Belated happy Ash Wednesday people! Should that be happy Ash Wednesday? It’s the beginning of Lent which means a day of fasting so should happy really be the right sentiment? I’m not sure but I’m going to go with it. Either way it means that Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, whatever you want to it, was earlier this week. For most people this means pancakes and here in Ireland was no different. A group of girls from SMC and I have created a dinner group where we take turns making dinner for everyone and Tuesday night was my turn. It being Fat Tuesday, of course I made pancakes! I think it went fairly well. In addition to the usual group a few of the guys that we’ve met (and that some of the girls might be seeing) showed up too so it was a nice little get-together. Apparently they put nutella and jam on their pancakes here like we would do with crepes. But anyways, just thought I’d throw that in there before moving on to the actual main topic of this post, our first trip with Roberta.
I guess before I launch into the first adventure I should probably tell you who Roberta is, huh? Roberta is an SMC alum. She studied in Ireland while she was in school and met her husband. After graduating, she came back to Ireland and has been here ever since. That’s what we know at least. So she’s been here for a while and has two daughters. I’m not exactly sure what the arrangement is with SMC but she is kind of like our program director here in a way. We’re supposed to call her if there’s an emergency and she’s the one that puts our stipend in our bank accounts every week. She also teaches a class called Lectures and Tours that is just for people from our program. We meet once a week for an hour and then on the weekends we go on day trips with her to various places to learn about Ireland’s culture and history. We’ve had trips on both Saturday and Sunday for the past few weekends but I think that’s done now until March or May. In May we’re going to the Aran Islands for a few days and in March we may have another trip, to Maeve’s Tomb.
So Glendalough and Powerscourt were our first trip with Roberta, our first weekend in Ireland. We arrived on the 23rd, a Wednesday, and took our first trip just three days later. Kind of fast but both places were so pretty.
Glendalough, as we found out, is the site of a monstery founded by St Kevin in the 6th century. Though mostly ruins today (it was destroyed in the 14th century), the area still retains much of its former splendor and a peaceful air can still be felt around the area. The cemetery is still in use today. Of the several buildings onsite, only the chapel still retains its original roof. A Round Tower that has been beautifully preserved can also found at Glendalough. These Round Towers are primarily an Irish design though a handful can be found in Scotland and are a testament to their time as at the time of their construction, Ireland had little to no outside architectual influences. Architectually, these towers are unique. Standing several meters high (surviving towers range from 12 meters to 40 meters or, 39 ft to 130 ft), these towers have very little in way of foundation. The foundation of the tower at Glendalough is maybe 2 or 3 feet deep and the tower itself rises 30.5 meters (100 feet) in the air. Another interesting fact is that the door to the tower is not located on the ground but several feet in the air requiring steps or some sort or a ladder to reach it. This was done to compensate for there being little foundation as having the door built low to the ground would have significatnly weakened the entire structure. The purpose of these towers is not known though there are several hypotheses including bell tower, lookout for invading Vikings, and storeroom for religious relics. Many disgard the idea of the towers being used as a lookout as most towers were built near monasteries or churches and were not located in ideal positions to survey to countrsyide. Unfortunately, because of the shape of these towers and the fact that the doors were made of wood, there are reports of people dying by fire or suffocation inside. Because the tower creates a chimney-like effects, anyone trapped inside by an invading party would die by suffocation caused by smoke inhalation.
The valley that Glendalough is set in is beautiful. Quiet and peaceful, it almost looks like a softly painted watercolor landscape. There is a nice walking trail that leads from Glendalough to Upper Lake not far away. About a half hour’s easy walk along the base of a small mountain, the scenery is gorgeous. Even though it was a bit cold and rainy when we visited it was still a sight to see. Small waterfalls can be seen along the way as well as Lower Lake on the way to Upper Lake. Near Upper Lake there are a number of colored walking trails that lead you up to Poulanass waterfall, St Kevin’s cell, and another small chapel. Roberta told us that the pink and bronze trails were the best and recommended the bronze trail as it was the prettiest and you saw St Kevin’s cell by taking that one. So, of course, all of us decided to take the bronze trail. It was pretty, I’ll admit that but Roberta failed to mention that it’s a bit of a hike. So I’m passing that little tidbit along to you guys in case anyone is planning visiting Glendalough and/or Upper Lake soon. The bronze trail has a bit of a hike to it. There’s a decent stretch of it that is going up a few sets of steep stairs–that’s the worst bit but the trail but we didn’t know about it beforehand. But now you do so if you ever go, you’ll be prepared if you take that particular trail. Most of the trails overlap or cross each other by the Poulanass waterfall. There’s also a car park, public restrooms, and a small cafe-type place at the base of the trails next to Upper Lake.
