What to Do in Dublin, Ireland: Part I

Dublin, Ireland - Part I

Click the image to read my latest post!

It officially feels like winter in Washington, D.C. For all of us in the city, days spent out are coming to an end and days spent in are just beginning. 

With a nine-to-five in public relations supporting a top travel account, cabin fever can set in quickly. Inspired by my client’s worldwide work, I’ve returned to my blog to relive my own international adventures and share them with you! I will be resuming my writing at my trip to Dublin, Ireland, for St. Patrick’s Day 2017, when I was spending the spring studying abroad in Nice, France. 

WordPress tells me that I’ve run out of free storage space for my photos, and my intern hourly wage tells me that I don’t have the money to buy the solution. Getting creative, each post from now on will link out to the rest of the entry. Simply click here or the image above to read.

Enjoy Part I, with Part II and Part III on the way!

A.J.H.

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February 21, 2017

Carnaval de Nice 

Though the largest carnival celebrations may be in Rio or Venice, Nice organizes a family-friendly schedule of celebratory events commemorating the festival.  Ready to explore a significant section of Nice’s history and current claim to fame, I prepared for participation in the fête.

The origins of carnival celebrations are not clear beyond their pagan roots, as there are many explanations for the glutinous gatherings.  A popular possibility, however, is that Christians adopted the parties to precede Lent.  The days of carnival allow for freedom and liberation, peaking in Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.  No matter the original reason, carnival is now a time for people to come together and find the fun in society, and more importantly, themselves.

 

Le Roi de l’Énergie

The theme of this year’s celebrations was the King of Energy, and my first event was the Carnival Parade.  Though there are multiple showings of this procession throughout the festival week, I attended a weeknight production with the other students in my program.

Our cheap tickets sent us to a space to stand, closer to the action, while bleacher reservations were available at a higher price.  It may have been the day of the week we chose to attend, but the seated spectators were stoic and dull despite the animated attempts of the carnival dancers to engage the crowd.  I appreciated standing and dancing along the parade route, even though, by the end, I was partied out.

Civically proud, as the French are, many carnival floats portrayed political messages.  Among the displays of the Green Queen’s clean energy and the renewable energy of love, Donald Trump made his way down the street as the world’s new oil captain in a “wind of change,” and the French presidential candidates continued along the route on their ceaseless, election cycle wheel.

 

Bataille des Fleurs

My second carnival activity was the Flower Parade.  In addition to the entertainment that the flower-filled floats would provide, their deconstruction, in which flower bouquets would be thrown to the crowd, was another incentive for attending. Unfortunately, the floats were underwhelming, only adorned with flowers and not composed of them, as I had expected.  And, though it may just have been by chance, but I didn’t get any flowers!  You had to be 6 years old, 60 years old, or have a 6-foot-tall friend to catch a bouquet.

The Carnival Parade is worth the time, with reasonable expectations.  I do not know how past festivals have been celebrated, but because of continuing terrorist attacks in France, Carnival has recently been adjusted to accommodate safety concerns.  The Flower Parade, however, disappointed.  Nonetheless, Carnival hosts many other events over its 10-day duration, so there are plenty of other celebrations to explore.

 

Destination Locations

 

Paix, Amour, Nice,

A.J.H.

Break 1 – Lithuania

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For the afternoon of my first day in Vilnius, I met with a friend who arrived in the city that morning, and we prepared for one of the most incredible abroad experiences yet.

We were determined to visit both Vilnius, Lithuania’s capital city, as well as the Hill of Crosses, a remote religious site in northern Lithuania.  With nothing but a vague idea of what to expect, gathered from the posts of other travel bloggers who had made the trip, we boarded the small train to Šiauliai (pronounced Shoo-lay), the nearest town to the hill.

From Vilnius to Šiauliai by train is about three hours, with very little of anything in between. At 5 p.m. we arrived in Šiauliai which was under a blanket of fog.  Nothing like a sunless, hazy twilight to set the scene.  After asking a handful of taxi drivers if they spoke English, with no success, we hand signaled “Hill of Crosses” and “there and back.”  One man wrote “25€” on a scrap of paper and we went for it.

The cab ride took about 20 minutes, and I cannot describe the journey in any further detail because the fog was so dense that I could hardly make out the vehicle in front of us (if there even was another vehicle on the far-out country road).  The driver pulled into a parking lot and held up both hands, signaling 10 minutes.  Not willing to try to negotiate in hand signals with the possibility of a misunderstanding and getting left behind, my friend and I reluctantly agreed to the time limit and made our way quickly, yet cautiously, down the lone path that stretched ahead.

