Shooting Connemara with Peter Skelton

Early in the day, it was hard to get some good light. Early in the day, it was hard to get some good light.

There are many instances where I think too much devotion and credit is given to social media. One of my biggest pet peeves is seeing “activist” groups on Facebook try to get “likes” to change the world. That’s nice, I guess, in terms of raising awareness. But there is a difference between the social capital found in the virtual world and IRL…

What does it really mean for an amateur photoblogger to have x amount of followers? It’s easy to answer that in light of a professional photography: money plays. But none of my artwork is for sale; I’m not in it for the money. So what is to be gained from networking online? Facebook friends, Twitter and Instagram followers, and whoever reads this on Wordpress -only a few of these individuals engage with me face to face. I don’t find these types of relationships to be as gratifying as real-world relationships. I hope that doesn’t offend anyone, but in terms of a healthy lifestyle, I think that physical contacts are superior. But in the instance where those superficial followers can become real-world acquaintances, I think social media can be incredibly valuable.

I wanted to see how much temperature editing I could get away with; definitely over did it. I wanted to see how much temperature editing I could get away with; definitely over did it.

In the months leading up to my departure for Ireland, I was going through different online social mediums to find local photographers to follow. I stalked their photos and got some destinations in mind. There are plenty of photo opportunities throughout the Irish countryside and that became more apparent the more I got out and shot. But while researching, I noticed that most photographers were based somewhere and not in Galway. Then I found “Galway Pete,” whose work I fell in love with the moment I checked out his online portfolio. Maybe I’m still a newbie in terms of photography, but when I see someone’s work that I admire, I really do think, “Wow! I’d love to shoot around with this guy, see how they work, what equipment they use etc.” Again, despite how much I’ve learned online, I think there is something valuable about a hands-on approach to photography.

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For anyone not familiar with Ireland, it’s not the easiest country to get around with a limited and expensive bus system. Apparently, in the past few years, the major motorways that were constructed amount to small roads back in America. These “improvements” don’t really do much in terms of increasing accessibility, but I guess they reduce the time between major urban areas, which are basically Dublin, Galway, and Cork. So finding a local “fixer” was a priority upon arriving here. After some re-tweeting, liking, and generic Twitter conversations, I had contacted Peter and set a date to go out and shoot Connemara. It might strike Americans as odd at how easy and familiar that process seems. But Ireland is such a small country that people really are who they say they are. That “have your guard up” mentality is quite unnecessary here; I guess it’s because communities are so tightly knit.

I didn't truly know what macro photography was until I got a chance to use Peter's 100mm macro lens! I didn't truly know what macro photography was until I got a chance to use Peter's 100mm macro lens!

We headed out of Galway into some pretty relentless rain. There are many attitudes that photographers can have when they interact. In some circles, unfortunately, I detect a lot of condescension, probably due to competition. But Peter was really comfortable with how he shot and was completely open to sharing his opinions on equipment, techniques, and his general philosophy when it comes to photography. I think it’s the last part that comes through in a face-to-face relationship. Sure, online you can view someone’s portfolio, and I guess ultimately, this is what matters if you want pictures. But it’d be pretty miserable if a bride’s wedding photographer was a jerk and ruined her day.

The money shot from the day. I knew these were the exact edits I wanted as I snapped away. The money shot from the day. I knew these were the exact edits I wanted as I snapped away.

I really got the best of both worlds: great photographer and Irishman. Having a local show you around is something I’ve recently learned to treasure after some extensive traveling. I’ve been reading up on art and photography and relationships are what the more keen artists denote as important in their process. Two pieces of advice that Peter shared with me, (and I hope he doesn’t mind me repeating!) really stuck out to me. The first was to never shoot what another photographer dictates as the right way. His wording didn’t really make this tip as much of an absolute that I am making it out to be. But if you’re motivated by someone else’s mindset, or anything other than your own internal drive, then are you really an artist? This is definitely different from motivation or a passive type of influence. But it brings me to his second point: amateurs have the potential to create better work than the pros. I thought this was an interesting tidbit, just because so many people incorrectly assume that the most expensive equipment, which presumably pros have better access to with their photo-related income, churn out the best shots. The relationships that many pros make are, well, professional. And that basically means the motivation is profession driven –ahem, money. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. But it’s definitely in this category of online, virtual, and financial.

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Despite the poor weather, I think Peter and I got a few good shots. I went a little crazy with the edits, just because Connemara itself is a really wild landscape. I want to give a huge (virtual) thank you to Peter for the nearly perfect day! Be sure to check out his website and to follow him on Twitter! If your work is great, you're bound to get a re-tweet at the very least.

¡Madrid!

