The Closing of a Chapter

       I procrastinated writing this blog. Yes, I was busy and yes I told myself that I was justified in my procrastination. The truth is I did not want to write this blog. The end of this blog, in my mind, became a representation of the final closing of my trip. I have already returned to the states, but with this blog left to write there was something left from the experience. I also was afraid. It is difficult to admit to fear because it makes you feel vulnerable, but I was afraid. I was afraid that this last blog would not do justice to my experience. I was afraid that any revelation about my return had the potential to hurt my family, but most of all I was afraid of the unknown. This is a chapter of my life that is closing I am now graduated from college, I have completed my dream trip, but now the question remains what now. Where do I go from here? Some people would be exhilarated about the vastness of options, me I am overwhelmed. That is what made this last blog so hard to write it was my last string holding me to that portion of my life. It is hard to let go. But let go I am because although the unknown is scary I have learned from my travels that opportunities arise in the most surprising of places.

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         My return home is almost impossible for me to describe. How do you put into words a feeling you cannot even name? I was happy to see my family, I missed them terribly, but that is probably the only emotion that was perfectly clear to me. I arrived home and I felt like I was in a daze. I had imagined/fantasized, call it what you will, about what it would be like to come home. When I was having a bad day I would picture myself back in the states. When I was disoriented or uncomfortable then the image of me in the states would reappear to bring a sense of comfort. It was a fantasy that had risen to heights that would be impossible for any reality to measure up to. When I actually arrived back in the states and met up with my family it felt as if reality had become just another portion of my fantasy. The first day I felt slightly disconnected as if it was merely a dream that would disappear once I woke up. Once I moved passed the initial unreality I began to actually take stock of my surroundings. The town that I was born in and had experienced all stages of childhood into the growth of adulthood had changed. A role reversal had occurred when I was not looking making Ireland familiar and my home had suddenly become foreign when I was not looking. It was not Roseburg that had changed though, it was me.

        The untraveled girl that first ventured forth by herself became a young woman that had gotten a taste of the world. A woman that had gone through an inevitable metamorphosis. The inevitability has been discussed in previous blogs about how it is impossible to remain unchanged when experiencing different cultures and stumbling through experiences on your own. The changes are unidentifiable, but undeniable. There is a part deep within myself that has been touched. It is me who had changed and was viewing my birthplace through new eyes. Arriving home and feeling like I had stepped into the foreign made me feel guilty. I felt as if I had somehow betrayed the place I have always called home. It is silly to reflect on now, but emotions are not governed by logic. I had ventured from my bubble to explore the world and when I came back that bubble was no longer there.

         In my training they had a term that they referred to as “reverse culture shock”. One of those memories you look back at and scoff at yourself and your naiveté. I was confident in the belief that once I returned home I would feel nothing but relief from being gone so long. The term reverse culture shock seemed absurd and only left me mildly confused as to the meaning. The confusion has been cleared and it is a term I not only understand but identify with. I left for Ireland and experienced disorientation at the differences found there, but soon those differences were no longer differences and somehow morphed into the familiar. When I returned what was once familiar had become different and I experienced a whole new set of disorientation.

       This experience opened me up to life, opened me up to the possibilities that lie in wait. Am I still scared of the unknown and the vastness of my options? Yes, but the fear is natural and now I am able to let go. I have faced the unknown time and time again upon my travels and the experiences that came out I would not lose for anything.  I can let go. I can open that door to the beginning of a new chapter and overriding the fear is excitement. My life is before me and this is not the end merely the beginning. 

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Self-Discovery

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This week is my last week in Ireland. That simple statement creates a myriad of emotions, some I am not sure even I can put a name or description to. I dissolve into a walking oxymoron every time I utter the words. Am I happy to be going home? Yes. Am I sad to be going home? Yes. Do I miss my family? Yes. Will I miss the people in Ireland? Yes. Was I happy in Ireland? Yes. Was I happy in America? Yes. This could easily continue each statement creating a contradiction of the last. This experience, cliché as it is, was life changing. How can you not change when thrown into a new culture completely dependent on yourself to adjust and stumble your way through each new experience? Each stumble creates something greater than merely adding to the list of mistakes you have made, rather it is a lesson that alters something within yourself whether you know it or not. Each solution nurtures your confidence and independence. Each city becomes a teacher. Each person becomes a ripple within your life. Each culture opens your eyes and broadens your mind.

