Grapes, Ochre, and Villages in the Provence Countryside

After many months of being completely distracted by… well, life, I’m finally going through my travel journals and converting scribbles into coherent stories that actually make sense to other humans. Seems that where I left off was my trip to France in the summer of 2016.

During my time abroad in Northern Ireland, I made friends with some German students as well as some French students. Two years on, some of my German friends decided we should road trip to France to meet up with our French friends. This is how I ended up in the back seat of a rather large rental vehicle surrounded by three German men and drinking a bit of wine to cope with the insanity of the situation.

It was a good thing that I drank early and slept well, because in the wee hours of the morning it fell to the American, the only one with significant experience on long-distance driving overnight, to take us the last couple of the hours to our destination. Turns out those years of driving between Missouri and Virginia in one straight shot really paid off!

Anyway, the three Musketeers and I arrived at the home of one of our friends somewhere between 4am and 5am. Our French friends kindly let us in and helped us get settled before we all passed out for a few hours. I probably should have drank more wine after that to help me sleep, because I only managed to sleep an additional two to three hours before I was up and running around. After everyone woke and had breakfast, we had our first adventure in the August sun of Southern France.

Avignon: A Pope’s Home Away from Rome

I was only just getting my whits about me when we pulled into a parking space in Avignon. We pasty white people slapped on some sun screen before heading into the heart of the town.

Exterior Papal Palace

After a light lunch, we started exploring. The first place we stopped by was the Palais des Papes, or the Papal Palace. Construction of the palace began in 1252 CE, but it wasn’t until 1309 that it became the residence of the popes and seat of Western Christianity. Avignon remained the papal home until 1364.

The Papal Palace is actually quite a massive thing. We walked to the chapel entrance, and decided to go inside for a few minutes. I was so glad we did, as the August heat was getting to be quite intense around mid-day, and the chapel was incredibly cool and relaxing. Pro tip: Always go in the church if it’s summer and you’re in a hot place. The cool stones keep the heat out. And yes, it took me going to Southern France in August to figure this out!

Interior Papal Palace

Interior Papal Palace

After we left the chapel, we wandered the streets, stopped for ice cream which was very hard to order since I don’t speak a lick of French, and eventually meandered towards the river.

Avignon

Avignon

At the the Rhône, we found Pont Saint-Bénézet. This bridge was originally constructed in the late 1100s. The bridge was later destroyed in war, rebuilt, and destroyed some more when the floods came. Eventually they decided to give up on the bridge, so now only half a bridge stands across the river. Talk about infrastructure problems…

Half-Bridge in Avignon

Now, this useless bit of stones serves as a tourist attraction for people like me and the Germans. I can only imagine how annoying it must be for the poor locals to have half a bridge that everyone who visits is so amazed by for some reason. After we walked around on the bridge, we decided to buy some groceries and call it a day.

Two French Villages: Roussillon & Gordes

Our next day’s adventure was to the village nearest to us: Roussillon. We walked through the fields of grape vines under the incredibly hot French summer sun before making the march up the hill into the village.

I don’t know what I was expecting, but the whole place seemed to me to be a quintessential French village of southern France. Stone shops and houses, grape vines growing on buildings, local artists, wine cellars, and of course, bakeries.

French Vinyards

Roussillon

Although the village itself is cute, our first stop in the village was more… geological. Right at the edge of the village you can pay a small fee to enter onto the ochre trail. Ochre is an orange-ish pigment found in the clay deposits of the soil there. In the past, the village people made their living mining the pigment and processing it to be used in a variety of industries. Today, you can take a short walk through the mine area and feel like you’re on Mars.

Les Ochres in Roussillon

Les Ochres in Roussillon

After that we filled our water bottles and headed off to explore the village some more. We wandered through an antiquated cemetery, bought a bottle of local wine, watched an artist at work, and stole moments in the shade of the grape vines and sparse trees.

Later in the afternoon we ventured back to our little vacation home and took a nap to escape the summer heat. Very necessary.

We roused ourselves in the evening so that we could make it to another village in time for the sunset. Gordes is a quite popular village in the area, and with good reason. I have heard it argued that Gordes is one of the most beautiful places to visit in southern France. Sitting on a rocky outcrop facing the village is one of the best ways to enjoy the golden light of a sunset, and walking through the narrow cobble-stone streets is a bit like stepping into a French fairy-tale land.

Gordes

Gordes

Now that I’ve done a bit of research into the village, I see that there is quite a bit of history in the small place, although we mostly just enjoyed wandering around and made a quick stop into a historic-looking church.

Gordes

If you’re in the area, I would definitely recommend stopping by here.

Cheers!

A Walk in the Rain

A little over a month ago I went for a hike. We started out in the center of Beuron, a village in Baden-Württemberg, Germany. Basically, we hiked in a big loop around the area to the east of the town. If you want to know more about the trail, we hiked parts of Eichfelsen Panorama described here.

As always, nothing can just go completely as planned. On the morning of the hike, I woke to the sound of rain. Despite the weather, we packed our sandwiches and headed out to Beuron.

