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Golden Ireland

Idir dhรก lรกimh daoine fรญuntach
Scrรญobh an agham i mBanba รณir
I nglas bรฉinne fial รณ nรกdรบir
Fonn ceoil i mBanba รณir

There is so much I could say about the emerald isle. Of all the places I roamed in Europe, the Irish were the most friendly to us strangers, and of course having a love for Ireland before I even got there certainly helped. My sister and I rented bikes in Killarney and explored the National Park there, admiring the lakes, mountains, and castle. On our adventures we crossed a small waterway which my sister called a creek, whereat I replied, “No, it’s a brook, don’t you know? We’re in Ireland!”

We bought red Irish cheddar at the grocery store for lunch, and made it up to Dublin, where we saw Riverdance and viewed that ancient old manuscript, the Book of Kells. Not wanting to make a days trip across the island to see cliffs, we contented ourselves with the cliffs of Howth, just outside of Dublin. We stayed in a hostel in Tralee, where I accidentally left my jacket, and subsequently we were scouring all the charity shops in Ireland in search of another jacket, knowing winter was on its way. Due to a disappointing mixup concerning our planned flight to Spain, we stayed in Cork an extra two days, and enjoyed that seaside town.

And I can’t forget the music! My preliminary plans to go to a concert there didn’t work out, but there was no shortage of street musicians, and we enjoyed those immensely. My sister enjoyed the fact that everyone spoke English (I was hoping to hear more Gaelic, myself), and both of us agree that Ireland is definitely on the list of places to return to someday.

Photos from Brussels

Photos from Brussels, Belgium on Flickr

Ah, Brussels! I have some good memories from there. We spent a few days in the capital city of the great nation of Belgium, and it was our first exposure to underground metro systems. As far as metros go, Brussels’ is fairly small, so it was a good way for us to practice before moving on to the more daunting metros of Paris and Rome.

Brussels is a beautiful city, and I was able to practice my French there quite a bit. Even though it’s officially bilingual (and most official signs reflect that), from my experience French is the more popular choice in the city. The downtown square was very spacious, and surrounded by high, old buildings on every side. For the lover of architecture gothic could be seen, as well as some others. While there we got to peruse a few museums, including the Royal Museums of Fine Arts, a museum full of musical instruments of all sorts (my favourite!) and also a comic strip museum. If you are not aware of the fact, it is good to know that Belgium is widely known for its comic strips, and perhaps the most famous of these is Tintin. I had been a Tintin fan long before going to Belgium, and it was with glee that I went through the exhibit on Tintin and his creator, Hergรฉ. That Sunday, before returning to our homebase in Verviers, we worshiped with the French-speaking church there in Brussels. I had the privilege of teaching the Bible class, which I regrettably had to teach through the help of a translator, since my French was not good enough to avoid that step. The church, though small, was very kind, and while it consisted primarily of Belgians, I met some people from Scotland, Canada, and the U.S. there as well.

Overall it was a lovely trip, and I would gladly return if given the chance. La Belgique me manque !

Photos from Flanders

Bruges and Ostend, Belgium photos on Flickr

Brugesโ€”you may not have heard of it, but it’s a fairly well-known city in northern Belgium. It’s called “Venice of the North” for all the canals that pass through the city, but it’s not surrounded by water like that Italian city-island. Although in Belgium, I didn’t get to practice my French there, since it is in the half of Belgium called Flanders, where they speak a variety of Dutch called Flemish.

I was very struck by the distinctive architecture of Bruges. I suppose it’s characteristic of the low countries, and I’m sure there’s a term for it, but my specialty is not architecture. I also have a fond memory of eating a sack lunch by the canal, a lunch consisting of a ham and cheese sandwich made from a baguette and gouda cheese, and ketchup-flavoured chips. The weather was nice, and we visited the “Church of Our Lady” while there. As I mentioned in another post, the cathedral was filled with tombs, and with fascination I tried to decipher Latin and French inscriptions.

Bruges is not a seaport, but it is located a short distance from the North Sea, and after walking around a good while we proceeded to Ostend, which is a seaside town. My sister loves the ocean, so we went and walked around on the beach. When dinner time rolled around, we spotted a Subway (yes, the sandwich shop!), and decided to go there to eat. The people there spoke sufficient English, but we were taken aback when we saw the sandwich lengths represented in centimetres! Now, for an American I’m a big fan of metric, but I wasn’t accustomed to measuring sandwiches thus, and after guessing we had to tell the kind Belgian sandwich artist “Could we have the longer one, please?”

We had a very pleasant experience in Flanders, and it made us realize how small Belgium really is: we traversed the whole country for this trip, and made it there and back the same day! So if you go to Belgium, be sure and hop on the train to Bruges and Ostend–it will make for a very nice outing!

Photos from Sรฉroule Park

When I went to Europe, one of my fears was isolation from the natural world. And while it did turn out that I was surrounded by civilisation and buildings nearly all the time, it was not long before I found a place of solace and retreat in the busy city of Verviers.

Sรฉroule Park was twelve minutes walking distance away from the building where I was staying. It isn’t anything spectacular, but it contains a small forest and a pond, as well as a nice network of short trails on which to wander. Here are some pictures of this special place.

Photos from Liรจge, Belgium

My European home was in the Belgian province of Liรจge, the capital city of which bears the same name. We visited this city in our early travels, and I took the following pictures there in Saint Bartholomew’s cathedral. The tombs in the walls intrigued me with their worn Latin inscriptions, and even though I had studied Latin for two years, I was only able to read the words Hic jacet, which signify “Here lies…”