Telling The Real Stories

A semester abroad part ll: All over the U.K.

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Near the cliffs of Moher in Ireland. Photo Credit: Grace Boisvert
Near the cliffs of Moher in Ireland. Photo Credit: Grace Boisvert

Since you last heard from this intrepid adventurer, I have been to Scotland, Ireland, Northern Ireland, and back again. How is it that I have accomplished all this during classes? What splendid stories are there to be told? Well, sit back and read on to hear.

Within the Alnwick trip, there are a total of three sub-trips included: a week long break where students are allowed to travel where they please; a London trip with the entire class; and one last week-long solo excursion near the end of the semester. (I alluded to this final trip in the last article) I chose one of the available tours of Ireland called a Paddywagon tour. I found myself on a bus with around 40 Australian, South African, and New Zealand students on their gap year between High School and University. We soon became fast friends.

On one of the outings we went to Giant’s Causeway, a huge formation of rocks, for which no explanation has been found. How it got there is a complete mystery! It certainly doesn’t seem nature-made. There is an old legend surrounding the Causeway:

 

There were once two giants – one from Ireland, and one from Scotland. Both were revered for their strength. The Irish giant, Finn McCool, led a happy life, taking care of his sheep and potatoes, while the Scottish giant hankered to battle Finn McCool and take over Ireland. And so, these Scottish giants built a bridge between Scotland and Ireland. When he reached the other side, Finn McCool rushed home to his giantess wife to say goodbye. “My dear!” he cried, “This giant is much bigger than me! I fear that I must bid thee a last sorrowful goodbye.” But his wife, being wiser and much more clever than he, had an idea. When the Scottish giant finally came to battle Finn McCool, he was nowhere to be found, so the Scott made his way to McCool’s home and knocked on the heavy oaken door three times. On the third knock, Mrs. McCool answered the door. “Oh it’s you. My husband isn’t home yet, but you can wait over there if you must,” the giantess greeted him nonchalantly. “But do be quiet, as you can see the baby is sleeping.” With that, she moved to the side to show the biggest baby the Scottish giant had ever seen! “I’ll just be on my way!” the Scotsman replied, for if this was the size of their child, then Finn McCool was far mightier than he had guessed. With that, the Scottish giant fled to Scotland, tearing down the bridge on his way, and telling all his countrymen that McCool was a force to be reckoned with. The baby, of course (but unbeknownst to the Scott) was Finn McCool himself!

 

This was but one of the many treasures that we were taught on the tour. Whilst we traveled through Killarney, the bus learnt a traditional Irish song. Long song short, there was a girl. She was pretty, but then she died. It seems that is a common theme with Irish songs.

The weeklong tour I was on traveled throughout all of Ireland and Northern Ireland. We stopped overnight in Belfast, Cork, and Galway, as well as many other beautiful towns. Galway was one of my favorites. From there we visited the Cliffs of Moher. For my Princess Bride fans out there, the Cliffs of Moher are also known as the Cliffs of Insanity, where Wesely fought Inigo. Yes, I did reenact said battle with one of my new Aussie friends.

An old tradition for people traveling in Ireland is to go and visit the Blarney Stone, and while bending upside down and backwards, to kiss it. Now who am I to break this tradition? My friends and I made our way up to the Blarney Castle, through some caves nearby where we (mostly me) fled from a huge, terrifying spider, and finally arrived at the Blarney Stone at the top of the castle walls. Kissing this stone is said to give the person the ‘gift of the gab’, for seven years. As if I need to be able to talk more!

When my flight left Ireland, it was obscenely early in the morning. I had been awake for 26 hours already, but I had another ten hours before my journey would be complete. Landing in Edinburgh, I had the day to explore the city, until my evening train arrived to bring me home.

I went to cafes for coffee (so I wouldn’t die) and art museums for a few hours, after which I picked a random direction to walk just for kicks and giggles. On complete accident, I ended up at the HolyRood Palace, which is the Summer Palace of Her Majesty the Queen, and also the old palace of Queen Mary of Scotland. The tour guides there were incredibly nice and helpful. After I had been on this tour, the hills behind the palace seemed to call out to me, so I climbed them. Unfortunately, it was very muddy on these high Scottish hills! Once I had climbed high enough, and was making my way down the sheer hillside, I slipped and started to slide down towards a drop-off. As you can tell since I am here to write this, I did manage to stop and get down the rest of the hill safely. But by this time, I was completely covered in mud. Luckily, I had a change of clothes, so my muddy state did not carry on for longer than it took to find a restroom.

At the Edinburgh train station, I ran into two of my friends who had also just returned from their travels. Our trains left at different times, but we met again at the station near Alnwick, and shared a taxi back to the castle. By this time I had been awake for almost 36 hours.

I was so glad to fall into my bed in the tower and sleep! Sadly, there was class the next day. Early. Each semester, the subjects taught change, depending on which teachers accompany us. The Alnwick program differs from others in the fact that our professors are sent with us, and we are not paired with a separate university to study. One of the main instructors, Christine, has been teaching the SCSU students in Alnwick since the very beginning of the program. She offers an in- depth history course, and was actually one of the teachers of my father, David Boisvert, when he went on this same program in 1990.

My father was a huge inspiration for me to study in England. I have heard his stories since early childhood, and Alnwick Castle is just as amazing as he told it to be. Thankfully, the students’ rooms have been recently renovated, and are nothing like what he described them to be. In fact, most of the student areas have been redone in the last few years, and are really spiffy! There are even new tables in our classrooms.

When I first started to explore the town, I tried to find the places that my dad had told me about. One was a pizza place called Pizza Royal, where he had spent a lot of time talking with the owners, who had just opened up shop during his time there. During the first week, I stumbled upon it, and I learned it is still run by the very same people! Making connections between what my father saw here, and what I am seeing, is quite interesting for me. None of the Guards at the Barbican Gate are the same as when my dad was here, but they are all nice, and have a sense of humor that equals no other.

Since the Duke and Duchess are currently living in the castle, SCSU students are not allowed to take pictures inside of the castle walls to protect their privacy. But I look forward to all the pictures I will be able to take and post near the end of March when they leave.

Sometimes it seems as if my group just arrived. And yet the semester is already half over. I guess it’s true that time really does fly when you are having fun.

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