Month: February 2014

Belfast to Giant’s Causeway

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Quick disclaimer: If anyone wants a more up to date feed of my travelling, feel free to follow me on both Twitter and Instagram (same username) @jvierephoto. My workflow and travelling habits are dis/allowing me to use certain forms of social media…

Anyways! Belfast. It took an arm and a leg to get here from Galway. The journey took me to Dublin Airport, which was close to three hours, and then a second bus that took another two. So I got into Belfast later than I wanted. I won’t lie, the parts that I wandered around were not the prettiest. I’m not sure what I was expecting. Well, actually, on the bus I was wondering whether or not there was going to be border control. As an American, you hear about the recently subsided violence between Northern Ireland and the Republic. But I couldn’t conceive what it would look like in actuality. I sort of had a DMZ scene in mind, but that wasn’t the case. I guess you need your passport if you were to cross a body of water, which, if you think about it, is quite fascinating. Consider that all the violence that occurred took place between two “nations,” according to one side, yet no one really cares enough to establish border control. (Maybe that’s my American take on it; there aren’t always huge walls between countries). But then again, when I went through Heathrow Airport, there was a good deal of security.

Here's me making an ugly face in a really strong wind. Giant's Causeway is right behind/below me. I kind of walked around a "trail's closed" sign and ascended several hundred meters.
Here’s me making an ugly face in a really strong wind. Giant’s Causeway is right behind/below me. I kind of walked around a “trail’s closed” sign and ascended several hundred meters.

Without any border control, people obviously come and go as they please. For work, tourism, family. Yet, it becomes quite apparent that you’re no longer in the Republic of Ireland as soon as you get into Belfast. For one thing, the accent is different. Full-Brits (that’s what I’ll call those from mainland England) are not friendly. Northern Irish are somewhat friendly, yet I think I rubbed one of them wrong when I mentioned I was studying in Galway. Neither party is as friendly as West Coast Irish. Throw Dublin into the mix; from what I’ve heard, they’re not entirely friendly (towards Americans at least). But that is my vantage point as an American. It fascinated me to hear my Northern Irish coach (bus) driver think that the Northern Irish are a friendly community. Whoa-me saying that sounds like I’m accusing them not to be! Well, to be honest, I didn’t quite know what to expect because the violence was so recent. I don’t know if there is still an unspoken animosity. But the scars of the violence are evident in the façade of Belfast. (Definitely check out the Instagram feed. I’m getting some good shots with the iPhone and 5D).

But another indicator that you’re out of the Republic of Ireland is the currency. The UK’s pound is something like 1.8 to the USD, which is absurd and makes me furious (to the point that I’m including it in this post). The Euro equally disgruntles me, but the pound really sends me over the cliff. I have no clue what I’m talking about in terms of economics or business, but the quality of living here is a) not higher than Galway and b) not higher than America. The fact that consumable goods that are cheaper in quality here are almost double the cost than they would be in America is beyond my comprehension. But the Irish and English banks offer no-charge on withdrawing from ATMs, another indication that there is a strong attempt to revitalize the city. I’ve heard from West Coast Irishmen that as a result of the Troubles, Belfast economically suffered from the spite it received from the Republic. In other words, it’s visibly evident that the Republic spurned the Northern Counties to the point where a lot of streets are empty with abandoned shops. It’s an eerie feeling which I have not felt since the summer of 2011, when I first drove through some hardened areas of West Philadelphia.

But check out the architecture; definitely affluent in some areas. Listen to the driver’s accent too.

Enough about money and my ranting about the state of Belfast! (I hope to find some better spots to get another impression tomorrow). The countryside of County Antrim is beautiful. According to my awesome coach driver Pat, the scenic Coastal Route is globally ranked among the top 10 of some list of coastal roads. Even with the February weather, that was self-evident. Contrasted with Ireland’s other coastal region, this land was more in line with what I preconceived Ireland to look like; the grassy rolling hills and sheep. (Sheep are any and everywhere. But this land is richer with volcanic sediment, which historically caused it to be contested among Gaelic and Anglo rulers. The English Pale, that is Ireland’s east coast, is better for crops. You could see that in the shade of the grass. It wasn’t like Connemara’s, West Ireland’s, harsh countryside, which is littered with rocks).

