Galway, Ireland

untitled-30-5It’s no wonder people talk about the true beauty and magic of Western Ireland. Of course, I’m sure all of Ireland is great, I can’t say for sure about the east coast (yet). Galway was no exception. Beautifully historic, plenty of culture, and of course–a grand array of pubs so perfectly quaint and bustling all at the same time.

I had already stopped in Galway on my way to Achill (giant heavy backpack in tow), but when a group decided to make a weekend of it and invited me along, I couldn’t say no. We lucked out with brilliant weather and the whole city was feeling the sunshine! Since it was only a single night trip, we made the most of it and enjoyed food that we couldn’t get on Achill (Italian and sushi!!!) checked out the nightlife hoping to join in on a sing-song, and shopped for iconic Arab Island sweaters. It felt good to see some crowds of people and honestly I just strolling the streets in good company made it the perfect weekend escape.

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Yay for new friendships! From left Jelle (Netherlands) and James (Chicago)

Fellow digger and new friend, Esther, from New Jersey and also a lover of our J-Pod whales, she hopes to come visit someday!

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I laughed at this spelling, but later learned that Aishling is actually a common Irish name and means “visual dream”

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Ice cream at the famous Murphy’s ice cream shop, I got a split scoop of the “sea salt” and “buttermilk” flavors—so unexpectedly tasty!

I’d love to come back to Galway and check out their museum, and perhaps brave renting a car and drive through Connemara region (which I can truly say I’m bummed I won’t be able to do this trip). Only a week left on Achill, stay tuned for another archaeology update from week 5, as well as a final week wrap up post including more about the culture of the field school and some of the interesting people I’ve met this past month and a half!

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Loved this mural, had to get a photo!

Archaeology Dig: Week 5 Update

Well, week 5 flew by, and really it shouldn’t have as we got rained off site several times. The weather in Ireland is exactly as they say it is–you must be prepared for all four seasons ALL the time. I’m realizing I have really crap rain gear, and as a Washingtonian, I can’t tell if that’s something I should be ashamed of, or maybe it doesn’t bother me as much at home, but nevertheless being bent over digging for hours soaking wet doesn’t make for a good day for anyone.

As far as progress, despite some sheep walking in overnight and collapsing some of our sculpted section walls (soil stratigraphy), we finished a majority of the excavation, or what we will be able to complete at this point. Some of us are still digging/cleaning for site recording, and some of us are prepping for site and elevation drawings for the final week.

Week 5 of my section in the House, coming down on rye occupation layer (under the light colored sand)

In the secondary trench, the shell midden (where I worked the 1st three weeks), Cari (PhD at UCC and an Achill supervisor) was shown a dog whelk midden near our site by some locals just casually walking the valley near our site (we get a lot of curious locals–longtime Achill residents which is sure useful for oral history!) They knew that dog whelks were once harvested for the ink they possess to make a deep “crimson purple” dye used for elite textiles and gas heard stories from previous family members. So, Cari has been happily examining and doing a plan drawing of the whelk midden (not excavating) for Achill records and for her own PhD research on middens. Goes to show that you never know who knows what—especially in small town Ireland!

Dog Whelks – image via Wikipedia

Also had to save the best for last, our greatest find yet, a beautiful nearly intact wine bottle! All the pieces were close by in the same soil layer and our director was able to get it back to the lab and tape it–and eventually glue it back together! Based on knowing that the house was from the mid 1700s and cross referencing it with a bottle register based on shapes, this bottle is from approximately 1740.

On a final note, at the end of week 4, we said good bye to four members of our troop, as they were only doing a four week session instead of the six week, so naturally, I made us all take a group photo…in the rain.

Archaeology Dig: Week 4 Update

I can’t believe I’ve already been in Ireland for an entire month. Time is flying by, so I figured an update on our dig site is warranted!

My dorky sunhat, but I haven’t had my face or ears sunburnt at all!

We are well into our excavation and with only two more weeks remaining (seriously, where does the time go?!), and we are really picking up the pace. The house is nearly exposed down to the floor in some sections and we found our first pieces of glass and a large piece of iron.

Our field director is crossing her fingers that we find the hearth of the house (the cooking area) and hopefully some late 17th century pottery sherds by the end of our 6 weeks. Our other finds have included a glass bead (found in he shell midden, from the post medieval area) and lots of bone–likely all animal. We are working with a bone specialist next week to learn more about properly identifying, handling, and cataloging bones and fragments.

