Thursday, May 12, 2011

Dublin (part 3): on the Irish Catholic

I frequently forget, due to my extensive amount of exposure to Italian Churches and Italian Catholicism, that other varieties of Catholicism exist. The term “Irish Catholic” is something very well known in the U.S due to the massive amount of immigrants that came during the devastating famine of the 1800s, but I never really thought about what that meant. Over the years after the English religious Reformation under Henry VIII, Protestants and Catholics have been at constant odds. Irish Catholics were forced to change their Church practices in the 1600s as well as endure endless persecution under the English. Violent unrest due mostly to religion has marred the island for centuries, only ending in a ceasefire between the north and south in 1994. An interesting result of this can be seen in the emphasis on “peace” within the Irish Churches. For example, in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, on the back of a prayer bench there was written the saying “may peace reign on Earth” and every morning at the cathedral there is a prayer for world peace in an old corner.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the church dedicated to Ireland’s patron saint, is located next to a lovely park in which lies the traditional spot thought to be where the well exists from which St.Patrick baptized many local celts thus leading to Irelands Catholic identity today. The church decorations have a lot of pagan and Celtic influence, especially in the floor tiling and use of animals in church decorations. I thought this was a fantastic treat. I get so caught up in the classic Italian churches that I forget other places approach their churches differently. I love that though there is only one Catholicism, every culture still puts itself into its practice of their religion. The Celtic influence, the pride in their past, was really interesting in Ireland. The result is this beautiful deep hodgepodge of pagan tradition and catholic religion that can't help but interest you.

Dublin (part 2): on Beer and more beer...

More on Dublin!

So I can't blog about a trip to Dublin without talking about the pub culture and the beer. The Irish drink a lot. This is one of those stereotypes that exist for the reason that it is actually true. The beer and general drinking culture of Ireland is impressive. While Americans tend to stop binge drinking upon graduation from university, Irish people continue their whole lives consuming more booze than I find comfortable to think about. But there is good reason...their beer is good and their pubs are awesome.

The pubs and pub culture is a huge part of Dublin, and Ireland in general. There was literally a pub on every corner, and more in certain hot spots in town. On our first night we went to a brew pub called the Porterhouse in Temple bar and tried some "particular" dark beers, including an oyster brewed non-vegetarian beer and the Porterhouse red. Throughout the rest of the trip we went in to numerous pubs and were continuously awed at how adorable all of the locales were. Every pub, while having a similar "pub"-like atmosphere, was decorated in it's own special way.

A beer highlight of our trip was the Guiness Factory tour. The Guiness Factory was a fun informational amusement park for beer lovers. I really grew to appreciation the smooth "black stuff" like never before and actually found myself enjoying the pint that I learned how to pour myself during the tour.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Dublin (part 1)

Last weekend I found myself in a place in which I had honestly never thought to travel to at this point in my life: Dublin, Ireland. One of my best friends, a crazy Italian girl that travels around the world much more than even I do, is doing a semester of her master program in Dublin. My friend Kelly and I decided to make our way there for a long weekend because honestly the only way to see this dear friend of ours is to physically hunt her down. But she could have been anywhere and we would have gone. So we went to Dublin with the main purpose of having a lovely fun girls weekend filled with Irish beer and some surely some dancing.

Ireland had other things in store for us, though. From the first hour I was already enamored with the city and after our Friday daytrip to the incredible cliffs of Moher on the Atlantic Coast in the west, I simply fell in love with Ireland. The breathtaking color of the green countryside, the castles, the old abandoned monasteries, the city parks, the cathedral, the abundance of traditional Celtic patterns, the friendly people, the beer, the cider, the Irish stew, I could go on forever! Everything we did was great! It’s rare that I go to a place and feel like everything I did was fully worth my time and money, but Dublin and Ireland was definitely one of those places. Strange how places you never even thought to travel to can end up being your favorite places.

I can’t really pick a favorite activity, so I’ll just tell you about a few different highlights.

On our first full day in Ireland, Kelly and I went on an organized tour to the complete other side of the country to go to the epic Cliffs of Moher while our friend Carlotta had class. We stopped by an old abandoned monastery and drove through beautiful green countryside. The day was long, but very much worth the 6+ hours spent in the bus driving. In this case, the pictures say it all.

There was one annoying thing about our trip to the cliffs, though. At the cliffs, there were an insane amount of these nasty little black flies that just kept flying into us! The closer you got to the cliffs, the more flies there were. And once they stuck on you, it was very hard to shake them off. Here’s a picture of Kelly’s back covered with them.

You can even see the black spots in some of the pictures of the cliffs when you zoom in.

More about Dublin to come…

(and more pictures here)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Istanbul: Calm in the Chaos

To me the most striking feature of Istanbul, besides breathtaking Bosphorus views and 2000 year old city rubble, is the massive amounts of people moving, living, eating, and just generally inhabiting every corner of the city. With approximately 15 million people, from the business districts to the Bosphorus shore neighborhoods to the ever-bustling Taksim, the crowds of people never cease, the masses never part. For most people, this is an annoying feature of a city. The normal reaction is to avoid the crowds; to go where there are less people, stay in on a Saturday night, wait out the rush hour. And many Istanbul-ers do just that. I have friends who avoid the crowded young city center of Taksim like the plague. I know people who refuse to take public transportation because of the crowded nature of the Istanbul bus. Many go to inland cafes on beautiful spring days rather than braving the horrific traffic for hours to arrive at a waterside coffee shop in Bebek.

But not I. I love the crowds. And not only will I brave them to go downtown, but I actually adore the massive amounts of people making their way through this city, individuals moving as one, pushing their way to various end points. There's a sort of beautiful calm that comes over me within the chaos. There are so many people to watch, so many small social phenomenons to study as I stand squished in a sweaty metro. An hour commute by way of public transportation passes more quickly than you can imagine when there is so much to observe. Besides observing others, one must also be more conscious of oneself. I focus on my feet, my hands holding the bar, the people getting too close, my location in regards to the shady old man on my right. I must focus on not dying while crossing busy streets filled with psycho honking taxi drivers, watch my bag as I navigate the crowded passageways, weave between business women in high heels and old village men with bushy mustaches, between Turkish-born gypsies and clueless European tourists. The chaos, the noises, the smells, it all gives me this strange sense of calm that I have yet to find elsewhere.

There is of course something beautifully relaxing about sitting in a meadow up in the mountains, or watching the sunset from a quiet cliff next to the Pacific Ocean, or even just sitting alone in your empty home. But the solitary calm I feel is different than the calm I feel when I am one among many in the crowds of Istanbul. To be alone, but not alone. To see and feel humanity around you, to breathe in society...there is nothing like it and it's actually rather addicting. I find myself dreaming of being lost in the flock, of stumbling around the city surrounded by strangers.

There is, of course, a time and place for all types of calm, and of course preference plays a part in this feeling that we seek. I suppose if I grew up in the Istanbul crowds, I might not like it as much. I grew up in a city, of course, and actually a decent sized city at that, but no crowds really. So every time I make my way back to Istanbul, I can't help but enjoy the calm that I feel in the chaos.
Calm as a result of chaos....what irony, huh?