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I went to Madrid this last weekend to visit a friend and to have a taste of a completely different culture. How many ways can you say amazing. I feel like I could try and find every synonym of the word and still come up short to my experience. Spain was wild, free, full of passion, all topped with a veneer of sophistication. The spirit housed with Spain was untamed, one of fire.  As soon as I stepped off the plane it felt like I had descended into an optical illusion. The buildings, even the atmosphere seemed to be one of regality.  Not pompous, so much as an air of dignity lingered in the air. Yet, the regal settings can easily deceive you into believing that the sophistication is all there is. Spain is far from shallow, lurking just under the surface: fire courses through the blood of Spain. Spain is not easy to describe, but like many of the places I have connected with a character slowly began to develop in my mind, built by each new discovery. Spain, in my mind, is a rugged man who appears to be simultaneously young and old each depicted within his ageless face that he wears with pride and dignity. His skin bearing testimony to his life, his innate beauty shines out of him and looking into his youthful eyes you see the passion within.

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Spain: another place that struck a chord deep within me. I felt as though the culture was a living breathing entity that reached inside me and uncovered something I never knew existed. I felt a kinship with Spain, but on a deeper level the exploration of Spain lead to the discovery of myself. I am no longer the girl who first left for Ireland. I am now slowly growing into a woman one who has a deeper understanding of herself and the world around her. It would be hard to describe the changes or pinpoint them because it is broader than that. The lessons and experiences accumulated throughout my time here to slowly change an intrinsic part deep within myself. I have gained self-assurance, confidence, self-awareness and beyond the surface I have become more introspective. Spain played a large role in the realization of the change within me. It acted as a mirror reflecting my inner self back at me where I was able to clearly see the changes. I was not timid about dancing in the park, or belting out Cher to anyone who would listen, I was not embarrassed to be caught making silly faces, I was not afraid to try and fail when speaking Spanish. I was comfortable in my skin and with who I am. I have slowly learned to embrace my individuality because it is the little “quirks” that make up who I am.

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Age does not equal wisdom: wisdom is something that is gained through experiencing life, taking in the experience, and recognizing the change within yourself. The thing about wisdom is that one can never reach their full potential, because to reach it would mean there was nothing left to experience. I embrace the fact that there will always be a perpetual one more thing on my list I want to experience and I rejoice in that knowledge. This journey is not coming to an end. No it is merely beginning. 

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Pedestal of Expectations

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This blog was hard for me to write. I love to try and portray my travels as accurately as possible and up until now it was easy for me to do because I had traveled to some of the most beautiful places and each had struck some sort of cord within me. I wrongly assumed that all places that I traveled to would prove equally as impactful. It was a lesson that I learned the hard way this weekend, but one that I am happy having learned.

 I decided to travel to Cork this weekend because it happens to be the second largest county in Ireland runner-up to Dublin. The trip was nothing like what I was expecting, which is hard for me to say because I did not think I had expectations. I was convinced that with each new journey I was embarking on it was free of expectations for the simple reason that I never knew what to expect. I purposefully avoided looking at pictures of a place before I went because I wanted to see it through my own eyes when I got there and yes I wanted to be surprised because it adds to the experience.  What I did not realize is that with each trip I was gaining a certain amount of expectations. I began to expect beautiful statues and architecture to be bountiful. I began to expect little cafes and shops. I began to expect to feel wonder or a connection at each new find. It was as if each new journey built upon the last slowly creating this pedestal of expectations that many places would find it hard to live up to. This was all on a subconscious level, but it soon came to the forefront of my mind upon my arrival to Cork. It is important to state now that cork has its own charm and due to time constraints I was unable to fully explore it. I am sure there was a lot I missed and some of which may not be obvious to the everyday tourist. Now having said that my expectations came crashing down and I realized something: not every place I visit throughout my life is going to make a large impression. It seems like an obvious observation considering if all the places were to make a big impression then logically none of them would. That sounds slightly convoluted, but there is the old saying “to much of a good thing”.

