Maloney’s Magic

This post is going to be short and sweet…Just wanted to share with everyone one of my favorite moments of this trip so far!

Those of you that know me know that I LOVE sports. I grew up playing soccer and volleyball and I cherish my memories of  watching the University of Iowa football team throughout the years. I live for the Olympics and the World Cup. I watch the movie Miracle every year and may or may not cry every time the US team takes down the Soviets. Needless to say, I’ve really missed being in Kinnick Stadium this past fall, watching the Hawks, win or lose. It wasn’t until Glasgow that I got my sports fix.

When I think of classic rivalries in sports, the big ones come to mind- The Red Sox and the Yankees, Duke and North Carolina, the Packers and the Bears. Scotland and Ireland didn’t really come to mind, until now. Katie and I were walking in Glasgow when we saw a sign at a pub informing us that there was a football (soccer to us Americans) game on that night! It wasn’t just any old football match, but Scotland versus Ireland in the European Championship Qualifying round and the game was being played in Glasgow!! Unfortunately, we couldn’t get tickets to the match because it was later that night and completely and utterly sold out. We decided to catch the match at the pub down the street- they were offering a free pint to everyone if Scotland won!

We arrived later that night to a very crowded pub full of Scots, with a gender ratio that was definitely male dominated. It was pretty clear we were the odd ones out, but despite the weird looks here and there we ended up feeling right at home while watching the game. And what a game it was, all tied up for the longest time. Back and forth it went! Both teams had countless shots on goal, narrowly missing each time. Everyone in the pub was on the edge of their seat, not taking their eyes off the game, afraid to miss any major play. It was still tied at the half when Katie left to run back to our B&B. Still back and forth and back and forth. At the 76th minute, Scotland was blessed with a corner kick and Maloney exchanged passes with Scott Brown and finished with a phenomenal shot, everyone held their breath… GOAL!!!!!

The place erupted! Everyone went crazy, and in that moment I made a hundred new friends.  All we had to do was hold on until the end of the game. The Scots then really stepped up their defense and kept the score 1-0 until the final whistle blew and Scotland clinched the win! Katie returned minutes after the goal, missing the whole celebration, but don’t worry, I reenacted the entire thing to perfection.

It was only a short little moment in the large scheme of this trip, but it was definitely one of my favorites and one I just had to share!

A Scottish Paradise

When we applied for a WWOOFing position on the Isle of Eigg (pronounced “egg”) in Scotland, the host replied that it was too wet and there wasn’t work for two people. After poking around the internet a bit more and looking at photos of the place, we found out that they had a camping area at their croft. It looked so amazing that we wrote back and told them we were coming anyway, as campers instead of wwoofers!

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles…and Buses…and Ferries

Before we could enjoy the beautiful Isle of Eigg, we had to get there, which didn’t turn out to be easy. Our journey required us to take a plane, a bus, a train, and a ferry.  In the end, it took us the better part of two days to get there from Ireland. I’ll let our travel itinerary speak for itself:

The journey to get to the island ended up being almost as beautiful as the island itself. Our bus route followed a highway that clung to the banks of the breathtaking Loch Lomond, just as the sun was setting. The mountains and deep water were drenched in violet and gold, and it was easy to see why the place is so famous.

After an overnight stop in Fort William, we got up bright and early to hop on a tiny train (just 2 cars!) to Mallaig, where we were to catch our ferry. The train followed the West Highland Line, which is famed as one of the most beautiful train rides in the world. Numerous films have used it as a setting, including several of the Harry Potter movies. The train ride totally lived up to all the hype, and we spent most of it with our necks craning to catch every possible view of the rugged Scottish Highlands.

Sea Legs

We arrived in Mallaig right on schedule, and walked the few blocks over to the pier where we were to catch the ferry. We were so excited to get on the ferry that we probably looked nearly as silly to the islanders as someone freaking out about a tractor in Iowa.

Although the sea was smooth and the sky was clear, I staggered around the ferry like a drunk person—clearly I do not possess “sea legs!” The ferry ride lasted for 2 ½ hours, and Sarah and I had to lay flat on some of the seats for much of that time to relieve the feelings of seasickness that kept creeping up. I can’t imagine what the ride must be like when conditions aren’t so good!