We hiked south, out of town and up a hill. After hiking out of the valley, we came to our first outlook. Going further to the east, we found even more outlooks. Standing on the edge of the cliff, I could see Beuron in the distance.

Beuron Overlook

We kept going through the forest. The rain held steady the entire day. You can see that there’s a slight lack of visibility in the photos. With plenty of layers to protect from the cold, I kept pretty dry apart from my hair. Thankfully, my hat kept me from getting too wet.

P1640777

After a while we came to a little river down in the valley. It was the Danube River. If you don’t know it, the Danube runs through Ulm (where I was my first week here), Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest, Belgrade, and ends at the Black Sea.

Danube River
The tiny beginnings of the Danube River.

Not too long after crossing that little bridge, it started to rain harder and the wind picked up. Then, starting to soak through, we headed back to town to get in the car and go someplace nice and warm.

While rainy, the day made me think back to an equally damp day at the Cliffs of Moher. Rainy times outdoors aren’t always bad.

Cheers!

The View One Year Ago

One year ago today, I stood with the other international students from Ulster University-Jordanstown. We lined up to take in our first view at Giant’s Causeway.

It was sunny, fairly warm despite the sea’s cool breeze. We walked down the path, poured off of it, and began exploring a bit. I remember standing alone of the edge of a cliff and thinking, “Wow… I’m really in Northern Ireland.” The realization crashed into me like the waves crashed into the rocks below me.

It’s always a shock to actively realize where I am. I first got that feeling on Cannon Hill in Staunton one night after watching a sunset. I felt so at home, but also startled, realizing I was in one of the most unique and charming little towns in the country.

The second time I got it was in Oaxaca, when I was in my host mom’s house listening to the musical language of Spanish, that I could suddenly not speak a word of, and feeling like I left my stomach on the plane. There, it was more of a terrifying realization. Thankfully, once I overcame that first night, I settled in well.

And the third time was Giant’s Causeway, a year ago today. That feeling continued through the day, and it recurred throughout the several months that I studied at Ulster Uni. Something about consciously thinking about my place in the world during those three months was incredibly powerful.

Two Weeks on the Emerald Isle

Thinking back, I wouldn’t change a thing about that gorgeous day in Northern Ireland. So here’s to another year of (mis)adventures, getting lost, and falling down on my rear end (which I did at Giant’s Causeway and most outdoor excursions, because I’m talented)!

Cheers!

Hierve el Agua

This post is a part of looking back at my trip to Oaxaca.

My last excursion in Mexico was at the end of two very full weeks. We put on our swim suits and packed into a van that took us to Hierve el Agua. I read about the natural destination before we got there. It is basically a spring on the side of the mountain. The minerals in the water coming out of the spring have taken years to create petrified waterfalls on the mountains. This information is interesting to know, but doesn’t prepare you for the view.

I remember listening to “Bleed American” by Jimmy Eat World as we headed out. I was quite sleepy by time we arrived, but still awake thanks to both my musical distraction and actively trying not to give in to motion sickness.

We hopped out of the van, our guide gave us some information about the site, and we were off. The view from the side of the mountain was stunning. There are actually two petrified waterfalls on the side of the mountain: the one on which we stood and another nearby that can be seen in my photos.

Hierve el Agua

The water bubbled up and over the smooth stone, creating small pools, and bigger ones, that seemed like something out of a sci-fi movie. The two biggest pools were even large enough to swim in, which I did after taking quite a few photos.

Standing at HeA

People who know me might know that (even though I live on the lake) I’m not a huge fan of water and swimming. I like to look, but getting in is something else all together. But this time, I did get in the water. It was freezing, but perfect for the Mexican heat.

I can honestly say that being in the water and looking to the end of the pool and seeing only mountains and sky beyond the natural edge of the water is one of the most amazing views in the world.

HeA View

Hierve el Agua is an impressive natural wonder, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants a nice relaxing swim in the mountains of Mexico.

Cheers!

My Birthday Weekend

As you all probably noticed, I’ve taken a month-long break from my blog. In that time I’ve taken a great final trip (which I will get to in just a minute), finished all of my assignments, taken one of my final exams on campus, and started working on studying for the final pieces in my other two classes. I’ve also returned to the States, readjusted to the time (my friend who studied in India was right; coming back is worse!), and spent some time with my family and friends.

Like I said, I took one last trip for a grand finale travel weekend. The sixth of December was my birthday, so I thought, why not travel? Since I had not yet been to the Cliffs of Moher, I made seeing them my goal. My usual travel partner agreed to go with me provided I did a good chunk of the driving. (And yes, that means that I do have some sort of ability to drive a manual!)

We left after classes on a Thursday night, heading to Sligo where we would stay that night. This took quite a while as the only way out of Belfast was through considerable traffic. Belfast is big compared to what I’m used to, but it’s not that big. Where on Earth did all the cars suddenly come from?

Anyway, after we escaped the traffic, we ran into rain. My favorite. Not. Eventually, we did make it to Sligo, to a hostel which clearly had no heat. The weekend wasn’t starting off well, but that’s okay. What was coming made up for it.