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I was bewildered when I arrived and soon realized that not only did I have expectations, but that this place lived up to none of them. The disappointment I felt was very acute, to the point that I just wanted to hop back on the bus back to Dublin. The expectation that hurt the most when I came to the realization that it would not come to fruition was the expectation that with each new place I would build some form of a connection in my exploration. As my previous blogs described I began to humanize each place transforming them into a character based on my impression of them, but it was the connection I felt with each place that allowed me to create my characters. It was so easy to write about each city because the experience was, for lack of a better term, impactful. I felt like each place merely fell directly onto the paper from my head with little direction from me. It felt more like the experience controlled the writing rather than me. It was why I was so worried about writing this blog I knew it was not going to be easy to write about Cork because I had little to say about it. The experience was not impactful nor was the experience guiding my hand. I finally stopped trying to write about Cork itself and began to focus on what the experience taught me and that is when I came to the biggest realization of all: Cork did have an impact on me. It might not have been the city itself, but I did learn something of value from the place. I now hope to move forward throwing out my expectations and to the best of my ability, or anyone’s for that matter, have an open mind. To take the place in as you would any individual completely unique to themselves leaving no room for comparisons. To keep in mind that each place I go and each person I meet along the way will have an impact on me (what I call the ripple effect), but the size of the impact will vary.

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The people along the way

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Carrick-a-Rede Bridge pretty scary

My previous blogs have laid out my traveling and experiences, but a point I don’t always clarify on is that the majority of my traveling has been done alone. I have been asked the usual questions, “are not you afraid to travel around alone” or “don’t you want to be able to share the experience with someone”. My answers are not simple nor are they straightforward.

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Carrick-a-Rede bridge

Am I afraid to travel alone? Yes at times I am. I have gotten lost in big cities, and I have been in situations that were disorientating where I was scared. While I might have been scared I managed to tuck the fear away and figure out a solution. There is something infinitely comforting about having someone next to even in a scary situation your subconscious is aware that you are not alone and some of the fear is alleviated. I did not have the comfort, but those situations have had some of the largest impacts on my personal growth. I did not have a safety net, which forced me pull up my big girl panties and solve my own problems.

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Giant’s Causeway

Do I want to share this experience with someone? Yes I do. I would love to be able to point at something and share a moment of camaraderie taking in the beautiful sight. But this is a dual sword. I realized during this last trip that if I had someone with me I would be closed off to meeting new people. It would not happen intentionally, but when you have someone there you are wrapped up in each other and the experience it is hard to stay open to the possibility of random conversations with strangers. Or it can be just as likely that you seem less approachable when in a group. Regardless of the reason it is a potential sacrifice when you travel with other people.

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Dunluce Castle

My greatest example of this happened recently on this last trip through the Antrim coast. Along the way I met several people (most of which I didn’t get a name) who in some way or another made an impact on me. I may be fanciful, but I like to believe we meet people for a reason and each person leaves their mark on you no matter how small that impact is, it is still there. Most of my previous blogs spent a considerable amount of time on the cities trying to portray their image to the best of my ability in an effort to share this experience with those I love. I believe the people inside the cities are just as important because in a beautifully complicated cycle they are connected. It is hard to understand one without understanding the other. With this last trip I was not in a city, I was seeing what Ireland is known for: its beautiful landscapes. Along the journey several stops were made to some of the most famous places within Ireland: Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Giant’s Causeway, and Dunluce Castle. The scenery was breathtaking, but what really made the experience was the people along the way.

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At the Giant’s Causeway I went into a little pub called the Nook to have some lunch. It was packed and I hung out by the bar until a table opened up. The weather had been awful and everyone inside was drenched, but the Nook was cozy and warm. There was an older gentlemen sitting on a stool next to me and he turned to me and said “it is a lovely day is it not?”  We struck up a conversation that was relatively brief before a table opened up and I was finally able to sit down resting my soggy feet. The table was for four people, but soon after I was joined by an older couple who also needed a table. They were from London, which I had just been to so we talked about London and even America as we waited to be served. They were a lovely couple who amused me with their banter. They both had a wonderful sense of humor and teased each other to the point that tears were streaming down my cheeks. The conversation probably didn’t last more than 30 minutes, but it still made the lunch infinitely humorous and will be a memory I cherish.