Mostly, the biggest obstacle has been sand. It’s been weeks and weeks of A LOT OF SAND. Sand is everywhere in the house, my backpack, in my pockets, I think I will always have sand granules as a memento of this experience whether I like it or not. Hopefully, when we get to the “floor” of the house structure and are able to trowel through some good archaeology and not just troweling back sand overfill, it will really get interesting. Can’t wait to share an update on what we find and learn about this site!

Achill Island, home for the summer

Achill Island. Stunning, barren, centuries-old landscape with sweeping views of endless sea. Located in the beautiful County Mayo region on the Western coast of Ireland known as the “Wild Atlantic Way”. I often ask myself how people find out about secluded places like this (and even San Juan Island for that matter) and it really only takes hearing of it once. I heard about Achill from someone on my previous archaeology field school in 2009. Their description of the mountains, sparse houses, crashing waves and rich history clearly had me intrigued –and still, 9 years later– so when I decided to pursue archaeology again, this was the obvious choice as a location to refresh my skills.

I’m here for a total of six weeks working with thirteen other archaeology students/trainees at the Achill Archaeology Field School. This school is highly rated on the AIA (Archaeology Institute of America) website which is geared toward active students and recent grads….likely the reason that I’m the oldest one in the group. Well, not the oldest one in the group, but the oldest staying in the accomodations house (one other student who’s a couple years older than me isn’t staying at the field school house). I mention the age thing because I honestly forgot what it was like to be a teenager (the youngest two are both 16)/college student and now being immersed in that environment on a 24/7 basis, I am quickly reminded. There are twelve of us staying here, three bathrooms and one communal kitchen. Without going into obvious detail, all I can say is: Thank you Mom for teaching me to be a tidy individual and to Aaron, I’m sorry for ever leaving a dirty dish in the sink. {insert “forever grateful” emoji here}

The field school itself is comprised of a small lab with about 10 computers and a lecture room housed in the adjacent house next to our living quarters. The school is situated right on Dooagh Beach (“Doo-ahh”) an is about a 20 minute drive north to our archaeology site, a 40 minute walk each way to nearby Keel (a convenience store we can get to on weekends) and about an hours drive from Westport, the nearest train/bus depot. We work out on the excavation site Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, with lecture/lab/field trips on Wednesdays.

Image via Ultima Thule

Our site of excavation is located at Caraun Point aka Tóin an tSeanbhaile (Gaelic), close-ish to the small village of Dugort (and when I say village, I mean one coffee shop and an art studio). We leave the house weekdays at 9am sharp in a transit bus over Caruan Point and are dropped off for the day until 5pm. We all share moving all of our survey/dig equipment from a small storage shed near the road across the field to our excavation site on the edge of the cliffs. Two “tea breaks” and a lunch are worked into the day, and I have to pack for all 4 seasons, as the weather changes constantly throughout the day (really wishing I snagged a rain cover for my backpack before I left!)

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The shell midden trench located on the cliff edge of Tóin an tSeanbhaile

We are currently working on two “trenches”; one is a possible 17th century settlement house, the other is a shell midden. I am currently working in the shell midden, working layer by layer to analyize remnants of both shell and bone, trying to piece together what types of items people ate (and threw away–you can tell a lot by someone’s trash heap). So far we have found MANY shells, a piece of [hopefully dateable] glass, some animal bone, and possibly some evidence of a hearth. The midden is trench is being run by a PhD student from UCC, Cari Howle, who is passionate about shell middens and is moving to Cork in the fall from South Carolina. Ireland sure draws people from all places, there is a man here from the Netherlands, one student from China, and the rest of us are all from the US (Connecticut, South Carolina, California, Illinois, Florida, Texas, and New Jersey).

Achill is known for its beauty and beaches and is a common weekend trip for those that live in County Mayo. Activities include kite surfing, biking, swimming, hiking, and of course, attending all the random events that Achill has to offer like ‘Dooagh Day” and the Irish National sheep dog competition (this weekend!) Its been nice to walk around Keel on the weekends, or go sit at our little beach in Dooagh in the mornings/evenings with a cup of tea. I’m hoping to make it to Galway again this trip and also over to Keem Bay (a 1.75hr walk each way) to swim in the shallow beach and hope to see a basking shark which are common here on Achill.

 

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Our group on a field trip Wednesday hiking up behind the historical Achill Mission in Dugort, Achill Island.

I’ll be sharing updates from the dig, and more about Achill each week as its already week three of six! Time flies when you’re having fun!