By this point, the remoteness of the island was really starting to set in. A few other passengers on the ferry were travelers like us, but most of them were from Eigg or one of the other Small Isles that the ferry served, and all of those people seemed to know each other. It was just early proof of what we would soon see: the small, tight-knit community of these islands.

Mingling with the Locals

Sue and Neill were the owners of the Cleadale Bothy, which was to be our home on Eigg (more on that later). They showed us around their croft, and invited us to a bonfire that they were attending that night. Even though we were exhausted from our long journey, we agreed to go—and it turned out we were in for a great night!

We piled into the backseat with Sue and Neill’s son Struan and Rosie the dog. After a quick interruption while Sue and Neill fixed a pothole in the one-lane road, we were on our way. We chatted a bit with Struan about his boarding school on the mainland, and asked if there were bonfires every weekend on the island. Neill chuckled and told us that it was only once a year…it was Bonfire Night! All over the UK people burn bonfires with effigies of Guy Fawkes to commemorate his unsuccessful attempt to blow up Parliament.

Despite the dark origins of the holiday, it was a fun and festive occasion. We gathered around a HUGE bonfire, oohed and aaahed over a DIY fireworks display, and watched clouds roil around the full moon.

When the fire had burned down, we transferred inside to the “tea room,” which turned out to be the coffee shop/restaurant/bar/meeting hall/hang out spot for the island. Mingling has never been one of my gifts, and we found ourselves thrown headlong into an advanced-level mingling situation. With the island’s small population of around 100 souls, everyone present knew each other like a big family. Couple that with the fact that we were adjusting to their accents and missed about 40% of what they said, and we soon ended up as the wallflowers of the party. We made a strategic move to install ourselves near the drink fridge, so that people would be forced to talk to us when they came by. We managed a few short conversations, but I think we were so tired and looked so bewildered that people quickly lost interest in us.

Even though I had to experience a relapse of my middle-school social anxiety, it ended up being a fun evening and one of the more memorable experiences of our trip. It was a great opportunity for observation, and to get a sense of the people who lived on the island. I was surprised to see how many young people there were. Most small communities I’m familiar with have something of a problem with brain drain, when young educated people leave for larger communities with more opportunities. I had expected to find a similar situation on Eigg, but as an outsider looking in I couldn’t find any obvious evidence of this. There were plenty of young people around, including young families with little children, and the group there struck me as vibrant and full of vitality. They are living very much in the 21st century, with progressive politics, the first fully self-sufficient renewable energy grid in Europe, and—on some of them—a downright cool fashion sense.

Home Sweet Bothy

With no more social engagements, the rest of our long, dark, northern nights were spent in the cozy bothy—a sort of one-room stone cabin that leaned up into the hillside. There was no heat and no hot water, but we had a wood burning stove and a kettle. We became unashamed members of the 100-hour-no-shower club, which didn’t matter so much when there were only dogs and cows around to judge us for our greasy hair.

Out our front door was a knockout view of the jagged Isle of Rum jutting up out of the Atlantic, and at our back were cliffs and waterfalls. It was a pretty incredible setting to wake up to in the morning, and at night we had some of the clearest views of the stars that I’ve ever seen.

To see what we did with our days on Eigg, take a looksee at the photos. We went a little paparazzi on the island, so there are a lot! Coming up soon: a post from Sarah about her favorite thing we did in Glasgow!


The Emerald Isle

After months of living with a language barrier, Sarah and I were excited to be headed to an English-speaking country at last. When we arrived in Ireland, we realized we’d been missing more than the language. People in Central Europe and France had seemed quite reserved to us, so when we arrived in Ireland and were greeted with big smiles and chit chat about the weather, it felt a bit like a homecoming. Iowa Nice meets Irish Nice!