The Nook was packed when I was trying to leave. I had to wait at the bar to pay allowing me to strike up another conversation with the older gentleman again, who was actually a bus driver for a tour company. He told me a hilarious story about an experience he had had at the Nook about being confused with the staff. I was actually in a hurry to get out of the pub afraid I was going to miss my tour bus and this gentleman, who came often to the Nook and knew the staff, got their attention and had them collect my money so I could leave. I didn’t catch his name, but he shared a wonderful story with me and he helped me out creating a memory that I will love to share.

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Its the journey not the destination

I met these people, who I might not have met had I not been travelling alone, and each made a lasting impression on me. They each created a special memory with me that I will always have and they taught me a valuable lesson: don’t be afraid to open yourself up to new possibilities. Yes I have been trying new things and creating new experiences, but I had held part of myself back not engaging people along the trips that I was taking. I am sure this is, in part, due to the fact I was already slightly overwhelmed by the experience to pull myself away from it to socialize. But this created a gap in my travels. As I was trying to uncover/ discover the secrets of the places I was going I was overlooking a crucial element: the people living inside the city. I described Belfast, London, and Galway in great detail. But I forgot to mention the youth I met in Belfast that helped breath life back into the old man or in London with the smooth charmers housed inside the old lady or in Galway where the avant-garde lurked in the heart of the rebellious teen. It is one more layer that I now know to try and unpeel as I try to reach the core of a city and it is one more layer I can add to myself as I continue down this path of self discovery.

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Beyond the travel

(No Pictures because I forgot my camera for the first time and had to buy a good old fashion disposable I am adding one picture of Galway from the internet just to help portray the place that I am describing)

On the train to work this morning I found myself taking a moment of self reflection. It hit me, quite suddenly, that I have been in Ireland for 7 weeks. The time has flown by, propelled by a mixture of new experiences. The girl that started this journey barely having ventured outside her home town has grown. The growth was an inevitable outcome in this path I had steered myself onto, one that I have embraced whole heartily  I wanted to grow; I wanted to take the path less traveled on. It would have been so incredibly easy to finish my last term at Western: a place that was familiar, a place that was comfortable. I didn’t want that for myself though I wanted to break myself out of the status quo I felt like I had fallen into. I wanted to experience a piece of the world. I wanted to break out of my cocoon and spread my wings.

The word “weekend” has taken on a new meaning since coming to Ireland. For the last three years in college the weekend was associated with two words in my mind: relaxation and homework. Without meaning to I found myself falling into a pattern of a stressful week of school, work, and homework only to yearn for the weekend to catch up on sleep and homework. It was a cycle that was comfortable. That simple word, “weekend”, has morphed slowly from that worn cycle to something completely new. The weekend is no longer merely for relaxation and homework, no it now has become an opportunity to travel. I travel every weekend having some of the most wonderful experiences and creating memories that will last me a life time.

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Main shopping street

This last weekend I made my way to Galway. Galway was very surprising. I have traveled to Belfast, around Dublin and to a lot of the little coastal towns in comparison Galway was completely unique. When travelling around Ireland the history that seems to dwell everywhere always makes its presence known no matter where I am at. Galway felt young in comparison to the other places I have been within Ireland. The history was not stamped within the location in fact it seemed to fairly vibrate with youth and energy. There were salsa dancers in the streets, musicians and even a devil. The word lively comes to mind, yet it still seems too tame to describe the town. The town was relatively small when placed next to places such as Dublin and seemed to have the little man syndrome. It was compensating for its lack of size with spirit. The little place was brimming with personality, in a way completely unique to itself. Where some places gain personality through age this little town seemed to just have a natural feistiness imbued within it. If the town were characterized it would give the impression of a rebellious teen. The spirited youthfulness was an almost tangible element within the air.

The town is not young, so why it gives the impression of youth will probably be one of the many mysteries of the world. It may, in its own way, be another peter pan: forever young. The perpetual youth is an endearing quality that seems to be contagious. That youthful energy seems to linger in the very air where it is breathed in. Entering into the town it is easy to find yourself wanting to dance the salsa in the street with the dancers or sing along with the musicians, now whether you are good at either is another matter. It was easy to be swept into the moment and what a beautiful moment it was. It is hard to describe it except to compare it with a childhood memory where you were happy and simply content: a memory that looking back at gives you warm fuzzies in your tummy. I did not necessarily fall in love with Galway more fell in love with the memory it provided me with.

