My first week of classes passed in a blink of an eye. Well, the trip is passing me by in the blink of an eye. It’s hard to believe all the time that has flown by and what feels like the little time I have left. I’m trying to savor every moment and experience. I’m not ready to leave! I love you Pitt, but I’ve fallen in love with someone else. Leaving Ireland is going to be difficult in a few weeks. Please have tissues ready at Pittsburgh International Airport for me.
Anyway, our first excursion was the Saturday after the first week. The bus met all the Pitt students at our dorms early in the morning and bussed us and other international students studying in our program to Glendalough.
I didn’t sleep well the night before and fell asleep for half of the drive. I woke up surrounded by the greenest greens and pastures of various livestock. One of my favorite things that people do when driving through country land is they tend to point excitedly out the window like they’re kids again to announce “COW!” or “SHEEP!” and then everyone turns and does the exact same thing just naming the animal in an excited tone. No matter what your age or where you come from, this is a universal experience. This went on for like ten minutes straight and I’m proud to say I contributed. I love cows a lot so I was excited to see them in their pastures, splotches of blacks and whites and browns. My camera was stowed away for the bus ride, but I have a few cell-phone pictures of my views.
We filed off the bus and into the visitor’s center for a film. We were at the Glendalough Monastic Site. The film explained the history of the region we were currently visiting and also Ireland’s history with monastic societies and their settlements. The particular settlement at Glendalough was said to be founded by Saint Kevin in the 6th century. From his initial settlement, the area grew. It is marked by the large circular tower, which acted as a bell tower and a marker for travelers heading to the monastic site. The area is surrounded by ancient church structures, many missing roofs, and a large cemetery.
Our group gathered outside to learn more of the history before we entered the grounds.
The monastic city was one of the most popular sites in its time and did grow in size from its inception with St. Kevin. It survived attacks from Vikings who swept through Ireland between the 10-12th centuries. Its importance continued as a central point until the monastery was destroyed in the early 13th century by the Normans. Many of the structures or parts of the structures on the grounds remain.
Our group moved through the grounds, exploring some of the main structures.
After exploring the Monastic Site, we moved into the trails in Wicklow Mountains National Park. We ate our lunch at the lake.
After lunch we had a hike planned for us. Now, I love hikes and I was excited for this hike. We made our way to the trail and our first sight was steps leading up. Oh man. We were enticed by our program leads that there was a pretty waterfall up the way. We hiked up steps that felt like an eternity, our group stopping in chunks to take videos, pictures, and selfies at the little waterfall. This was not the end of the hike. With aching calf muscles (thank God I was wearing my workout shoes this day), we continued up the steep incline and gathered the troops at a flat area. The hike to the top was steep and we were now being enticed by the promise of fantastic views. That path we were on would cut into the woods and 180 some steps later we would be at the top of this particular mountain. We set off.
The Howth hike was extremely difficult yet endlessly rewarding. I am very much photography minded (if you couldn’t tell already) and was going to do everything in my power to get to the top, no matter how tired I felt before the hell that was those 180 some steps. I had to be careful, the steep incline here was hard on my lungs. I took some puffs of my inhaler and carried on, being mindful of every breath and ache. Howth was long and difficult and got steep in some parts, especially at the end. The Glendalough hike was like walking up a 90-degree angle for an hour.
Once we hit the steps, our group had to slow down and eventually had to split up. The steps were long and narrow, with metal sticking out to help your grip. There was only one set of stairs for both going up and going down. Our group had to go single file. I knew that a stop for more of my inhaler and catching my breath would be necessary, so I hung back. Steep inclines are hard on my breathing. I kept telling myself I could do it, but I needed to be smart about it. One of our program directors, Darragh, as well as three other Pitt students made up our own group that “took in the view” here and there and made up the rear of the group. I would say “breaks” but we were really just taking in the view… that’s all. I dubbed us the real A-Team about halfway up between a ragged breath and a swig of water. We had this.
The steps were hell. They climbed into what looked like infinity and were dizzying. A handful of stairs started under the canopy of the forest and then broke through into a clearing, giving us a sad view of trees that were cut down and put us back into the open.
I don’t think I could have accurately taken a picture to encompass how daunting this climb was. I had to put my camera away and focus on walking. It was far too steep, and I was far too tired to keep myself upright and hold a camera. Little by little we made our way up. As a side note, the path had only a few handrails, which was tough to manage on the way up, but on our way down it was terrifying!
Finally we made it to the top! A couple times up the path I wondered if I could do it. I never want to chance my lungs. Asthma is a physical disease but there is a major mental component of it as well. Negative thoughts and panic can induce breathing difficulties and make situations go downhill, for lack of a better word, quickly. Since I was young, I’ve somewhat mastered calming my mind, it’s kind of like meditating without sitting down. When I’m doing a hard activity like hiking, I wash negative thoughts away, focus on my breathing and the positive. If I feel negative physical symptoms, I have to back out, but I strive to keep my thoughts positive. It’s the Little Engine That Could approach. We passed hikers encouraging us to see the view and those who couldn’t keep going. I tried to push positivity into my thoughts and that helped me immensely in tackling the mountain path.
Standing at the top, feeling like an asthmatic Rocky Balboa, I was victorious. I took my camera out and snapped some pictures as I caught my breath.
The hike up proved a challenge of physical and mental strength. The hike down was a different kind of torture. My legs felt like jelly and walking down the steps, they jerked and wobbled like I couldn’t control them. It felt like at any moment I could just fall and tumble down the mountainside. Each step required concentration and deliberation, but my legs moved like cooked spaghetti.
Our group met at the halfway point, collecting our breath and nerves. The hike down was hard for everyone. If I stood still my legs shook outside of my control. It actually felt better to keep walking rather than stand still. I kept the break short and continued down, practically running down at some points because I lacked control of my leg muscles and the path was steep.
We made it back to the lake and waited for our group. I took a couple more pictures there and then we headed on the bus to go to Bray for about an hour and a half. Bray was thirty minutes or so from Glendalough and the way there was just as pretty.
Bray is similar to Howth, a coastal town with great gelato (it’s a crime to not get gelato in a coastal town) and pretty views. Bray also had a hike which I hope to do before my time ends here but I was far too tired that day to do it. I don’t have many pictures from Bray. A group of Pitt students and I found a restaurant and decided to eat. By the time our meal finished, we were running to the bus to take us back. Bray is on the list of places I want to explore more closely!
Glendalough was stunning and a peaceful place. I enjoyed my time there immensely.