We had lunch at Powerscourt Gardens and then had an hour or two to wander around as we pleased before getting back on the bus and heading back to Maynooth. Powerscourt is maybe half an hour to an hour from Glendalough is memory serves (but don’t quote me on that). Lunch there was really good. I can’t tell you how much it cost because Roberta took care of that but it was a lot of food. We were told to choose a main dish and three side dishes as well as dessert. Like I said, a lot of food but it was so good. I’m not sure many of us finished it all. I got the shepherd’s pie as my main dish. It’s made a little differently than what I’m used to at home but still good nonetheless. For dessert I decided to try treacle tart with cream which isn’t something that we have back in the States. That was really good, almost like a mix of the stuff from pecan pie (minus the pecans) and something else I couldn’t put my finger on. But enough about food, because it’s making me hungry (It’s almost dinner time here). Oh but I will say that we had a perfect view from where we were sitting. I looked out the window and perfectly framed in the window was the view of a snow capped mountain in the distance. Doesn’t get much better than that. It kind of reminded me when my family and I would go up to the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, NC to see the gingerbread houses and for the Colgate alumni meeting. After the luncheon and looking at the houses, we’d order a drink and sit out on the heated patio and look at the view. That was always a fun time. I remember Jared and I felt so grown up when we would order virgin banana daquiris as our drink.
Powerscourt Gardens is really pretty. The building is on a slight hill that leads down to a pond in the back. There’s also a fountain, patterned walkways, and even shaped hedges on the slight slope of the hill. Walking trails that branch off at the pond lead to a Japanese garden, a pet cemetery, and Pepperpot Tower, a very Rapunzel-esque looking tower. The Japanese garden even has one of those little, red, tiered shelters that is typically associated with the Japanese culture. The pet cemetery was interesting. Not because it was a pet cemetery but reading the names of the pets and the dates. Most of the dates were old but I think there were a few from the mid 1900s. Most of the pets were dogs (no surprise) but there was also a horse or two, a pony, and a cow. The cemetery was set on a small incline, with about four or five rows that each held about 4 headstones. Pepperpot Tower was the last thing my friend Bridget and I saw before heading back towards the building to meet the rest of the group at the bus. I’m not sure what purpose it served before but there are cannons equally spaced out around the tower at its base. The stairs leading up to the top of the tower were a bit slippery but it’s not an extremely tall tower so it’s not too bad. The view from the top is nice. It’s not the best view if you’re trying to see the whole property at once but it does give you this feeling of looking out over a small forest.
I’d upload pictures of Pepperpot Tower and the pet cemetery but they don’t seem to want to upload so you guys will just have to visit Powerscourt Gardens and see them for yourself! Or, I suppose, if you’re that interested you could google pictures of them…but where’s the fun in that? I think I’ll leave this post here and I’ll try to start working on the next one tomorrow or Tuesday. My friends and I are all in the midst of planning and/or beginning to book flights and hostels for our big break that’s coming up in March. We have about 2 weeks off so we’re all trying to figure out where we’d like to go and everything that goes with that. I’m telling you guys, I know now that I definitely did not appreciate my mom nearly enough when we came to Europe as a family a few years ago. It’s a lot of work. I think Dad, Jared, and I kind of took all the work, time, and planning that she put into it for granted. Also, who would have thought that it would be so frustrating to try and get from Milan, Italy to Salzburg, Austria?? We just want to go on a Sound of Music Tour, is that too much to ask european transportation? I’ll keep you guys updated. So far my friend Bridget and I have the first half to three-fourths of the trips booked (meaning flights and hostels) but are still working on the last little leg of it. The rest of our group are talking of doing a 5-day Eurorail pass starting in Brussels, Belguim.