Friday, June 26, 2015

Return: Home Sweet Home

Our final day abroad started early as we had to be to the airport by 9.  Thankfully the Doolin Hostel where we stayed was nice enough to start their breakfast earlier than normal so we would be able to have something to eat before we left.  After breakfast, we boarded the bus at 7:20 and headed for the airport.  Once we arrived, we took one last photo before the group started to go their own way.  Three people split off to catch flights to other countries to visit other friends.  The rest of us would be taking the long 8 hour flight back to Chicago.

The flight back to Chicago was a lot more comfortable than the flight to London.  The food was still disgusting but there were a lot more options for in flight entertainment.  We each had our own screens and were able to pick from a wide variety of TV shows and movies to watch.  The luckiest person on the flight was Eric as he was able to sit next to Santa!!  As for being sustainable on the flight, the crew made an announcement that they do recycle everything that they possibly can.  I even noticed one crew member separating all of the cans into a separate bag to be recycled. 

When we finally arrived to Chicago the group split up even more.  A few people stayed to meet family in Chicago and a few took another flight to Des Moines.  One person was lucky enough to catch an earlier flight back to Cedar Rapids.  There were a total of 13 of us remaining for the last flight to Cedar Rapids.  After a long layover we finally were able to board the plane and arrived in Cedar Rapids a short time later.  We all said our final goodbyes before heading out to meet our families and get our luggage.

Looking back on the trip I was surprised by how much I learned about sustainability.  Every place we went seems to be so far ahead of the United States in terms of sustainability and they are so proud of it.  There were signs everywhere explaining what they are doing to be more sustainable.  A lot of the things that they are doing are so simple that it is amazing we have not started to do them ourselves. 

I know I am not alone when I say this was the most incredible experience of my life.  I saw things and accomplished challenges that I never thought would be possible.  I made so many great new friends that I am excited to keep in touch with.  I heard many people say they were excited to come home because it was a long two weeks but the number one thing they were going to miss was being around so many great people every day.  Thank you to Eric and everyone that put so much time into planning this once in a lifetime experience.


Ryan Schilling

Senior, Criminology

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Day 14: A Bumpy Ride

           Today was filled with ups and downs, literally. This morning we first took a bus ride to Doolin and then hopped on a ferry to visit one of the Aran Islands. The rocky trip to the islands was rather rough for most of us, and lots of motion sickness meds were needed. 

          After a quite long journey (an hour for some, and a lifetime and half for others) we arrived at our destination for the day, Inishmore. Although the sun was shining when we left Doolin, we quickly became disappointed when it started raining during our arrival. We were bummed out because we had plans to rent bicycles and tour the island. We decided to find some food for lunch and cross our fingers for the clouds to clear. We went to Bayview Restaurant, and while eating we took note of some sustainable practices. The restaurant used local products to make their menu, which is great since they would have to ship in food through the ferry if they did not use these practices. The plants they used to decorate were in moss pots, which means the pot is biodegradable and less plastics are being used. These sustainable efforts kept us entertained while we waited for our food.

Our spirits were raised when the weather cleared up while we were eating. Most of our group followed through with the bike rentals and began to tour the island. The Aran Island is a small island so it is easy to access the whole island on bike or walking. Although a few vehicles were used on the island, bikes were a quick and sustainable way to get around the island. We biked along an Oceanside path and took a few pit stops at the Seal Colony and beach. The weather and view were both absolutely beautiful, and we even managed to take a group selfie while in motion on the bikes. While most of us were biking...
Others explored the island and shopped around. Some people prepared for the cold ferry ride back to Doolin by stocking up on warm clothes at the local wool shop. Thankfully, the sun was still out during our ride back so we were able to sit outside, which helped with the sea sickness.

Next up was the Cliffs of Moher. We had an hour to explore this gorgeous site of tourism. Needless to say, the pictures we had previously seen of the cliffs did not do justice to what we saw today. Some of our group was more adventurous than others and got closer to the cliffs while some of the more cautious students looked at them from a safe distance. The Cliffs of Moher is a sight that you almost need to experience yourself in order to truly grasp the beauty of it.

After a long day spent outdoors, we were ready to see what the small town of Doolin had to offer for dinner. Since it was Saturday night, most of the restaurants were packed. A few of us ended up sharing tables with tourists from other countries and ended up learning a lot about their own European adventures. After dinner, we began to settle into the Doolin Hostel for a night of rest before our journey back to the States in the morning. However, our night had a little bit of excitement left in store for us. One of the girl’s hair driers triggered the fire alarms, and we all (some of us in our bath towels) had to evacuate outside. The rest of our night consisted of strategically shoving all of our souvenirs into our suitcases and getting a good night’s sleep before our long day of travel.