This was a really cool trail that I wasn't suppose to be on. Oh well--yolo right? Yet there was a point where I was setting up my tripod and both it and me almost got blown off. Maybe I should've followed the rules?
This was a really cool trail that I wasn’t suppose to be on. Oh well–yolo right? Yet there was a point where I was setting up my tripod and both it and me almost got blown off. Maybe I should’ve followed the rules?

Because the Game of Thrones set was filmed throughout this area, I couldn’t help think of another sci-fi book, the Lord of the Rings. And then I had myself thinking that this area kind of looked like New Zealand. Maybe not the same (haha) but the land experienced some volcanoes and glaciers to form a really unique terrain! There were a bunch of Brazilian kids on the bus who also seemed to love Game of Thrones. It’s a very big deal here in Northern Ireland, particularly because the crew works out of Belfast. (They’re coming back here in June/July to start filming for Season 5 already…)

But let’s jump to the Giant’s Causeway. I have seen pictures and I have heard stories. It’s best to just visit the scene and experience it yourself. I had no idea Scotland was so close by, so that was a surprise for starters. The actual landmass is indeed uniquely shaped like stairs or a footpath. I scoped out the area pretty quickly and initially set up my tripod in an area away from other people. Then I got bold and went right for the money shot. There are jetties of the “causeway” that have massive waves crashing into them, causing the water to have a spray and nice visual effect over the rocks. I had to have the shot. There I was, edging out further on the slippery rocks in front of the other tourists who thought that their zoom lenses would suffice for this scene. I love what my 50mm makes me do! I started snapping away, fearing for the 5D as it got some ocean spray. I’m  not sure if I got the shot at this point, but I kept recomposing until I heard a really loud whistle. Startled from my laser-like focus on the waves crashing, I turned to see some type of authority figure. I picked up my tripod and headed over to him as he joked, “They (the waves) are coming in too big and too frequently!” Then it hit me that yes, in fact, they were. And if it wasn’t for this man, I probably would’ve just squatted there as water surrounded my small patch of dry rock.

I love this panorama! This IS the Giant's Causeway, from a high vantage point. The tourists congregate in the center left. Those are the "steps."
I love this panorama! This IS the Giant’s Causeway, from a high vantage point. The tourists congregate in the center left. Those are the “steps.”

So we backed away as I chatted him some more, seeking where to plant the tripod again. It took me a good 15 minutes to go about 15 meters into another, smaller jetty that was displacing the water in a visually captivating manner. The rocks were so slippery that I had to use my Manfrotto as a cane as I ventured out into the quickly ceasing low tide. Once positioned, I realized that yes, again, I was surrounded by water. But this time, since I was away from the tourists, there was no one to blow a whistle at me. My heart started pounding as 10 foot waves broke in front of the lens. I was just far enough away from the spray but I didn’t want to lower the tripod any more than it was already at for fear of getting washed away. A wave broke in front of me and judging from the current, another was going to break to my right. I turned the tripod head and got the shot of the day. (Sorry I don’t have it uploaded yet…such a tease).

Follow me on Instagram for more photos of the trip. I hope to have some edited-RAW files up soon…

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Amsterdam

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I know I said I’d have a part two for my hike last week, but time is really flying by over here. (Ask me in person if you were dying to hear the end of that story).

I’ll just start by saying that it’s interesting to compare the sharp contrast between the advertised facade of a city and its actual likeness. There’s no point of me delving into what Amsterdam is depicted as, especially when targeted to a younger population. But I will say a few things on those topics; legal prostitution and legal drugs. One thing is done more casually (or subtly) than the other. From what I could tell after eating in a local cafe outside of the tourist traps, marijuana is a part of the Dutch lifestyle. It’s hard for an American (maybe not so much now with Colorado’s legalization) to see drug use aside from fringe behaviour.  But try, if you can, imagining yourself as Dutch. You’re fairly well-educated, multi-lingual, and have an awareness that your Amsterdam home attracts a large tourist population because certain activities are legal. You don’t live near any of the touristy spots of town. You don’t binge on substances (like other cultures typically do without hesitation).

Here is Central Station sitting across from the equivalent of NYC's Time Square. Behind it is the IJ. Beautiful architecture was certainly the theme this weekend.
Here is Central Station sitting across from the equivalent of NYC’s Time Square. Behind it is the IJ. Beautiful architecture was certainly the theme this weekend.