Occasionally, we would see others emerge from the fog, reassuring us that we were not alone on the trail.  Even though I tried to prepare myself for the sight of hundreds of thousands of crosses, I could never have done so successfully.  My friend was the first to point out small, shadowy structures in the mist, and soon enough, we arrived at the hill.

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Though the exact story of the Hill of Crosses is unclear, modern history proposes that the site is intentionally difficult to access because of its rebellious nature.  Multiple instances of religious oppression fueled the Lithuanian Christians to create a physical display of their persevering faith, practicing their beliefs despite continuous persecution.

Version 2

Upon seeing the first crosses, I felt fear and uneasiness.  I would be lying if I said it wasn’t spooky.  Solitude and solemnity gave the site a dark and distorted atmosphere.  The more crosses that I saw, however, the more I was amazed.  Standing in front of the crucifix, I could sense incredible energy, and as I continued to explore, I was truly in awe of the spiritual dedication of each of the site’s givers over generations of Christians.

Version 2

I, too, became a contributor to the Hill of Crosses, leaving a small, wooden cross, inscribed with my last name, at the foot of Mary.  With my offering, I represent all of those in my family who have a special relationship with God.

Keeping in mind it took four minutes to walk to the site from the parking lot, and knowing we had the same four-minute return back to the taxi, my friend and I knew we did not have much time to spend among the crosses.  Because the site was so powerful, and, in fact, much larger than we expected, we exceeded our two-minute visit limit.  The two of us began to sprint down the path, but we were so emotionally charged from the magnificence of the hill and fear of being left there that we had to stop and walk.  Thankfully, the taxi was still waiting, and returned us to the train station.  I’m not sure that the driver would have left us, but I did not plan to find out.  Too uneasy to venture far from the train station in such an unfamiliar place, we ate soggy, packaged sandwiches from a snack bar at the station and waited for our train back to Vilnius.

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Though I enjoyed visiting the country of my ancestors and exploring the history that shaped Lithuania and its inhabitants, I have never been anywhere so foreign.  Who knew that Paris, my next destination, could feel so familiar!

 

Destination Locations

 

Taika, Mielė, Vilnius,

A.J.H.

 

Break 1 – Lithuania

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Location: Lithuania 

After my visit in London, I set off on my most foreign trip yet: Vilnius, Lithuania.  My research assured me that I would have no problem navigating the land of my ancestors, but I was still apprehensive about the language barrier and my physical and mental distance from anything familiar.

Though the flight to Vilnius was (unsurprisingly) empty, I shared the row with a chatty fellow traveler.  He pointed out the window and spoke to me in what I assumed was Lithuanian.  When I told him no, I did not understand, in English, he said “Français?” and I replied with a hesitant “Oui…”  He explained that he was pointing at the blanket of snow that covered the land below.  Coming from a city of the seaside and sunshine, I was not thrilled with this observation.  We continued the conversation as well as two people speaking a second language could, and I discovered that Mikhail Yurkov was a Russian pianist giving a private concert in Vilnius that night.  He lived in Paris, which is why he had learned French, but his Russian accent was very strong.  When I told him that I was going to explore Lithuania because I was Lithuanian, he shook and kissed my hand.  He repeated the gesture when I mentioned that I would love to visit Russia after reading the Russian novel War and Peace.  With this expression of friendship, I felt good about my upcoming time in Lithuania.

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It wasn’t difficult to show the taxi driver my hostel address, so I made my way into town with ease. I stayed at the Litinterp Guesthouse Vilnius in a large, single room with an ensuite bathroom for the same price as I paid for my room in London, a shared bedroom of 14 with a communal hall bathroom.

I noticed the poverty of the area between the airport and the city center, evident from the extensive graffiti and overall disrepair of some of the buildings.  Vilnius’s Old Town, however, found on the south side of the Neris River that divides the city, contrasted the capital’s suburbs as quaint and clean little village within an Eastern European metropolis.  I ate dinner at Forto Dvaras, a Lithuanian chain restaurant that makes authentic Lithuanian food certified by Lithuanian’s Culinary Heritage Fund.  I ordered potato pancakes, a dish that I am familiar with from meals with the Lithuanian half of my family. The pancakes tasted delicious and reminded me exactly of the ones I enjoy at home.