I look forward to the rest of my travels and not just during this time I am in Ireland, but for the rest of my life. I love travelling. I love exploring places trying to find what makes them tick much like people they have layers that you always are trying to peel back trying to find the core. I never feel like I reach the center and probably never will, but the fun is in the trying. Trying to understand the city/town gives you insight into the people that live there and the people give you insight into the place like a beautifully complex cycle that I will never tire of. I have found that as I travel and explore these places trying to uncover their secrets I am slowly discovering pieces of myself in the process.

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City Characters

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The London Eye is visible in the background

This last weekend I decided to test the water outside Ireland. I was hesitant at first, much like dipping my toes in cold water before taking the plunge. I had already begun to associate Ireland with the familiar and drew comfort in that. Even when I traveled around to other places within Ireland such as Dublin and Belfast there was a familiarity within each place that instilled confidence within my untraveled self. No matter what reservations I had about travelling alone to London I knew I could not let this opportunity pass me by. It came down to one simple fact: London is too close to Ireland to not travel to. So I took the plunge into the icy water and emerged with a seed of confidence that will only be nurtured as I continue my travels.

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If you pass a dragon and see the back you are leaving London

One of my reservations was a fear that London could not measure up to Belfast. The city, in which I had, in only one day, grew a strong connection to (as my last blog provides testimony to). Throughout this week I continually tried to compare the two in a futile attempt to answer this very same question. I did come to a conclusion finally. I realized: why do I have to compare them. The two cities are individuals and I had been trying to push them into a standard to allow for a comparison. I was never happy with the product because each city has its own personality that is completely separate from the other. It is the individuality that I feel in love with within each city and once I tried to compare it was the individuality that fell away. Where Belfast was an old man with a little boy heart, London was a pretentious old woman that to the public is proper, but secretly hides within a spirit of fire.

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Due to the time constrain the first place I went to was the Buckingham Palace. I had heard about the changing of the guards and I knew it was an event that I needed to see. The changing of the guards happens at 11:20 and I believe only happens daily during heavy tourist times. I arrived early in the hopes of getting a decent spot to view the procession. I will always remember my first view of the palace. It was just one of those moments that you know as soon as it happens that it was destined to become more than a memory. It surpassed a mere memory and became ingrained within myself deep enough to leave a lasting impression. My first complete look of the palace and the fountain, as cliché as it is, literally took my breath away. I felt my lips whisper the words wow, but I had no words to actually udder the sound. I have not had much exposure to such beauty, although I know there are places in the world that easily surpass the Buckingham Palace it won’t matter because it will be one of the few palace (Belfast included) that has opened my eyes to a broader world. It will not matter what I see later in my life these places will hold a special place within myself for acting the part of a gateway. The palace was gorgeous in its ostentatious way and the surface of the old woman was visible in every inch of this place. The image only solidified when the procession of the changing of the guards started. When the music started up I physically straightened my spine and titled my head up so not to feel out of place.

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Part of the fountain outside Buckingham Palace

Underneath the pretentious surface hid the heart of fire whose heart beat was driven by music. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to stop at the Hard Rock Café. Within the unassuming café housed the history of generations of legendary musicians borne within the very city I found myself in. The sheer amount of talent that was created within the giant city gives testimony to the spirit that lurks under the polished veneer. The Hard Rock Café paid tribute to all legendary artists of rock such as the Sex Pistols and KISS by mounting memorabilia for all to appreciate. Underneath the gift shop was what they called the “vault” that had within it all imaginable types of memorabilia from famous rockers where anyone could go down and tour for free. It was a stark contrast from the palace and it was the contrast that highlighted the complexity within London and only cemented the notion that London contained a spirit of fire.

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Entrance to the vault!

These places I am visiting house an incredible amount of history especially when compared to the United States that gives the appearance of merely a teenager in company of the world. It is the history the gives these places such a distinct personality that allows the cities to easily be personified. The old man and the ostentatious aged woman slowly took shape as I toured each city. The layers were continually added with each new discovery leading to, in itself, a discovery. I realized the layers added a complexity that is found within all humans. It was the complexity and humanity within the cities that enabled me to form a connection to each city and fall in love with the individuality that was found within.