The next morning we got started straight away after breakfast. The weather was still rainy, but the sun was making a valiant fight to come out. And it did. And then it rained. And then it was sunny, again. Repeat. Though, at the time, I was quite irritated with this annoying and unpredictable weather pattern, it made for an amazing day (well, weekend) of rainbows. I honestly couldn’t tell you how many rainbows we saw over Friday and Saturday.

Yes, we had seen rainbows in Ireland before, but we had never seen them like this. I remember remarking at the first rainbow that I had never seen one so vibrant and clear. Well, I’m happy to say that first rainbow was a weakling!

It became an enjoyable hunt for rainbows, trying to find places to photograph them, and doing so as quickly as possible before they faded away. The rainbow above is the best one we got all weekend at a beach down a tiny one lane road. It was gone not even a minute after I snapped the picture.

I should point out that we weren’t just looking for rainbows the entire first day. We were actually traveling down to the city of Galway and stopping any time we saw something interesting, including random beach signs. One which we followed led us to a gorgeous beach where the sun became our best friend for some truly amazing photographs. I’ll share just a few with you….

Some other things we stumbled upon that day were one of St. Patrick’s churches, a Dark Hedges look-alike, many sheep (it is Ireland, after all), and some pretty intense Irish mountains.

Some of those intense mountains. On the right is Mweelrea Mountain. Climbing that mountain is officially on the bucket list!

I suppose I also can’t get away without mentioning that I also learned how not to drive a manual. We were okay, and the car was too. It just wanted to slide around the wet road and eat a little grass.

I’m just glad that, in the moment of this chaos, for once no pictures were taken of this extremely embarrassing event. I also admit that yes, looking back it’s kind of funny that I tried to go off-roading in a little Mazda.

Moving on… We got to Galway unharmed and sought out our B&B. Since it was my birthday, we decided to splurge a little, and boy am I glad we did! The B&B we stayed at was gorgeous. The beds were comfortable and the home was incredibly warm. The woman who owned the place was so sweet and welcoming. We stayed two nights and the other guests were very quiet and courteous. The breakfast they served was delicious and completely made up for the fact that we had no access to a kitchen as we would at a hostel. I really can’t find a single thing to complain about at this place.

We found the city centre of Galway to be equally as lovely as the B&B. That first night we took a walk around past the Christmas market and all the little shops. We visited a bar which was decorated “American style.” Apparently their definition of America is Texas country, cowgirls, New York city lights, and 80’s rock mixed with 90’s grunge. It was my type of music for the most part so I can’t complain, but the band playing wasn’t all that great.

I did have fun looking at all the license plates and finding Missouri’s state plate as well as Virginia’s. After the band at the first bar finished we went to another bar, which at midnight started playing live music. This band was definitely better. It was a great way to ring in my birthday.

The next morning we took a little trip around Galway and visited the markets and shops. When we had finished looking around we grabbed the car and headed off toward Moher making a little stop along the way.

I had looked up Corcomroe Abbey and it seemed like a nice little place. It wasn’t too far off the way to the cliffs, and when we got there we saw, you guessed it, another rainbow. Unfortunately, I failed to get a photo of this one.

The place is well maintained and it even seems that the cemetery is still in use. I really enjoyed that it was so large originally but still quite intact despite the years and weather.

Moving on along, we finally got to the Cliffs of Moher. Shortly before we arrived, a dense cloud of fog descended on us. We bought our tickets anyway and decided to have a lunch in the car before we ventured out.

Luckily enough, it was windy, so there were periods during which the weather cleared enough that we could at least take some pictures and see the cliffs. Unfortunately, it was windy as I said, so every time we were getting some good photos, the fog would obscure the view again. I guess the wind proved it was both good and evil that day.

When you first arrive there is a pretty decent view of the cliffs going off into the distance… which you can view behind some safety barriers which are quite a way back from the edge. However, if you keep walking the barriers disappear.

We hiked along this direction until it started to get dark. You see, I was very concerned about falling off the cliffs in the dark. Obviously, falling off a cliff in the daylight is much better. For this very concern, we walked back before it got too dark. I’m glad we did because it started to rain  heavily.

We got back to Galway safely and dried off before we went into the city centre for an amazing dinner at a pasta house. I’ve never had pasta made fresh like that before, and it was a meal made in heaven. The next day we headed back across Ireland to the university. We stopped along the way at a castle in Trim.

The castle at Trim.

It was a really great three-day weekend adventure. This was also my final adventure away from Belfast. It was bittersweet and, despite the finicky weather, I’m glad we went.

After that weekend I only had one more week of classes, a weekend to say my goodbyes to all my friends and do a few last-minute things in Belfast before flying back to the States. So I guess that’s it. That was the end of my trip.

But that’s not the end of the blog! I’ve got a few more things that I want to say in a few more posts, so keep checking back in the future to hear more. Eventually, I’ll also share which international adventure I’m planning next!

Before I forget, I need to say a very special thank you to my travel partner. He put up with my incessant talking, strange eating habits, an unintended car accident, and so much more all while recovering from having his appendix out the weekend before. So, thank you, A, for a fantastic weekend and the truly unforgettable memories!

Cheers!