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Churches of Vilnius

Vilnius awoke sluggish yet sunny the next morning, and I boarded the hop-on-hop-off tour bus from a rather deserted town square.  Accompanied by only two other couples, I rode the bus around Vilnius, gathering an idea of the city’s layout, as well as historic information about the country as a whole.

The first thing I realized of Old Town Vilnius were the churches.  Acting like the blue-light system on a college campus, if standing in front of one church, one can turn 360 degrees and find another place of worship within sight and walking distance.  I’m convinced you could do so all day.

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Church of S. Casimir

The Vilnius Cathedral Basilica can be found in Cathedral Square, the center of Vilnius’s Old Town.  This Roman Catholic church is one of the most celebrated sites in Vilnius, hosting religious services, the remains of St. Casimir, Lithuania’s patron saint, and even, one time, Pope John Paul II.  The cathedral shares the square with the Bell Tower of Vilnius Cathedral that overlooks the old city.

“The shrine in which the heart of the Lithuanian nation beats.”  ~John Paul II, on the Vilnius Cathedral Basilica

 

Užupis

Apart from Vilnius itself, (the Republic of) Užupis, comparable to the artist-filled Montmartre district of Paris, is an alternative section of the city allegedly independent from Lithuania.  The entity, created by those who create, recognizes its independence day as April 1st (April Fool’s Day), and strongly supports its 41-point constitution, which guards some of the citizen’s most important rights:

  • Everyone has the right to die, but it is not his duty.
  • Everyone has the right to make mistakes.
  • Everyone has the right to love.
  • Everyone has the right to take care of their dog until one of them dies.
  • Every dog has the right to be a dog.
  • Everyone has the right to have no rights.

Though the official status of this neighborhood remains, intentionally, vague, it was entertaining, and somewhat humbling, to discover a place where art, emotion, and truth reign.

 

The Gates of Dawn

Continuing the tour, we traveled along the outskirts of the Old Town near what used to be Vilnius’s defensive wall.  Built in the 1500s, the Lithuanians constructed the wall for protection from Russian invasion.  Today, the Gates of Dawn is the last surviving passage of the original wall, and is a shrine to the Virgin Mary, housing a world-renowned painting of the “Vilnius Madonna.”

As I approached the gate, I realized that each person passing through stopped and prayed, gesturing the sign of the cross.  Everyone, from the mother with her toddler to the group of older church ladies, halted in the middle of the street to recognize the religious significance of this sanctuary.  I found the religious dedication of the Lithuanians incredibly moving.

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Did You Know?

Did you know that the Lithuanian language is one of the nearest spoken forms of Sanskrit?    Though the Lithuanians are proud of their special language, I found that many people in Vilnius has some knowledge of English.  In an attempt to fit in, however, I learned the Lithuanian word for thank you: ačiū (pronounced like a sneeze).  My one-word knowledge of Lithuanian could not get me very far, but each time I said”thank you” to a Lithuanian, they gave a small smirk of approval.

 

Conservative Country, Plenty of Pride

Lithuania may be a country that is easily overlooked from a North American perspective, but the people’s passion for their history and traditions rivals that of any great nation.  I was disappointed to be missing Lithuanian Independence Day on February 16th, so close to my visit, but I understood the depth and intensity of Lithuanian pride from my short time in the country’s capital.  Lithuania’s history recounts repeated episodes of political and religious intrusion, but despite these difficult events, the Lithuanians never gave up defending their freedom.  A symbol of this political liberty stands in front of the Presidential Palace in Vilnius as a reminder of this fruitful fight.  Though I appreciated this object of political pride, it does not compare to my encounter with the Lithuanians’ physical manifestation of religious independence that I experienced later that afternoon.

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#freedom / #liberty (depending on translation from Lithuanian)

 

Travel Tips

  • If interested in the Vilnius City Tour bus, note that preordering tickets online only allows for the purchase of an all-day ticket.  If bought from the bus driver, tickets for a one-time trip can be obtained for nearly half of the price of the unlimited option.
  • I didn’t have time to see all of Vilnius, but the Vilnius Tourist Information Centre provides a great list of other places to see in Lithuania’s capital city.

 

Destination Locations

 

Taika, Mielė, Vilnius,

A.J.H.