I’ve spent the last week in Dublin, working as a volunteer at the Temple Bar festival of Irish music and culture. In exchange, I’ve gone to a whole bunch of concert, storytelling shows, and other cool stuff for free. It’s been a really interesting experience to see the Irish Trad world so close. The musicians here are some of the top trad musicians in Ireland, but few of them are known outside of Ireland. All the music has been good, though some of it is very traditional, which I don’t find as exciting as the more “contemporary trad”. Last night was the gala concert featuring Julie Fowlies, Lunasa, and Dervish, all internationally known artists. It was amazing! Without doubt some of the best music I’ve heard in a long time.
Irish poet W.B. Yeats described Galway as the “Graveyard of Ambition”. That’s where I headed after spending a week in Dublin. I made a few friends in Galway during my last stay in Ireland, and I wanted to stop by and say hi to them. I stayed with my Canadian friend Cody, and dropped by a couple juggling sessions at the university. Last night we all went to a good fire spinning party at a pub, hosted by the university juggling society. I also spent a couple days out in the country at a riding stable near Galway city. It was nice to get out in the country for a bit and slow down.
Today I’m back in Dublin. This time I’m here to work as a volunteer at the Temple Bar Trad Festival, and hopefully hear some good Irish traditional music.
My friend Kelsey told me that she was coming to Ireland for a couple weeks to visit the family that she used to au pair for, so I decided to return to Ireland to meet up with here. We met in Dublin about a week ago, and then spent a couple days near Sligo (Western Ireland).
When Kelsey’s host family came back, I headed up to Northern Ireland for a couple days. I stayed two nights in a hostel near Castlerock. It’s definitely the off-season up here, and I had the entire hostel to myself. I spent another couple nights in Ballycastle, and there I had to share the hostel with a couple other people.
One of the main attractions of this part of Northern Ireland is Giant’s Causeway. It’s a formation of basalt pillars that suggests a sort of road over the sea to Scotland. Legend has it that it was built by the Irish giant Fin MacCool. It’s actually very similar to Devil’s Postpile in California. (So much so that it took me a week to get the name into my head: Giant’s Causeway, not Devil’s Causeway.)
Today I’m headed back to Dublin to see Kelsey before she goes back to the States.
My friend Svetlana decided to come to Europe for the week of New Years, and we met in Zurich, Switzerland. We didn’t have too much time, but we saw a lot of the country and had a lot of fun. I think the Swiss Alps are the most beautiful mountains I’ve ever seen. One day we took a series of trains and then cable cars up to the Schilthorn restaurant on top of the mountain. Apparently it is featured in one of the James Bond films. The view from the top was spectacular.
We also saw several Swiss cities (Zurich, Bern, Geneva, Interlaken, and Shauffhausen) and the Reinfalls (Europe’s largest waterfall). I expected the falls to be a bit higher. It must be largest in volume, not in height. The weather was spectacular almost the entire week. There was a little rain on New Year’s Eve. We finished of the year watching a wonderful fireworks show over Lake Zurich. Svetlana flew home the morning of Jan 1.
From Zurich I headed back to Ireland, to meet another friend (Kelsey) who was coming over here for a couple weeks. I found a reasonably cheap flight out of Friedrichshaven, which is just over the German border. I arranged to stay with a couchsurfing host on the Swiss side, across Lake Constance from the airport. There is a ferry service, so I thought that it would be no problem to get to the airport in the morning. But when Sandra took me down to meet the ferry, there was no one there and no activity. Surprise! During the holidays (apparently Jan 2 is a holiday to some people) there is a special schedule, which is not posted on the internet, or at the train station. Luckily Sandra was kind enough to drive around the lake to the airport, otherwise I don’t think I could have made it. So here I am, back in Dublin, and feeling lucky to be here.
I’ve spent the last week doing work exchange at an intentional community on the border between Holland and Germany. Technically, we’re in Germany, but the nearest town is in Holland. There are about ten people living here, but I’m the only volunteer right now. It’s kind of quiet, this being the middle of winter. I get room and board in exchange for 6 hrs of work a day, 5 1/2 days per week. I’ve spent most of my time cutting wood (a never ending task for those who heat with wood). It’s heavy work, but it feels good to be doing something. I was getting very bored of seeing sights and going to museums.
Not really much to report. I’ve been working hard during the days, and relaxing a lot in the evenings. The weather is nice, and fairly warm (for Europe in the winter, maybe not by California standards). Today we had a beautiful sunset.
