. If you know me well, you’ll know that tea is largely important to me. Every place we got tea, they served it to you in a tea pot. You may be reading this saying, “Ok, Sara, calm down it’s not that exciting,” but in most places in France I feel like they just don’t take tea as seriously and often just serve it to you in a mug.  So, Northern Ireland, I applaud your dedication to tea.  Good on you!

After returning back to Belfast city center, we found a pub that had traditional Irish music and spent some time there.  One of my favorite things about the pubs in Northern Ireland is that you can always find at least one pub with live music no matter what day of the week it is.  I found the same thing to be true in Ireland when I visited Dublin in December.  The live music just adds to much to the atmosphere of the pub. It’s something that I wish we had more of in the United States. Also, traditional Irish music is just lovely, so there’s that, too. After leaving the pub, we went to a pizza place called Little Wing Pizzeria for dinner.  The pizza was so good and they had a bunch of really unique flavors!

The next morning, we met at Maggie May’s for breakfast. Here is the part of the blog where I will rave about this restaurant because oh my gosh it’s amazing. All of the food was really reasonably priced and the portion sizes were GIGANTIC. I feel like in France I’m very well fed, but it doesn’t feel like  home unless the portion sizes on your plate are enough for 1 1/2 -2 people (#americanproblems).  This time, I decided to get a Ulster Fry and it was one of the best breakfasts I’ve had in a while! After breakfast, we went to see the botanic gardens.  They were super cute and just nearby. There was a domes glass greenhouse protecting the plants from the weather and it was beautiful. Next stop was the Ulster Museum, just a short walk from the botanic gardens.  The museum was nice and bigger than I had expected it to be.  There were several different sections of the museum: nature, ancient history, modern history, and art.  The historical parts of the museum were where I spent most of my time and they were very well done.

In the museum, there was also a special exhibition about the Troubles.  The Troubles were something that I didn’t know much about before visiting Belfast, but thanks to Dustin and the Ulster museum, I learned a bit about them during my time in Northern Ireland.  For me, it was striking to see that such a huge conflict happened so recently.  Now that surely sounds ignorant of me, because there are huge conflicts happening in many parts of the world, even as I type this blog.  But something that I can just see people saying is that conflicts like these haven’t happened recently in the “western world.”  Obviously events like the Troubles prove this wrong.  The fighting largely ended in 1998. I was five years old.  Many of the European conflicts that people think of are further removed, such as world war I and world war II, but these are not the most recent.

Something else that is striking to me is that some of this fighting was based on rights given to people based on their heritage and religious affiliation.  Though I know that religion is and has been the base of so many world conflicts, it makes me sad to see something that is meant to bring comfort and hope turned into something that kills and alienates.  The same things could be said about the conflicts that have been recently going on with religious extremists that have caused attacks in Paris, Belgium, and countless other countries.  It’s just something that’s horrifying to me, that these beliefs can be morphed and cause hurt and hate instead of love and joy.  I talked to my mom this weekend, and she said she remembered hearing about the troubles often when she was growing up, so like I said, this is not far removed from my generation as many of us would probably like to think.

Part way through the morning, Dustin had to leave to go back home.  I finished up at the museum and after that, headed to the Titanic quarter.  This area of the city was interesting to see, as one can explore the place where the Titanic was built. There’s a Titanic museum there, but I decided to just admire the impressive building that houses it from the outside. After wandering back and doing some window shopping, I headed back to the hostel for the day.

The next day was my birthday, and I had scheduled a day trip to see Giant’s Causeway, which is an amazing rock formation on the coast just a few hours from Belfast.  Luckily, there were three other people from my hostel that went on this trip as well, so we hung out for the day. It was nice to meet new people.  Our tour made several stops on its way to the Causeway, including the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, and Bushmills whiskey distillery. Luckily by the time we made it to the Causeway, it had stopped raining and it was just a bit cloudy. With the tour, we only had two hours there, but I could have stayed all day.  It is honestly one of the most beautiful places that I have ever been.  Everything was such a gorgeous shade of green, and the rock formations were stunning. There were more trails there than I had time to walk, and they all gave breath-taking views out on the sea.  I took a bunch of photos, but none of them do this place justice.  It’s so much more amazing in person.  Also, my new friend Tammy told out bus driver/tour guide that it was my birthday and he made the whole bus sing to me, which was nice, but a little embarrassing.  He referred to me as “birthday girl” for the rest of the day.

That night when we got back to the hostel, we hung out at the hostel before going out to a pub to hear some traditional music.  Tammy told the other people at the hostel that it was my birthday as well, so they all sang me happy birthday too.  The pub we went to was super noisy and busy but the music was good, and I had a nice time. All in all, I can say that I had a pretty spectacular 23rd birthday and a pretty spectacular weekend.

On Tuesday, it was time for me to head back to France. On my way back to Orléans from Paris I stopped to have dinner with some of my friends from Albion who were in Paris as well.  Some of them I hadn’t seen for a year or more so that was another nice reunion I got to have.

The rest of my week was pretty quiet, which wasn’t a bad thing. I needed a bit of time to relax and work on lesson plans (read catch up on my Netflix).

On Saturday, my host parents took me to Chartres for the day.  It was a really cute town to visit.  The cathedral in this city has a really big labyrinth in the middle and stained glass windows that have blue glass like no other cathedrals in France.  It was a fun day trip, and I really enjoyed being able to spend the day with my host parents.

As I said previously., my time here is coming to a close. I’ve already had to say goodbye to four classes his week. Next week I will have to say goodbye to the rest of my students, and I know it’s going to be really hard.  I have become really attached to most of them, and I hate goodbyes anyway. I also don’t want to have to say goodbye to my colleagues, because they’re a fantastic bunch of people. I’m avoiding thinking about how I’ll also soon have to leave my host parents and my friends, because I know I will cry.

On a happier note to all of these goodbyes, I am counting down the days until Kaitlin, who has been one of my best friends since we were eleven, meets me at the Paris airport and we fly to London together.  We have been saying that we would do this trip when we were older for honestly about 12 years. However, I never thought it would be this soon. We are so lucky that we will be able to go on this trip together to London, England, Scotland, and then make it back to France a few days before we fly back to the U.S.  So look forward to updates on that, and probably a post about my last bit of teaching and the Joan of Arc Festival that is happening here starting next Friday, in the near future.

Here are some links to albums of photos related to things that I’ve mentioned in this blog post:

Giverny Pictures: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1329120120436433.1073741846.100000153723798&type=1&l=7f8ec97009

Northern Ireland Pictures: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1326808994000879.1073741845.100000153723798&type=1&l=a6cc284957

Pictures of Chartres/Pictures of Daily Life in France: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1234104536604659.1073741840.100000153723798&type=1&l=bbe6812e6c

Also, you may have noticed that the blog has a new look! I’m still playing around with the style a bit, but I think this theme is a lot more clean cut than my old one, and I really like it!

That’s all for now 🙂