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Inside the vault

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More than a city

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Known as the Beacon of Hope

I had an amazing trip to Belfast this last weekend. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting Belfast to be like, but I do know that it blew what little expectations I had out of the water. The city was a lovely combination of paradoxes. Every time I thought I was starting to understand the complexity of the city I was thrown a curve ball. When I first arrived, the beauty of the city took my breath away. It was not a classic beauty, but what made it breathtaking was the history that was a tangible element everywhere I looked. Belfast seemed to dwell in both the past and the present simultaneously.  The seamless blend of the past and present had me falling in love with the city. The city exuded personality, so much so that I could easily personify Belfast. Belfast on the surface was an old man who had weathered much in its long life and the struggles were physically present much like wrinkles: a physical blemish, but they give testimony to the trials one goes through and overcomes. Housed within the city was the heart of a little boy brimming with life and joy. As I said earlier the complexity of the city that was teeming with paradoxes definitely made an impression.

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Statue outside the Queen’s University

I was lucky enough to see quite a bit of Belfast thanks to the Belfast City Bike Tours. I am not an avid cyclist, in fact I never would have signed up for the tour without work urging me too. I am going to be writing an article about Belfast and one of my colleagues thought going on a bike tour would be a good way to get a feel for the city. I was definitely out of my comfort zone, and it was most likely obvious to the guides that I had not been on a bike in years. It is funny that the one thing I dreaded the most about the trip was the one thing I loved the most. The guides were incredible; they handled my initial unsteadiness like pros and didn’t make me feel embarrassed or uncomfortable about my mishaps. The tour itself was fantastic and I was able to not only see the big attractions, but I was riding around the city on a bike. It is a more intimate experience to be on a bike, it made me feel like I was actually a part of Belfast. It gave me a stronger connection to the location then I could have gotten in a bus merely glancing at everything through some glass.

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The Big Fish! You can’t see it, but the detail within the scales is amazing…

On the tour, two big stops were made that easily became my favorites: the George Street Market and Titanic Belfast. The George Street Market was one of those pieces that gave me a glimpse of the little boy heart hidden within the city. The market was full of local food, crafts, and artists. I didn’t spend as much time as I wanted to there, but as soon as I arrived I was in love. There was a live band that brought with it the lovely sounds of “Come Together”, the smell of wonderful food hung in the air, the excitement was palpable and sunlight drifted in from the rafters. The products on display were gorgeous examples of handmade creations. I wanted to buy everything and probably would have if I had sterling cash on hand. Unfortunately, I only had Euros being unaware that Northern Ireland had a different currency.  That did save me from buying everything though! I took a video of the market so I can show it to my family. It was the next best thing, when what I really wanted to do was have the ability to pack the market in my purse and haul it back to Oregon with me.

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George St. Market

The Titanic museum was one of those paradoxes I mentioned earlier that make up the city. The museum itself is brand new. In fact it is only a year old. Everything within the museum is of course artifacts pieces of the past built on the same location that Titanic itself was built. It was slightly disconcerting to stand on the same place the Titanic was built and to turn around and view the modern looking Titanic museum paying tribute to a piece of the past. I felt as if I was able to straddle the past and present at the same time in that moment. It was a truly unforgettable experience. The shipyard still contained the life-size outline of the Titanic and I was able to stand on it!

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Where the Titanic was built and the Titanic museum

I feel like I could write pages about Belfast, but I would probably sound like a broken record constantly extolling about the beauty and history that are a vital part of the city. Instead I am going to make a few last comments on what I have already said. I am sure it is easy to glean from what I have already written that this is one place I will be visiting again because even though I spent all day there I still haven’t seen enough of this city. I also learned an important lesson from this trip, well actually two. The first lesson is to never let misconceptions stop you from visiting a place because you need to form you own impressions. I will admit I knew I wanted to see Belfast, but I had heard some things about the place that it made me slightly hesitant. I am thankful I did not let that stop me though because it was an incredible experience! The second lesson I learned was it is good to push yourself outside your comfort zone once in a while. If I hadn’t I never would have gone on that bike tour, and I know the trip wouldn’t have been quite the same.

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Botanic Gardens…beautiful

 

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