 

 

Cork, Ireland

My first night in Ireland was in the charming town of Cork. I arrived via bus from Dublin airport (5 hours on some seriously roundabout-heavy roads) and my friend and host, Suzanne (whom I met in Guatemala in 2016) picked me up at the bus station. After those 5 hours, I somehow agreed to a hike and I was so glad I did. My first taste of Ireland landscape was a trail hike in Ballycotton, forty minutes east of Cork City. Everyone we passed was a local who tipped their hat and greeted us in true Irish kindness. Nothing feels better than stretching your legs after too many hours of traveling.

Day two was a solo day of exploring starting with an official tour of the University College Cork (UCC) campus given by my friend Suzanne (who happens to work there). If I decide that this summer has convinced me I still want to truly pursue a career in archaeology, this is going to be the university I choose for my Masters. UCC has an incredible reputation, highly qualified staff and, well, being Ireland doesn’t hurt!

Later in the day (in 85 degree heat I might add) I took the train to the small town of Cobh, the last port of call for the Titanic! Naturally, I went to the Titanic Museum, stood where the passengers’ loved ones said their final goodbyes and explored the Cobh’s quaint buildings and lovely cathedral. Did some leisurely people watching and ate some lemon curd ice cream….perfection.

Topped off the night with an incredible dinner (I tried their local fish, Hake, it was divine!) with Suzanne at Blackrock Castle in Cork City, followed by the most epic sunset.

 

cork & cobh-119I think I’m gonna like it here…. thanks for the warm welcome Cork!

Birthday Weekend in British Columbia

For my birthday this year, I thought I’d splurge with a special trip to do my favorite relaxing hobby, fly fishing! After messaging back and forth for awhile on instagram, I made plans with Kate Watson, a fly fishing expert out of Prince George, BC. Since picking up this sport, I’ve long-admired Kate for not just her skill, but her stance on the industry, (especially conservation) and was thrilled that we were able to plan an adventure together on the weekend of my birthday!

Day One: Drive from Bellingham, WA to Prince George, BC–509 miles

Whoa, was this was longer than expected…. I’ve down the whole drive from western Washington to San Francisco too many times to count but that is a straight-shot on I-5. The highway to Prince George was a two-lane highway, and although filled with beautiful scenery, felt more like 1,500 miles than 500. My first stop was of course, Hope, BC–the location of my first Archaeology dig. I walked through the old campground that I called home for the summer of 2009 and of course, I had to fuel up with latte at the ol’ Blue Moose Cafe. Once back on the road, I tried not to stop too much–only to stretch my legs. 10 podcast episodes later, I pulled into PG after 7pm, checked into my AirBnB, and basically passed out before eight.

Day Two: Fly Fishing Prince George with Kate Watson

I couldn’t have been more excited to start the day. Kate picked me up from my AirBnB in her truck at 7:30am on the dot and we drove 45 mins drive to our first fishing spot, chatting the whole way. We pulled off a logging road under a small bridge and went over my cast. I learned that I needed to lift a little more and flick on my final cast after throwing some consistently good false casts. After some practice and going over some fly selections, it was time to wade in and land a fish! We walked under the bridge and after 10 or 15 casts, landed my first fish of the day, an arctic whitefish. The next few fish were rainbow trouts–I even landed some in front of some other anglers nearby (when does that ever get to happen for a novice? #humblebrag)

We moved to another spot on the river, a peaceful, serene leg that looked like a moose could come out to wade with us at any moment (sadly, no moose–but probably for the best). I landed my first big(ger) rainbow of the day that even impressed Kate–she claimed it was the biggest rainbow she had seen in that river system in over 2 years. Other than catching fish throughout the day, we had the best conversation–between sharing our fear of predatory animals (her: sharks, me: bears), laughing over the weirdness that is social media, and my introduction to bengal spice tea and caramel TimTams (umm, how have I not had these?!) — we were full of smiles ALL day long!

After a solid eight hours fishing, we made our way back to her truck, peeled off our waders and extra layers and broke down our rods. As we pulled away from our fishing spot, we spotted a small black bear just to the side of the road—so glad it wasn’t any closer to us, or our TimTams! She brought me back to my AirBnB, we chatted for a while longer and then it was time to say our goodbyes. Easily the best day I’ve had in a while, and I know it won’t be the last time Kate and I are out on a river sharing stories again.

Day Three (My Birthday): Drive from Prince George to Squamish, BC–430 miles

Kicking off my 32nd year at 5am was not my cup of tea, but I stopped at the Sav-On grocery in PG before hitting the road, grabbed myself a pizza pretzel, and retraced my route south down Hwy 97. Several hours in, I veered west toward Whistler for an entirely new landscape. After the bear sighting, I was determined to spot at least a bighorn sheep! If you know me at all, you know I love animals, and I’m sad to report that didn’t get to see any larger wildlife on this journey. However, not to say I didn’t see anything–I spotted a baby weasel, some deer, and several wild horses. I stopped at Lake Lillooet, enjoyed the view for a few minutes and powered through Pemberton and Whistler toward my final destination of this mini-trip, Squamish BC.