Laura Bohnker
Senior, Biology

Rachel Kunst
Senior, Biochemistry

Day 13: Erin go Bragh :)

We started off our day by hearing the waves on the beach as we left our hostel called the Surf-n-stay this morning in Strandhill. We followed the Atlantic coast on our bus before we made our stop for the day at Westport to visit the Croagh Patrick mountain.

On our bus ride to the mountain, our bus driver Shawn gave us an overview of the history of St. Patrick in Ireland. I will give you a brief history lesson as well in case you don't know the real story.

St. Patrick was actually originally from Wales and was captured one night, at the age of 16, from his home by an Irish raiding party and was brought to Ireland. As a slave, his duties were to mind the sheep as a shepherd boy on a mountain. Patrick was a slave for 6 years and was often hungry, cold, and lonely so he prayed a lot to God to save him. God answered his prayers one night telling him there would be ship near Dublin that would take him home. Patrick returned home to his awaiting family and realized his vocation was to become a priest. St. Patrick was then ordained and sent back to Ireland to evangelize the Irish pagans and setup dioceses and a structured church system in Ireland. Christianity spread throughout Ireland and Europe and St. Patrick taught the faith by using the Irish clover which has 3 leaves to symbolize the Holy trinity. Patrick died in 461 AD in Armagh and is buried in the Cathedral there.

Fun facts:
  • St. Patrick is actually not a saint but the Irish people consider him one and the name stuck
  •  March 17th is known as St. Patrick's day all over the world and the Irish heritage is celebrated by all (Irish or not) Be sure to wear green!
  • Patrick is a popular name with over 7 million in the world
  •  Many establishments, institutions, and churches are also named after him. The most famous is St. Patrick's church in New York

After hearing the story from Shawn we got ready to climb the Croagh Patrick mountain which was partly covered in clouds. Some of us had already climbed a mountain this week and were experts at climbing by now (right?). I unfortunately am not a nature person at all and struggled up the steps leading to the bottom of the mountain.

Croagh Patrick Mountain
The mountain is actually a holy pilgrimage site and many people from all over the world come to climb the famous mountain. Thousands of people climb the mountain on Reek Sunday which is the last Sunday in July as it is the pilgrimage day. The sign by the entrance read "Every pilgrim who ascends the mountain on St. Patrick's day or within the months of June, July, August and September and prays in or near the chapel at the top for the intentions of the Pope will receive special indulgence for their own personal intentions."

Some pilgrims even climb the mountain barefoot as a sacrificial offering to God. We did happen to see some people make the trek up without any shoes on! The mountain is also the place where St. Patrick supposedly drove out all the snakes from Ireland and sent them to the Atlantic ocean to never come back to Ireland.I think this is just a myth though.

We began the trek up the mountain as a group, some more behind than others (including myself). We were hiking through loose rocks, passed a little creek, and even saw sheep surprises everywhere. We took several stops along the way to catch our breath and took a long break to enjoy the view at the top. It was gorgeous to look out and see small islands on the Atlantic coast.
After our journey back down the mountain
 We couldn't quite reach the top because the clouds were rolling in and it began to get windier and started raining. A lot of us were disappointed but the view was perfect. The climb back down the mountain was faster than the climb up with less stops along the way. The rocks were loose and I was afraid I was going to twist an ankle but I made it down just fine.

My sustainability for today was that the mountain had no trash cans anywhere and there was a sign to pick up all trash. On my way back down the mountain I picked up a ball of aluminum foil and threw it away when we got to the bottom. I'm trying to be more sustainable on this trip!

We took a break to catch our breaths for a little bit at the bottom. At a pub nearby some even ordered beer and sandwiches because it was after lunch time and to celebrate climbing a mountain today. From Westport we drove 2 more hours on the bus until we made it to our destination for the night called Galway. We checked into our hostel which is like a hotel, and headed out to tour the local shops and eat dinner. The group all split up and went their separate ways but my group first went to the Galway mall to check out some shops and then went on to 3-4 souvenir shops. I knew I would spend most of my money in Ireland and get more gifts here than England or Wales. My family is pure Irish on my mother's side and I know they would love something from the homeland. I even bought a gift for my grandpa about our original family name Kenny, that includes the history and our family tree. I had a lot of fun checking out the gift shops and we even ran into the other people from our group in the shops too. Alot of the girls bought claddagh rings which symbolize love, loyalty, and friendship. After shopping, Andrea, Laura and I found a cafe and ate dinner in an upstairs room. It was delicious! From there we knew we wanted dessert so we found a gelato shop and walked back to the hostel.