While eating in a crammed sandwich shop, my friend and I listened to the outgoing owner going back and forth between English and Dutch. His shop was tiny, but within the 30 minutes I was there, you could get a sense of a more genuine Dutch culture from his interactions with his patrons. He knew everyone that was in his shop, except for me and my friend. But that didn’t stop him from joking with us in his well-polished English. As well as being outwardly educated, Holland is noticeably ethnic;  “Asians” and “blacks” gathered in this luncheonette and were also regularly interchanging between Dutch and English.  One of the younger patrons asked what the owner was doing later to which he replied, “Smoking some weed and staying in.” I wasn’t surprised at this, but the scene certainly presented me with a foreign culture that was different from Ireland and America. Lax laws and small, intercity businesses make for a brighter population.

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This is the National Monument that was built in 1956 to commemorate the dead of WW2. The street to the right (behind the tree) is where our hostel was. To the left is Dam Square.

But Amsterdam didn’t end up like that by chance. I went to the Rijksmuseum and saw Holland through its historically rich art. For anyone that doesn’t remember their European history, the Netherlands dominated the trade scene throughout the colonial period. As a result of being progressive then, combined with struggles with Spain and the Holy Roman Empire, the country continues to be forward-thinking. Yes, this means legal drugs and prostitution, but the locals in Amsterdam were really into venerating the art. The museum was beautiful and packed full of Dutch and foreigners. (Dutch is distinctly audible; something like a cross between French and German. So I could quickly tell who I was standing next to, if their height or garb didn’t give them away. There were some tall individuals in that town…)

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One of the three, earlier canals of Amsterdam’s Grachtengordel. The 17th-century canal ring area, including the Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht, Herengracht and Jordaan. The Herengracht is the nicest; literally means “patrician’s canal.” (Gracht=canal, lake). Initially, depending on what inner loop of canals you lived between was associated with your social status. The further outside of the city centre you lived, the poorer you were.

But that still brings us to the fact that prostitution exists there. I feel like there is a bit of yin yang thing going on. If Holland is able to thrive so well culturally, it has to be fueled by something. I think that any town would benefit from tourism’s added spending. So combine that generic business mentality with the aforementioned, distinctly Dutch progressivism, and you end up with legal prostitution. However, whilst walking through the Red Light District, you can quickly tell that the whole prostitution shtick is a tourist trap. The way things are advertised and presented in those couple of blocks was very different than a couple streets away.  As amoral as it may sound, my hat is off to Amsterdam in the strictest economic sense. There was visibly a huge population of males, ages 16-30 that walked through that section and Holland prospers from it. (But not exclusively). The last thing I’ll say about this is that it was odd to see locals living above or across from the rooms with “red lights” over them. I guess I didn’t personally internalize how that would work out on a daily basis. But for the most part, that area was a tourist destination, not a residential area. I still think the local Dutch were distanced from that.

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From Central Station looking at the Church of St. Nicholas.

I went on a canal tour and saw the city from a unique perspective. The Dutch really dominate water; traversing it, controlling it, utilizing it. The Dutch East/West Indies Companies traversed oceans for trade. Amsterdam was built by damming and dredging the Amstel River (hence the city’s name). And to this day, there are certain parts of the city that are below sea level, which is an incredible feat considering the IJ Lake, canals, and river all have to be monitored to avoid flooding. The IJ (pronounced kind of like ‘ay’) was originally a bay. I can’t remember how much of the city now sits on dammed, artificial land but it’s more than half. Another fun fact is that there is an estimated 1.6 million bikes in the city. That’s more bikes than people. (I don’t know how that compares to Portland, Oregon, but there are separate road/paths for bikes and mopeds. It was wild to cross a street because you never remember to check for bikes, only for cars).

Here I am with the bikes, canals, and beautiful architecture!
Here I am with the bikes, canals, and beautiful architecture!

If anyone wants to hear more about my time here (or in Ireland), please feel free to comment below. I can email anyone if they’re interested. I would also love to hear any travel suggestions or photo destinations as Cork, Ireland is on my itinerary for this upcoming weekend.

Best Day Ever?!

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(Written yesterday): My day started with me not going out last night; probably the best decision I made before embarking on an intense, five+ hour trek in the Irish back country. Let’s get one thing straight, there are no trails in Ireland. In the few instances where there are footpaths, they are nothing compared to the US National Parks’ neatly kept (and subsequently crowded) trails.