Dublin, City of Literature (and Guinness)

First stop on our Ireland visit was Dublin, which was named a UNESCO City of Literature—4th in the world, just after Iowa City, Iowa—an honor that designates cities as literary hubs involved in publishing, education, and cultural events. As a confirmed book worm, I was eager to explore a city that has played such a role in the world of literature. Plaques with literary quotations line the sidewalks, literary tours, walks, and readings are plentiful, independent bookstores abound, there was an exhibit at the National Gallery devoted to poetry…and to top it all off, the local beer (Guinness) has the taste of coffee!

I went to a reading one afternoon at Sweney’s Pharmacy, which features as a setting in James Joyce’s Ulysses. The pharmacy is run by volunteers and now sells books and soap instead of medicines, and has been made over into a sort of shrine to James Joyce. A small group of tourists and locals trickled in, and we got comfortable with some cushions, tea, and our copies of Joyce’s Dubliners. In circle style, everyone took turns reading a page. My American accent stuck out like a sore thumb next to all the posh-sounding European voices, but it was fun to participate in a reading instead of just sitting around listening. We stuck around to chat for a bit afterwards, and then everyone trickled away again to continue their day.

An Irish Halloween

Besides Dublin’s literary heritage, Sarah and I were also excited to celebrate Halloween in its country of birth (yes, that’s how far behind we are in blogging!). Though I usually think of Halloween as an American tradition, it originates in Ireland. It began more than 2,000 years ago as the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in), which marks the end of the old Celtic Year and the beginning of the New Year. The Celts believed that on Samhain, the border between our world and the next became blurred. They wore costumes and lit sacred bonfires to ward off ghosts that might cause harm to them or their crops and winter supplies. Long story short, the Catholic church eventually got involved and All Hallow’s Eve (the night before All Saint’s Day) was combined with the traditional celebration of Samhain. Halloween enjoyed limited popularity in America’s early days (all those hardcore Protestants weren’t that into fun and games, I guess), but with the massive influx of Irish fleeing the potato famine in the mid-1800s, the holiday became more popular on our side of the pond…so that’s your history lesson for this post!

Sarah and I spent the day of Halloween perusing Dublin’s many charity shops and thrift stores for costumes. We had a lot of fun and ended up stocking up on basic everyday clothes instead—mainland Europe had been a bit lacking in the thrift store department, and we were starting to feel a little threadbare. In the end, we bought some face paint instead of costumes. Sarah painted a candy skull, and I did a classic scary skeleton.

Halloween in Dublin was a lot like Halloween in Iowa City—except bigger and better! Everyone was dressed in costumes, roaming the streets. Most costumes were scary, rather than the funny/sexy themes you usually see in the US. Everyone was in a festive mood, and lots of people called out to compliment our make-up, or even asked to take photos with us. We made a bit of a scene in one bar when Whitney Houston came on, attracting attention with our passionate lip-synching (special thanks to Celine Dion for teaching us how to really sell a song).

We returned to our hostel at 3:00 am, satisfied with our Big Night Out and certain that we would no longer be the chill (a.k.a. boring) ones first to bed in our room. Alas, Dublin is something of a mecca for college partiers, who proved more dedicated than us. We still found an empty room. Our roommates finally stumbled their way back in around 5, 7, and 8am…guess I’m not as young as I used to be.

County Meath

Our next stop was to be Galway for a few days, but we were loving Dublin so much that we decided to stick around. We ended up going to little Mornington, in County Meath (just up the coast from Dublin). We wanted to pay a visit to Bernadette, a longtime friend of our Aunt Linda. Bernadette and Linda were pen pals as kids, and Linda came to Ireland for a summer to visit Bernadette. We had heard a lot about her through the years and wanted to finally put a face to the name!

After about a month of hostel hopping, it was truly lovely to stay with Bernadette and her family in their cozy home. We drank coffee by the fireplace and chatted with Bernadette and her kids, hung out with Nala “McBarker,” put in a long overdue load of laundry, and gobbled up a delicious full Irish breakfast cooked specially for us by Bernadette’s husband Jim.

Our relaxing time in friendly Dublin and cozy Mornington had us well rejuvenated for our next adventure—a trek to the Isle of Eigg, a tiny, remote island off the coast of Scotland. Come back soon to hear that tale, but in the meantime check out our pictures to see more of what we did in Dublin and Meath!