Can't wait to go to the Aran Islands tomorrow and see more of where my Irish heritage comes from!

Katie Kustra

Senior, Leisure, Youth, and Human Services

Day 12: The Panthers Take On the Giant

This morning came pretty quickly and we knew that the day was going to be another busy one. After the usual morning scrambling and the Irish breakfast provided at our hostel, we were on our way over near the town of Bushmills and our first stop, The Giant’s Causeway.
As we drove to our destination, our driver told the story behind the Giant’s Causeway and it went something a little like this:
“There was an Irish giant named Finn MacCool. He was a warrior, who noticed another giant over in Scotland. Now, because he did not want the Scottish giant to come over and get rid of him and take over, Finn decided he would go over to Scotland and sneak up on the Scottish giant. So Finn built the causeway and made his way to Scotland. Now as he noticed the giant, whose back was turned, Finn also saw that the giant was three times his size! So in fear, Finn MacCool ran back to Ireland. The Scottish giant turned and saw Finn running away. He began to run after Finn, over to Ireland. Back in Ireland, Finn rushed into his house and told his wife to help him after he explained what had happened with the Scottish Giant. His wife told him to hide in the bedroom and she would take care of everything. Finn did as he was told and hid away. A few minutes later, his wife heard the Scottish Giant knock at the door. She opened it and the Scottish giant asked where Finn MacCool was. She said that he was at work and wondered why. The Scottish giant explained that he had seen Finn MacCool running away and wanted to know why he was there. Finn’s wife said that it did not sound like Finn and asked if he wanted some tea. The Scottish giant agreed and came into the house for a cup of tea. Now there came a noise from the bedroom and the Scottish giant heard it. He demanded that the woman explain who was in there and then went in to see for himself. In the bedroom, lying on the bed was Finn MacCool, acting like a baby. Now Finn’s wife told the Scottish giant that that was Finn MacCool Jr., their baby. The Scottish giant then said that he looked like the giant who had run away from him. “Ah, sometimes the baby sneaks off”, the wife of Finn MacCool explained. Yes, that’s what happened. The baby snuck out and ran to Scotland, he does that all the time. The Scottish giant looked at the supposed baby and thought to himself, “now if that’s the baby, then how big is his father?” And with that thought, the Scottish giant ran off, destroying the bridge that became known as the Giant’s Causeway as he went.”

The sights of the Giant’s Causeway were unique and beautiful. Hexagon shapes of all sizes dotted along the coast line in many different layers. We all climbed and walked all over the causeway and some sat, watching the waves. After the usual pictures, we all made the hike back on to the bus. From there, we traveled into Bushmills and stopped at a local grocery store to get food. Another sustainable aspect that here you have to buy the bags for five pence. Therefore it stops people from using as many as they would if it were free and reinforcing the idea to bring your own bags with instead.

Our next activity was visiting the Bushmills Distillery. Splitting up into groups, we were able to take a tour of the many buildings and learn the processes that go into making the famous Bushmills whiskey, a very popular Ireland trademark. Not only was learning about the processes interesting, but we also learned how Bushmills distillery is using sustainable efforts. For example, we were told that the crushed barley that is not used in the rest of the process of making whiskey is sold to farmers to mix in with their feed for their cows. Another was that the barrels used to store the whiskey after a period of several years or uses, is given to garden shops and the like to be used for whatever they wish. Thus nothing goes to waste at the Bushmills Distillery!
After being able to try this famous whiskey if anyone so chose and checking out the gift shops, we made our way back to the bus and our final destination. Just several minutes out of town, were we taken to MacDonald’s. Much to the distress of many of the students onboard, there were less golden arches and fast food at this particular spot than they were expecting. Instead, beautiful old ruins of a long ago, abandoned castle was perched right on the cliff side, overlooking the ocean.

Finally, we were on our way to the town where we would be staying for the night. A quiet, yet cute town, right along the ocean and a very popular surf spot as we found out, especially once realizing that our hostel’s name of the “Surf and Stay” was pretty accurate. Many people out of the group went for pizza and ice cream for dinner and finally, went to explore along the coast. It was a very interesting day for our group. After all, not many people can say that they stepped in the footsteps of giants, can they?