I arrived in Gent, Belgium on Saturday evening…and immediately lost my wallet. Maybe I left it in the phone booth after trying to call my couchsurfing host. Maybe it fell out of my pocket as I was getting change for the bus. Whatever happened, it was gone. No credit cards, no ATM card, and 1.70 Euro in my pocket. I met my host, Lore, and she helped me sort things out and try to cancel the cards. Calling CapitalOne from Belgium to report a lost card, and being put on hold for fifteen minutes did not make for a very pleasant evening.
The next morning I went by the police station, just in case my wallet had found its way there. I wasn’t really that hopeful. The officer looked a little bored. I explained that I’d lost my wallet, and was hoping that maybe someone brought it in. From his look, I could tell that he thought it was a long shot too. “Name?” he asked. “Parker Abercrombie”. “Oh…”, he says, “”Hey guys, Parker is here! Yeah, we’ve got your wallet, man! It’s all there: 30 euro, your credit cards, phone cards, everything!”.
So the story has a happy ending after all. I will have to replace my credit card, since I already reported it lost. But my ATM card is back, and I was able to repay the money that Lore loaned to me.
Now that the wallet thing is resolved, I’m having a good time in Belgium. Gent is a very cute town. The city center is lots of windy little streets, and big cathedrals. And they have a castle. I am here one more night, and then I return to Holland.
I arrived in Holland last week, and met my friend Luuk in Amsterdam. He showed me a little of Amsterdam before we went back to his place in The Hague. The next day we drove to Southern Holland for his mom’s birthday party.
For the next few days I am staying at a hostel near Amsterdam. It’s not actually in Amsterdam, but it’s a good deal cheaper than the city hostels. And I think everyone in the Amsterdam hostels are stoned the whole time anyway, so I don’t know if I’m missing much. They have a lot of computer problems at this hostel, and I’m trading tech support for free drinks 🙂
In The Hague Luuk and I visited the Escher museum, which was excellent. I also visited the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, but I thought the Escher museum is really where it’s at. The docent at the Escher museum got a little mad at Luuk and I for taking an unauthorized souvenir photo in the perspective distortion room. It’s a room that is built so that you look really small when you stand in one corner, and big when you stand in the other. They had a computer camera system set up so that you could take your photo, which we did. Then this old dutch lady appears, speechless and wide-eyed. “You…you are not allowed to take a photo by yourselves…” Her mind reeling, trying to take in the magnitude of our trespass. Well, the computer screen says “Push the red button to take your photo” (in English and Dutch). If you don’t want people to take photos, don’t tell them how to do it.
From Berlin I traveled to Hamburg via a ride-share with a German guy. Germany has the most heavily used ride-share system I’ve ever seen. It was no problem at all to get a lift from Berlin to Hamburg, and I’ve got another lined up to take me to Amsterdam this afternoon.
I’ve spent two nights in Hamburg, at a youth hostel. Hamburg is pretty cool. It’s a very international city, with lots of middle eastern and Indian stores. It is known for being the city where the Beatles got their start, and also for it’s famous red light district, the Reeperbahn (though nearby Amsterdam is hard to compete with in the red light department).
Yesterday I wandered around an interesting part of the city called Altona, and then went out in the evening with a couple other American visitors.
I spent Thanksgiving in Copenhagen. I had a mini-Thanksgiving dinner with my hosts (a Dane and a Canadian) and two Australian guests, so it was a very international meal. On Friday I met my Swedish friend Katharina for a drink, and then I went went to a club in Christiania to hear a “power polka” band from Greenland. But they only played one polka. But they did sing some songs in Greenland-ic (?), so that was cool.
On Saturday I caught a bus to Berlin, so spend a couple nights with some other couchsurfing hosts. I saw the remains of the Berlin Wall (which is now a really interesting art gallery), the Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie, the sight of the Nazi book burning, and more cool stuff. Berlin has a lot of recent history from WWII and the Cold War, so I found that interesting.
I left Stockholm yesterday, after spending just over a month in the city. I hadn’t planned to stay so long, but my aunt in Oregon has been very ill with cancer, and she passed away a couple weeks ago. So I decided that I would rather be staying with friends in Stockholm than be on my own at a hostel during that time. It’s been a pretty difficult and emotional past few weeks.
I am now in Copenhagen, Denmark. I’m staying with Andreas and Taylor, who I connected with over couchsurfing.com. They are both great, and I’m having a good time. Today Andreas showed me around the city and some of the museums. We also visited Christiana, a “Freecity” within Copenhagen that exists (mostly) independent of the Danish government. Though I think it has changed a lot since it birth in the ’70s, Christiana remains a stronghold of alternative culture in Denmark. Unfortunately, it’s future is very uncertain, as business interested eye the valuable, well located land that the freecity occupies.