Avignon, France

Avignon, the “Walled City” was hands down our favorite part of our France trip. Something about the small, narrow streets and all the outdoor cafes just made us fall in love the moment we drove through the gates. We left Paris midday and took the TGV train (that travels at 300km/hr!) and arrived in Avignon in the early afternoon. After making a much needed stop at a creperie–because, crepes–we checked into our AirBnB and ventured out to grab dinner and explore Avignon streets and shops.

After our first round of exploring the city, we got some pastries from a local boulangerie and head back to take a quick nap back at the apartment. We woke up about an hour later and decided to wander around the city’s prized architecture, including the Palais de Popes, built in 1252. Avignon’s rich history is an entirely different perspective of this city that literally has hundreds of years of history. Avignon has a known human occupation dating all the way back to 4,000 BC!

As the sun set, strolling through the streets at night was made the night even more romantic, and I am sure Aaron loved it even more as the shops were closed…much to me and my suitcase’s dismay.

untitled-143-2
This cat shirt seriously looked like our cat Gwen. I would have loved to have been able to add it to my wardrobe (clothes are my favorite souvenir to bring back from travels!) This makes reason number 45937 to get back to this city ASAP.

This was my second time to Avignon and my memories of this city didn’t even do this trip justice. I am so please that this was Aaron’s favorite stop of the our France adventure!

Following Avignon, we took ride through some of the Luberon Valley’s quaint Provençal villages. Stay tuned…

Paris, France

We made it to Paris!

untitled-342

In less than 36 hours, we covered the basics, or rather, highlights of the City of Lights. We stayed in the Montmartre, the charming 18th arrondissement in the northern part of the city. Filled with adorable bakeries, lively cafes, and picturesque streets, the Montmartre was the perfect place to be based for Aaron’s first time in Paris.

Our first evening after arriving from our two nights in Ireland was spent enjoying French cuisine (Aaron even went for the escargot!) in our little neighborhood. Following dinner we went for gelato–which officially became a daily routine from this night on–and wandered over to the Sacre Coeur basilica to enjoy our dessert and sunset on the stairs.

We woke up the next day, took an early Metro down into the city center and walked around the class landmarks. We planned our Metro route (Aaron’s first subway ride ever, by the way) to let us off near the Arc de Triomphe, and the ChampsÉlysées. From there we walked to the garden by the Eiffel Tower, known as the Trocadéro, and then of course, along the Seine river, and down to the Louvre (before you ask, we did not go, the line was WAY to long, and made a promise to ourselves that we will make a day of it our next time in Paris).

After walking all day, our last planned activity of the day was an audio guided tour of the Paris Opera House, the “Palais Garnier“. In a word, phenomenal, but I’ll let the pictures prove it. This experience reminded me how much I appreciate when details are included in architecture to provide an ambiance that truly makes a mark on history. If you got to Paris, this is a must visit!

It was a quick trip, but a successful one! Aaron was excited to be romanced by the Parisienne lifestyle and elegance. I look forward to a longer visit in the hopefully not too distant future.

On our future Paris bucket list (please comment below with anything we should add to our future Paris itinerary):

  • Bike ride around the Palace of Versailles
  • Dinner cruise on the Seine
  • Explore Fountain-bleu Castle just outside of the city
  • A French cooking class (preferably macrons)
  • A major shopping day in the Le Marais arrondissement

 

Au revior France!

untitled-340
View from the balcony of the Paris Opera House

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.

untitled-51-5
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!

img_5177

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

img_5169img_5167

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!

5b6da3aa-17af-44d6-89f1-1de00448163b
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!)

untitled-19-2-3
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.

 

untitled-155
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!