Ended at Point A (Kylemore Abbey)
Ended at Point A (Kylemore Abbey)

I’ve admittedly been a bum here in terms of waking up and assimilating to the five hour time difference. (I worked out a class schedule that doesn’t have me waking up any earlier than nine). In waking up at 7:45 was a huge commitment for me to make; it was more than worth it.

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NUI Galway Mountaineering Club is probably the greatest thing since sliced bread. First come, first serve; you pay 10e for a full twelve hour day of adventure. I was the fourth person to arrive for a spot on the would be full bus. The sunrise was beautiful to witness as I waited; the day was looking formidable. Once we departed, I learned there was a short, medium, and long/expert only variation that we could choose from in terms of trek paces. I looked at the contour map and saw that the only way to bag a few peaks was to go advanced. I wanted the challenge; I live for exploring. Out of the bus of 50 some odd students, alums, and older folks, only eight of the latter category chose for the long route. Thank God my beard is full because newcomers aren’t typically allowed on this variation of difficulty.

The mountains are the destination. We walk around this fairly large lake after ascending several hundred meters. (I like to keep some people in frame in order to give some perspective on how big the area is).
The mountains are the destination. We walk around this fairly large lake after ascending several hundred meters. (I like to keep some people in frame in order to give some perspective on how big the area is).

My perspective of space and distance is always off; regardless if it’s in the city or in the wilderness, I fail at measuring. I couldn’t tell how far we went by bus, but it wasn’t even a full hour before we reached our destination, still in Galway County. Apparently, I had entered into Connemara from a different direction earlier last week. My sense of direction isn’t bad like my sense of distance. But the landscape makes me think this country is much larger than it really is. Ireland is truly an island, for we had not gone so far and eventually saw the Atlantic Ocean.

Looking back the way we had come. The grade was incredibly steep; hand over hand at some points. My heart rate was really high from the intense pace as well as the constant danger. Wet boots, wet ground, wet rocks, steep grade, fast pace--all recipes for an injury.
Looking back the way we had come. The grade was incredibly steep; hand over hand at some points. My heart rate was really high from the intense pace as well as the constant danger. Wet boots, wet ground, wet rocks, steep grade, fast pace–all recipes for an injury.

Garda (the police) shut down the road that we were suppose to be dropped off due to a murder (?) or flooding. So being the advanced group, there was no questioning that we could just “hoof it” to our trail head. While Ireland saw some considerably hard times in its past, there was no Works Projects Administration established at any point to create a network of roads. Our walking didn’t take place on a road; we traversed a field that could only be summarized as squishy. From a distance, you’d believe the ground to be no different the American prairies. Yet it only was ten minutes off the bus until my feet completely soaked, despite the beautiful weather we experienced else wise.

I got carried away with the panoramas obviously. It's hard not to; I'm obsessed with wide-angled shots of landscapes like this. So I was in heaven with the weather, terrain, and good company.
I got carried away with the panoramas obviously. It’s hard not to; I’m obsessed with wide-angled shots of landscapes like this. So I was in heaven with the weather, terrain, and good company.

 

Something that a Southerner would think is worth noting is property laws. “I’ve got my gun so get off my property” is somewhat of the unspoken norm in Virginia. You stay in the National Parks’ boundaries because immediately outside of them are descendants of families that were pushed off their land by FDR’s New Deal projects. Fascinating maybe only to me, our leader asked a young kid at a gas station whether or not the owners of the land would be bothered with our potential “trespassing” on his land. Apparently, contrary to culture precedence, there was no issue. Earlier on the bus, even the university students seemed to know who lived where and who owned what; I forget that the country is small in population.

I misjudged the distance between the Garda blockade and the foot of our mountain. To my surprise, time didn’t seem to pass by too quickly as we trudged through spongy reeds. I thoroughly enjoyed the pace this group moved at; I must have looked like an idiot because I was constantly smiling and sticking out my tongue. I skipped -“gracefully” as a group member said- as I forded a river to begin our ascent.

Great weather, a new terrain; a new adventure unfolding before me with each step into cold mud.

To be continued!

