Ireland the Beautiful: an armchair travel experience

My strongest memories of my trip to Ireland involves hitch-hiking from Galway to Clifden and walking past peat bogs edged with stone walls along the way. This video by bigbeninjax captures the essence of that trip by weaving together images of landscape, buildings and people. From the wide vista angles to intimate close-ups, a few minutes of viewing, offer a trip to Ireland from the comfort of where ever you’re watching.

There is text throughout that sets the tone of transitions from one place and one theme to another. Halfway through, there’s a kaleidoscope effect that works quite well, as does the music’s mesmerizing effect. For people wondering what to do with those journey of a lifetime shots, here’s one way. Pay attention to the timing of each shot. It’s about right for giving the viewer time to absorb one before moving on to another.

Irish Way, a non-profit program to help teens connect to Ireland

I have Irish roots, barely. I’m one of those people whose genetic make-up is a mixture of a few countries. But, I did go to Ireland with a friend who has more claim to the country than I do. We visited his father’s second cousin near Clifden.

They didn’t know we were coming, but as soon as we introduced ourselves when the front door opened, we were welcomed inside for a wonderful visit and a meal. Ours was a barely organized, shot-in-the-dark approach to connecting to my friend’s Irish roots. After that meal, he went back to visit again a couple weeks later after I flew back to the U.S. Although his approach worked because of his family ties, those without family ties also have a way to connect to Ireland if the person looking to connect is a high-schooler.

Irish Way, in existence since 1976, is a study abroad program for high schoolers. Operated by the Irish American Cultural Institute, the program includes classes and workshops in Irish culture and tours of various sites in order to enhance participants’ interest and develop their understanding about all things Irish. Interestingly, the program is based in Galway which is near Clifden, the town closest to where my friend’s relatives live.

I can vouch for Galway. It would be a wonderful place to spend four weeks. The deadline for applications is in March. Although the cost isn’t cheap, there is scholarship money available. From reading the literature, I don’t think being Irish is a requisite, just an interest in Irish culture.

For an article about one girl’s experience going through the program, click here. As Steve Stephens of the Columbus Dispatch reports, the experience won’t be her last.

The Amazing Race Season 12, Episode 1 Recap

And they’re off! Last night was the first episode of “The Amazing Race Season 12.” Although, I have to say, it took awhile for the teams to get out of the driveway of the Playboy Mansion in Beverly Hills once they grabbed their bags off the lawn. That kind of drove me nuts. All that display of horn beeping. I imagine the teams being told to whoop it up and make it exciting. But, it is a race and reality TV–and they were on their way to LAX, which might have been the toughest part of the trip, if it wasn’t for those donkeys they met up with in Ireland. More on that later.

With all the switching of camera shots and the quick paced dialog between the paired team members, “Oohhh, are we going the right way?” “I think we’re going the right way,” and “I don’t think we’re going the right way,” with everyone more or less saying the same thing, I couldn’t really tell who was going the right way myself. I was impressed that no one got majorly stuck in traffic as they tried to figure out how to get from Sunset Boulevard to U.S. 405 in time to get to the airport for the British Airways flight to Shannon Airport in Ireland.

As soon as I heard Shannon Airport when the first envelopes were ripped open, I thought, “Great! I’ve been there.” I was curious to see how Ireland would be portrayed. First, they had to get tickets. Naturally, British Airways didn’t have enough tickets for everyone so that revved up the anxiety levels. I could relate to that feeling. I flew to Luxembourg on standby once, and it wasn’t until the very last second that we found out we had seats, otherwise we’d miss that cheap price.

Those without tickets–the brother/sister team, Azaria & Hendekea, and the father/daughter team, Christiana and Roland sweet talked a woman into letting them use her laptop. Great idea. They proved that the Internet does work for locating flights in a jiff. Soon they were winging their way on an Aer Lingus flight to Ireland. Using their noggins, this group also borrowed someone’s cell phone to book taxis for when they arrived in Ireland. Technology at its finest. Smooth as silk for this gang–except for nasty fellow racers, Ari and Staella who stole one of the taxis once they hit Ireland. Not literally, but they jumped in the taxi pretending it was theirs.

In Ireland, it was first off to the smallest church in the world where they signed a book to gain spots on a ferry to an island the next day. I have vague recollections of that church myself, but maybe that’s a dream. The slow pokes ended up with seats on the last ferry. I wondered, as they were heading up to the church, if anyone noticed how craggy and gorgeous the scenery is there. All the peat fields and stone walls in seemingly endless miles.

Once they knew the ferry they’d be on, the first, second or third, there was nothing to do but go to sleep at the quaint bed and breakfast, dog-tired, and mixed in with some whining by those in the last place, i.e., the blonds, who talked themselves up at the beginning credits as being of stellar stock, but were either last place or close to. Being stellar types they were disappointed in the outcome. Boo hoo. Moral of that story, modesty might help.

Next day, hooded jackets on to protect from the drizzling rain, the teams ended up on the island for their tandem-bike ride through mud to Cleggan Farm. Of course, one team’s bike broke–that’s what makes for good television–so they had to hoof it faster. There wasn’t much of a chance to tootle around because this was the first roadblock. The teams had to cross a high-wire act type deal with one team member pedaling the other across while the second member dangled below on another bike. I kept thinking, well, this must be safe enough. My favorite part of this leg was hearing Roland sing “Danny Boy” as he pedaled across. He wasn’t all that good, but he made up in exuberance. I also liked his line, “Not bad for an old fart.”

What I noticed by this point is that all heterosexual couples except for the Goth team, Kynt & Vyxsin, were bickering–either voices pitched high or almost growling by now. Yep, the joys of traveling with a loved one. Points in my mind for Kynt and Vyxsin and the lesbian minister couple, who seem to be enjoying the experience. Sure, the ministers would like to win, but they already have a life that means something–might as well take in that scenery that’s so breathtakingly beautiful. The Goth couple spend their lives having some sort of fun, it seems. Why give that up now?

With the tandem bike ride finished it was off to get a donkey to take a load of peat blocks to Clifden and the Connemara Heritage Center, another place I’ve been. Since donkeys go when they want to go, unless someone happens to have that donkey touch, this was not as simple as it seems. Azaria and Hendekea, the brother and sister team made it to the end first so they won a few days in Alberta, Canada so they could take in a fancy resort with a name I didn’t catch and Banff National Park. I like these two well enough. They did make a comment in the beginning credits that said they are more intelligent than everyone which left me cold, but they were nice to Christina and Roland on a few occasions, so that moved them up a notch in my favorites category.

Second place were Kynt and Vyxsin who I like a lot. My other favorites are Ronald and Christina who came in 7th and Kate and Pat, the married lesbian ministers who came in 8th. Eliminated were Ari and Staella, the ones who stole the taxi. Moral of that story: Don’t steal. They did get along well with each other the whole way and I liked that at the end they didn’t blame each other for the elimination. Their expression of remorse sounded like a familiar tune to any one who loves to travel, but needs to go home. “There’s so much we could have done and seen,” one of them said.

Here Ari and Staella are trying to get the donkey to move–one possible reason for their loss. But they did steal that taxi. It’s karma, I’m telling you.

Watch next Sunday night and tune in next Monday for Gadling’s next installment of our Amazing Race coverage. Martha’s up next week to give you the scoop.