Soaking up Local and Foreign Culture

Guys.  It’s May.  HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?!?  I am always amazed at how quickly each year goes by, and also surprised at myself for being amazed by this fact year after year.  I mean – I feel it every year.  Why haven’t I gotten used to it yet?

The theme of March was culture (I can’t believe I’m writing about March in May).  I chose culture as the theme because I knew I would be traveling to Ireland and Scotland, and what better way to experience culture than through traveling?  While I believe that’s true, I also think we need to remember to celebrate our local culture more.  Peoria isn’t the most exciting city in the world, but it – like any place – can be so full of interest and life if you actually look for it.

For me, the most exciting thing happening in Peoria right now is the renaissance of Main Street at its intersection with Sheridan Road.  In just a few years, I’ve seen that area go from a place where I had little reason to visit, to an area I find myself visiting at least once a week.  There is so much to soak in here – artist’s studios at the Studios on Sheridan, the funky bar Blue, the corner coffee shop, the community garden, the decades old thrift store, and the long time costume shop – I love it all.  And I especially love visiting on the first Friday of each month to check out the live music and the rotating art exhibit, and to watch people as they walk around in awe thinking, “I can’t believe this exists in Peoria!”

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My Mom’s Studio

So yes, you can get your culture fix right in your own backyard – but traveling is always a much more appealing option.  There’s something to be said about leaving your backyard and your everyday habits, and experiencing something totally different.

Bridget and I soaked up a lot of urban Irish and traditional Scottish culture on our travels.  Perhaps most informational for me was our tour of Kilmainham Gaol, a former prison that held – and in some cases executed – many influential Irish leaders.  I not only learned a ton about Irish history, but also, I absorbed a lot of information on prison design styles and theories, something I hadn’t ever given much thought to.

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Of course we also visited the Guinness storehouse where we learned about how the beer is made; the story of Arthur Guinness, the brewery’s founder; and the fair treatment of workers by the Guinness Corporation.  Oh yeah, and we also enjoyed a pint at the seventh floor Gravity Bar. 🙂

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As always though, my favorite part of traveling is simply exploring the city – walking the streets, sitting in the local cafes, and discovering local shops.

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We weren’t sure if we were going to make a trip to the Cliffs of Moher – the cliffs are on the West Coast of Ireland, while we were staying on the east coast – but boy am I glad that we did.  It literally rained every single day we were in Ireland, except for the day we took this trip.  It was an absolutely incredible site.

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Our experience in Scotland was much different, as we were staying with Bridget’s Aunt and Uncle.  They took us to a ceilidh (pronounced kaylee), which is a social gathering with traditional Scottish music and dances.  It was kind of like a line dance – the host would teach us the steps and then we would dance in partners/groups.  Man, was it exhausting!  Most of the dances involved spinning your partner around vigorously over and over again.  We had a ton of fun! But I didn’t capture a picture 😦

We also had to have plenty of Scotch whiskey.  Here’s Bridget and I taking a sample of one of the three we tried on this night, which were Glenlivet, Jura, and Turmore. A little blurry, but what do you expect…we were drinking whiskey.

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We took the train to Edinburgh and visited the castle.  To be honest, I didn’t enjoy this much.  The castle itself was cool, but I found that I really had no interest – and no ability to absorb – any of the history that was being displayed.

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My favorite part of our trip to Scotland was our visit to Dunnottar Castle.  We had spent the day driving through the highlands, unable to see a thing because the fog was so thick.  I was kind of losing hope of seeing any spectacular views that day, and then we arrived here!  The view was spectacular…and Bridget and I had the whole place to ourselves.  After taking in the view of the castle, we climbed down to the rocky beach and then walked along the coast line into the town of Stonehaven where Bridget’s Aunt and Uncle were waiting for us at a pub.  BEST END TO THE DAY EVER.

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So, there you have it.  A little glimpse into my trip abroad!

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