Pano’s and a Long Rant

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Well, I haven’t posted in awhile because I have been getting into the swing of things here. Since I have been gradually accepting Galway as my new home, I’ve decided that I would choose to live here, regardless of studying or not. I haven’t been to Seattle, but I am assuming that the rainy weather here is similar to that northwest climate. Ireland is more European than it is American, as obvious as that may seem due to its place in the EU. Maybe I was misled by the study abroad advisors or rather, my subconscious made generalizations. But I thought that the English language would bridge the cultural gap between countries. This isn’t the case. Galway is urban for the Irish, but it functions like a village. I write this as I look out into the docks. I’ve watched cargo ships unload and then take on new shipments; it makes me think of a small, fairytale port city. (Maybe ___ from recently watching the Hobbit?) America is too young to have any fairytale, archaic aspects to its culture. Well, it did. But Europeans killed that off (or confined them to reservations) and none of that is preserved mainstream. In any case, Irish culture has been historically practiced and is evident in the daily rituals of the locals. The same could be said (maybe) for the US, but Wal-mart doesn’t have a castle inside of it. (Apparently, inside a shopping mall, the structure of a castle wall is part of the building’s foundation).

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The Docks-This might be one of my favourite images I’ve taken so far. My apartment is behind the large, green boat. This was actually the first time I’ve been walking around this side of the Docks, just because there isn’t too much activity over here. Or so I thought. There might be more areas to explore, but it’s fairly “industrial.”

Taking some classes that focus on Irish history, politics, and culture, it’s becoming more apparent that the Irish are a fighting people. They’re hungry for some positive freedom in the new global age. I’ve come to that conclusion based on several observations at my university. First of all, basic liberties that Americans take for granted are still a novelty. (I guess Americans recently have been challenging their freedoms in the past decade, which is coincidentally the opposite direction Ireland is headed). By that, I mean America is redefining various interpretations of the Bill of Rights/Constitution whereas the Irish are just now experiencing some seemingly basic liberties for the first time. Regardless of anyone’s stance on these liberties, I personally think it’s quite fascinating to know that a developed country like Ireland has finally gotten around to legalizing divorce. I’m not blind to the historical, constitutional connection between the Church and State here, which recently (as many of y’all know) has been under the magnifying glass to say the least. And I don’t consider the implications of Ireland’s past as not relevant to why this country is so far behind America in terms of these liberties. But all of this made me recognize that the US truly was innovative in terms of rights and liberties given to its citizens. This brings me to my second point: because Ireland is just now experiencing something like the American Civil Rights era crossed with the Second Constitutional Congress in 1776, the citizens are hungrier than Americans.

Eyre Square-This is about a three minute walk from my apartment. It's the city centre (for the most part).
Eyre Square-This is about a three minute walk from my apartment. It’s the city centre (for the most part).

I used that term twice because it captures the extent to which the Irish folk get after it in this world. This competitive, global job market is no place for the American anymore. (I will  surely write a piece on that at some point as much of the structure of the education system here is on mind. So anyone that is offended by that, or would like to hear the extent of my position, anticipate a nice manifesto soon). In short, Ireland does not have much of a national job market. University students have a more globally conscious outlook on their futures. Consequently, they are more competitive in their academics. Or more simply, they are just brighter students. I’ve heard variations of this throughout all the levels of my American education: “I haven’t read a full textbook before.” Whether or not that is true in every student’s instance, American education is certainly becoming more about the “cutting edge”, or should I say “cutting corners” curriculum. In other words, we’re just lazy. Look at the combination of the current status of the US national job market, immigration reform, and obesity epidemic. (We’re toast!) Obviously, there are jobs availabe in the US for hungry immigrants that aren’t afraid of working hard. The Irish were never afraid of hard work; that is as historically true as it is now evident in today’s society.

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Again, part of my daily commute along the River Corrib.

I think that’s enough of a rant today. This is my photoblog! So I apologize for anyone that came here just to view the photos…If that is the case, you can follow my daily posts on Instagram/Twitter; both handles @jvierephoto.

I did some urban exploring (urbex) and found some grungy, abandoned area, slid through a chain-linked fence, jumped over some broken glass, scaled a gravel mountain all to get this shot.
I did some urban exploring (urbex) and found some grungy, abandoned area, slid through a chain-linked fence, jumped over some broken glass, scaled a gravel mountain all to get this shot.