Jamiee Ohm

Psychology, Senior

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Day 11: "We trust you will have an enjoyable trip..."

 After having a rather restless night in the Generator Hostel, we made the 2 hour long journey to the Titanic experience in Belfast, Ireland. The Titanic experience we visited is the largest exhibition in the world. It was opened in 2012 for the 100 year anniversary of the Titanic. Belfast was the site, in which the Titanic was built. There were four levels within the museum and each level focused on a different part of the Titanic's history.

A few exhibits from the museum including a scale model of the ship and an example of the lifeboats used. 
The first level focused on the building of the ship in Belfast. Belfast was a growing city for the linen industry and many women traveled there to get jobs. Belfast also had the largest rope works company in the world at its time. Although there was a lot of history, the exhibits were so interactive and engaging that I could've stayed there all day! There were so many interactive exhibits and so much to read. It was overwhelming the amount of exhibits and information that the museum contained. We then went up to the fourth floor to learn about the actual building of the ship. There was even a ride that took us through the different work that went into each part of the Titanic. We rode a cable car inside the museum that narrated the jobs of several workers involved in a small part of the construction of the ship. It was crazy how many different people and how much work went into a ship that is now at the bottom of the ocean. Eight people even died during the construction of the ship. The Titanic was the pride and joy of Belfast at the time and over 100, 000 people came to watch the launch on May 31, 1911 at 12:13pm.

Exploring the different features and layout of the Titanic was the next part of the experience. I can say for sure I would not have wanted to be a 3rd class passenger.  Around $18,000 dollars today for a one way ticket, which included only 2 toilets for all of 3rd class and a room with barely enough room to fit two people. The average 3rd class passenger was between the ages of 17-25. On the other hand, the 1st class rooms provided plenty of room and a personal bathroom with each room.

Outside the museum: poles represent the size of the ship 
We then moved to a part that contained information about the sinking of the Titanic. It was very interesting to hear survivors talk about the sinking.We even got to see (and practice) the morse code signals that were sent out to other ships in an attempt to get help for survivors. The Titanic actually traveled from Belfast to Southampton to Cherbourg to Queenstown and then on to attempt the journey to America. The final leg of the museum contained an exploration of the remains of the Titanic on the bottom of the ocean. As an elementary education major, I was more than pleased with all the different types of learning experiences within the museum. It was a highlight of my trip so far!

As for sustainability within the museum, I did find some interesting information about the more current state of the builders of the Titanic. They have moved on from ship building to the assembly of offshore wind turbines for wind farms. They even installed the SeaGen, which is the world's first commercial tidal stream turbine. This just goes to prove that everyone can do something to help the sustainability efforts, even if they build a giant ship that sinks in the beginning of their career. The wind turbines were something we saw a lot of in Wales a couple days ago.

Here are some fun facts about the Titanic:

  • The Titanic only had 2 engines
  • There was no laundry on the Titanic, so there were 45,000 napkins and 18,000 bed sheets on board
  • It was a British ship that was financed by Americans
  • The Titanic sunk in 2 pieces when it sunk
  • James Cameron, director of the famous movie, didn't discover there was a J. Dawson on the ship until after the filming
  • The ship almost collided with another ship during its departure from Southampton
  • The boilers never exploded, like the dramatic scene on the movie
  • The band continued to play as the ship sank and all the men in the band drowned

After our Titanic experience, we traveled close to two hours to the Causeway Coast Rope Bridge. There was a lot of apprehension about this rope bridge that crosses over the ocean; however the sights were beautiful and overpowered the mixed emotions. We had a great view of the ocean and were also able to avoid the rain completely! There were a few who were a wee bit scared about crossing the tall bridge over shark-filled waters, however it turned out to be a breeze...No, really, it was cold and windy..but for all you parents out there, we all made it across to the island AND back!
A few of us walking across the rope bridge.
The view from the island the bridge leads to.
We are finishing up our day at the Sheep's Island View Hostel and having some dinner at a local pub. I'm pleased to be back in the beautiful countryside with the sheep and away from the seagulls for a bit :)

As the motto of the makers of the Titanic said..."We trust you will have an enjoyable trip". Here's to our enjoyable trip ending better than the Titanic!

Bri Towers
Junior, Biology