After nine hours on the road, I stopped by the local grocery store, grabbed some of my favorite treats for dinner (it was my birthday after all) and headed to my beautiful AirBnB in the Brackendale neighborhood.

A quiet evening in was just want I wanted for my birthday. To me, a relaxing vacation is somewhere other than home that actually gets you away from that looming to-do list, and the temptation to fold and spend downtime doing unfinished chores. I packed my favorite sweats (duh) laid in bed, watched some tv, put on a face mask and ate some–yeah you guessed it–TimTams. Asleep before 10, I couldn’t have started off my trip around the sun more rested.

Day Four: Squamish, BC to Washington State via Vancouver–165 miles

Squamish is known as the adventure capital of BC and I see why. From kite surfing to diving, to rock climbing and fishing, Squamish is the outdoor enthusiasts’ dream! It was hard to choose which avenue I wanted to explore for my final day, but ended up on the most scenic one, the Sea to Sky Gondola. I have never considered myself afraid of heights, but this made my stomach drop. Once at the top, the view made it worth it (who wants to go here for a photoshoot?).

I only spent about an hour at the summit walking the trails and decided I will be coming back here on a girls weekend to experience the Via Ferrata climbing experience. After soaking in the views from the lookout, I popped into the gift shop to get some postcards (hi mom!) and happened upon my very favorite pair of hiking pants which I instantly bought for my upcoming archaeology dig (I already have them in two other colors).

At 11:00am, I left Squamish and started down the Sea to Sky Highway toward Vancouver. Only a quick 45 minutes south, the idea of working Squamish into my next Vancouver adventure an absolute must!

 

I arrived midday in Vancouver and made a beeline straight to Main Street to visit some of my favorite consignment shops. I scored a great vintage Gap denim jacket at Front and Company that I already can’t wait to bring to Europe! Following my epic find, I braked for lunch at a nearby sushi restaurant and was impressed that for two rolls, some tea and miso, it was only $6.77CAD. I sure miss metropolitan cities and their competitive prices (and yes, it was good sushi).

After lunch and a little window shopping, I made my way south with no wait at the border and back to the States by 5pm. I pulled into my driveway by 10pm, giving the old Subaru a chance to rest and retreated to my own comfy bed complete with my hubs and Gwen waiting for me. ahhh, home.

RECAP: I can’t stress enough how great a solo trip* was for my soul. That may sound silly, but honestly, sometimes you just need to be alone with your own thoughts and be able to reflect without any interuptions.

*As I write this, I leave in less than two weeks for my European adventure! I plan to post plenty of photos and of course, share some of my favorite spots along the way! (Be sure to sign up for updates on the right side of the page!)

 

Holy moly…

Big steps ahead. Actually, huge steps. Wait, let me back up and recap. I have been working the last four years for my local government. I’ve learned things I never knew I needed to learn, met people that have changed my life, and have grown as a human being both personally and professionally. While my position had many interesting dynamics, the 9 to 5 life, isn’t what I expected. In fact, it was better. People say that desk jobs [sitting is the new smoking] are the worst but having Saturdays and Sundays off was really quite nice. Easier to make plans with friends, fun events are planned for weekends–the whole world is basically waiting to say TGIF….but not me. Maybe I’m not a routine person. Maybe I don’t like sitting so long, maybe I’m that typical millennial (grass is always greener), but I needed something else, and I knew just the thing…

So here it is. Here are my “big steps”…..I put in my notice at my job AND I am going on an archaeology dig in IRELAND for the summer! Now archaeology is not out of the blue, I actually have my Bachelor’s degree in anthropology and did an archaeology dig in British Columbia the year after my undergrad. It was the best summer ever. Long days outside in the Pacific Northwest, swimming in the river, dirt stained, and best of all, quality time with people who love the digging in a test pit as much as me. That summer was a huge year for me. I moved back to my hometown from San Diego and started dating my now husband. I think I was in the right place after that dig, truly happy and following a passion–so I’m going back—back to that state of mind. I’m sure you have questions and in short, yes, I will miss my cat and yes, my husband is super happy and supportive of this new adventure.

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Achill Island, County Mayo, Ireland {photo via pinterest}

 

More details to come, and I plan on keeping track of all of it here for friends and family to follow along. Be sure to sign up for email alerts (right panel) if you want to keep up to date with the coming adventures.