Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Burren

Ok, so it's catch-up time! I've been seeing so many things, and failing to post about them, but I will fix that.

On our first weekend here, we were all driven around the Burren (a large geographical area) in a coach by Brian, our crazy talented driver. It was meant to be an overview of this place we're living for the next four months, and we saw a lot. Be prepared for loads of pictures!

There was a beautiful rainbow while we were looking at the remains of an old stone fort. It ended very near to Ballyvaughan - the smudge inside the circle is the tower/castle that's part of the school grounds.

This is one of the hills of the Burren. It's a limestone plateau that was pushed up ages ago, and then scoured by glaciers during the ice age. So we get these rounded stone hills with essentially no soil on them, with greener valleys in between, around the edges.

This is a prehistoric wedge tomb. It was just sitting in a farmer's field, and we saw it out the window of the bus. Apparently a boy found a piece of gold near it that turned out to be a burial collar!

The walls separating the fields are all made out of piled stones, with no mortar. Especially up on top of the hills and plateau, they are built one stone thick, with natural gaps to let the wind through so the walls don't blow over. They're really quite pretty silhouetted against the sky.

This is another tomb - a dolmen. It's called Poll na Bron, which means hole of sorrows. It's a lot bigger than the wedge tomb. Some believe that the capstone and the other horizontal slab on the ground served as stages for druidic rituals.

Just a pretty view from a small arts community center we stopped at.

Next we went to Kilfenora, and saw the Celtic high crosses that they had there. This was the only one outside - the rest were protected inside part of the church, with a glass ceiling where it had fallen into ruins.

This photo's for you, Maggie! The cross had such beautiful knotwork on it.

A more figure-driven carving on this cross. You can also see the glass structure that protects the crosses from the elements.

The rest of the crosses were only segments, but still pretty neat.

I really love the strange optical illusions of this doorway - it looks like something out of Alice in Wonderland!

This is over by the cliffs of Moher, just a little island out in the water, with the ruins of a tower on it.

Here's an example of what the limestone pavement of the Burren likes to do. It splits along very straight lines, in geometrical patterns. Amazing as it may seem, all these lines are not man-made. They're super fun to walk on, though!

The waves were really impressive up against the rock cliffs (not the cliffs of Moher, those are bigger - we were right across the bay from them). Apparently they often get higher than this, and there are also frequent "freak waves" that splash up several levels of the plateau/cliffs along the shore, and can sweep you away if you're not careful. So we were instructed to remain on the upper levels away from the water.

More of the crazy natural splitting of the limestone rocks.

I apparently didn't get a good picture of the cliffs of Moher, but here they're off in the distance, behind the buildings of Doolin. They were really impressive, and some of us may go back when it's warmer and take a boat trip under them!


This was our final stop, and it was to show us the glacial erratics. Those are the big rounded stones sitting on top of the limestone pavement. They were in the glaciers and rolled around, which made them rounded, and then when the glaciers melted, they just dropped the rocks where they were.
It was a lot of information to get all at once, but we've been back to a few areas, and learned more about the Burren in other places. Hope you think it's as cool as I do!!

Sunday, January 23, 2011


I get my own studio!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It's really quite exciting - I've never had a space that's entirely my own before. Most of the undergrad studios are in the barn, laid out like really tall cubicles. It's really a nice layout, because even though I have my own space, it's still open to other people being around, so I'm not completely isolated.

So here's my lovely studio, partway through the process of getting organized (and then getting re-organized as I decide I need to bring other supplies and things in!) Hopefully I won't run out of wall space too quickly, especially as the wall above my table is useless for actually working on.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Durham Cathedral

This is going to be a rather long post, on my entire time in Durham.

Maggie and I walked into town to go see the cathedral. The path was a really beautiful walk through some woods - it goes over a stream and across a field before you hit the streets of town. The cathedral was really quite beautiful. Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to take photos inside, but it was amazing.

The cathedral from across the river

There were a lot of stained glass windows (my favorite!), both original(ish) and much more modern ones. Some of the modern ones were really nice, and seemed to fit in with the whole feel of the place, but there was at least one that looked so garish and out of place, it was a little disappointing. The ceilings were beautiful and impressive, and the large columns holding them up were really neat - each one was carved in a different pattern!!

All around the cathedral, there were tombs set into the floor in random places. It was really quite a task trying to keep an eye out for them so as not to walk over them, but it was fun to try and decipher some of the inscriptions. Most of them were very worn down, and we could only pick out a few of the words or dates.

We climbed up the bell tower, which was exciting. It was a spiral staircase, but it switched directions a couple times, which was very disorienting. At the top we had some great views of the city and surrounding area. It was ridiculously windy and cold, though, so we didn't stay up long.

Anybody recognize this?? Guess in the comments, and I'll let you know in a few days. :)

The view from inside the cloisters was quite lovely with the afternoon light coming through.

Maggie in front of the cathedral

Next to the cathedral is a castle (!!!!) Unfortunately we didn't get to go inside because it was closed, but the outside view was something. I really wanted to be able to climb up the hill to the tower, but I think it would have been frowned upon.

This is the entryway to the castle complex, and that little speck of a person by the gate is me.

The castle a couple days later, from the train station lookout point.

Maggie took me to a fish and chip shop, only she got chips and "mushy peas" - a dish which actually tastes quite a lot like really thick split pea soup.

That's it for my photos - I came down with a rather nasty cold for the rest of the trip. We did all make it out to York, which was great despite being under the weather. The parts of town that I saw were beautiful, and I would love to go back and explore more thoroughly. We had a lovely, delicious dinner at Chris and Juan's before heading back on the train to Durham.

I had a fantastic time in England, especially getting to see all the places in Durham that Maggie had told me so much about. Her family was lovely, and very accomodating of my exuberant reactions to all the old architecture, etc that was around! I was sad to leave, but definitely looking forward to getting to Ireland!

Monday, January 3, 2011

London... sort of

Sorry, I don't have any photos from London. The whole thing was really a nightmare - Maggie was supposed to get in 20 minutes after me, early afternoon of New Year's Eve. We had a whole bunch of awesome things planned, like the Tower of London, going past Buckingham Palace, and seeing a choral performance at the Globe theatre. Alas, none of that happened. Due to lots of crazy blizzards in the upper Midwest, and some other unfortunate plane delays, Maggie's trip got re-routed at least twice, and she ended up flying  Fargo --> Minneapolis --> Detroit --> Paris --> London   and landed four hours before our train up to Durham on the first, but didn't get out of customs, baggage, etc until just under three hours before, and we still had to grab something to eat and get over to the train station.

We have plans for another London trip some point in the future, on not as tight a schedule, and perhaps not in the middle of winter :)

We did make it to King's Cross on time, and I was really excited to go try and get into platform 9 3/4, but since our train was not going from either platform 9 or 10, we couldn't go past that set of ticket barriers. I did have a look, though, and I couldn't see any wall that I could have run into anyway. What I could see of the train station was pretty cool - some nice brickwork and stuff. Unfortunately, it's all under construction at the minute, so those parts were hard to find, and mostly it was tarps and temporary plastic walls and plywood. Not as romantic as I had imagined.

It was very nice to finally get to Durham, and not have to do any crazy traveling for at least a few days. I have some pictures from our trip into town today, but I'll put those in another post.