(Had this post sitting as a draft. Thought I should go ahead and post it. Written on Monday, March 10th, 2014). So I have to write this from my iPhone since Internet isn't as easily accessible in Madrid as it is throughout Ireland--free wifi that is. But oh well, I have time to kill while I wait for my flight. There is something to be said about traveling alone. I think there's a bit of a stigma from a young American's perspective, or at least I get the vibe that there is one. I don't think that's the case for other backpackers from Europe, Asia, and Australia. Flying into Madrid was kind of like passing through the Pearly Gates. I had my face glued against the window as we flew over mountains and circled back to the city. Once inside the airport, it felt like I was going to the beach. The way people dressed was certainly geared for warm weather but there was a kind of touristy air to everyone's arrival. And yet again, another European country outdoes America in terms of security and passport lines! image (16) There's a bit of a constant theme in my posts lately about wanting to get lost. Well I didn't have to get physically lost in Madrid (though at one point I did circle around one area). The language barrier was enough of a challenge. Though to my surprise, I could understand this Spanish accent well compared to Mexican, or my Venezuelan room mates's, accents. And un/fortunately, everyone speaks English to some degree. But with the beard and carefully planned outfit, I wouldn't attract any attention to myself so that on several occasions, I was addressed in Spanish and was able to get away with simple "si" or "no" responses. But then there were other instances where my background in French and Latin actually hindered my pronunciation with generic Romantic rooted words like "chocolate;" I sounded like an idiot at la creperie, ironically, in Spain, with a French accent. Oh well! In many instances, people were understanding and just spoke back in English. I got into the city by a crowded bus. I was assuming Madrid would be the same size like Dublin and Amsterdam. I don't know the populations of any of the cities, but Madrid was noticeably larger with high rises and extended city limits. The spotty internet can only take you so far when you're in a foreign country. In trying to figure out where my hostel was in this astetically pleasing city, I just kind of winged it. A good sense of direction is better than reliance on the internet. So I wandered the streets with a general direction in my mind and eventually found where I was staying.  image (15) The hostel was pretty cool. It had this open roof atrium, a rooftop bar, and a neat lock system that was better than anything I've seen so far. (I was so much happier with this than my time in Belfast. And write as I typed this, some survey person was asking me about my trip here in Madrid. "Uh yea overall definitely a 9 or 10 out of 10," I just told her). Anyways, I was in a small but nice room. I met some awkward Aussie that came across as though there was a language barrier between us. We went for Indian food at his recommendation. Luckily I was able to find some other people that wanted to more Spanish-esque things later that night. Two guys from LA were backpacking throughout Europe and were spending their last night out in the Spanish fashion. We went for some delicious sandwiches with some sort of toasted cheese ball. The Spanish, regardless of age, go out no earlier than 22:30. So at midnight, this little sandwich place was packed full with 30 year olds. Throughout the weekend I noticed that the lighting in most establishments was quite bright compared to Irish pubs. I thought that related to the pace of nightlife: Irish go out earlier and the pubs close at 2 am. Spaniards start late and go out longer but consume alcohol at a slower rate. That first night, I didn't drink because Saturday was going to be a busy day. Plus the hostel room mates were catching an early train the next morning. Saturday was spent in Retiro Park and El Prado Museo. I saw a lot of famous artwork-I get carried away in some of those galleries, particularly the rooms with Romanticism and Naturalism. The prior seemed to be dominated by Spanish painters. I spent somewhere near four hours in there until my feet ached and I had seen ever room. I was tired and feeling quite lonely while walking through the park. I had no idea Madrid was the new Paris: everyone was kissing, embracing, sitting on each other. All age groups too, which was just  a matter of culture rather than teenage hormones. Tapas was the cure! I wanted to find a good place to experience this cuisine. I parked it at some restaurant where the young bartender gave me some free plate of jamon y queso. I think the Irish came out in me as I drained another beer; the alcohol isn't the main attraction at what would seem like an equivalent to America's happy hour. It's not like more beer meant more tapas as you might find with America and wings. But as I was sitting there, I was able to figure this all out. Europeans  definitely use their smartphones more reservedly than Americans. Like the Irish, Spanish people noticeably enjoy physical companionship in social settings. It's no surprise that me as the American happen to be sitting alone ad writing this on my smartphone...The smartphone epidemic really doesn't pervade into cultures that are rooted in such a way, much to my delight. Saturday night, I had two new roommates who were teaching English in northern Spain. One was a Texan, the other an Irishman. We went for those crepes I mentioned earlier at around midnight. They proceeded to invite me to their friends apartment somewhere outside of the city center. It may sound really wild for me to go out with random people. But if you're thinking that, you're coming at it from your biased American perspective. People aren't dangerous in Europe as they might be back in the States. Backpacking kids in the similar position as I was aren't some how predisposed to my prejudice that they're going to pose a threat. Plus, there were more Americans teaching English in Madrid who were at the apartment and locals who were getting degrees in higher education. So I had a blast meeting new faces aside from how crazy you might think I am ? The night somehow continued until the sun started to rise at 7:30. My day didn't start until I was figuring out how to get to a Real Madrid futbol match with one of my new Japanese room mates. I'm glad I got to experience that. Again, probably against the American train of thought, I found it pretty cool to see a sport that is played throughout the world exhibited at the highest level. Cristiano Ronaldo-no idea how much he makes but the fans were about to murder the poor bum that tripped him-scored right in front of me. The fans were wild to no one's surprise but the coordinate cheers and chants were really cool to listen to; there was only one or two that were repeated but for the most part, it was a symphony that went along with the match. The kid coordinating it all down near the goal was very much the maestro as he waved his hands around as he sang into the microphone. It was all in good taste until a lot of tripping occurred and no calls were made. I know there's that American view of soccer players as a bunch of pretty boy actors, and there was a degree of that, but this particular game saw I think somewhere near 10 yellow cards and 1 red card, a fight almost break out after some slapped another player, and the security guards number double as a result of it all. It was definitely more entertaining than watching it on TV and though I'm no a huge fan of the sport in America, it was clear that there was a well executed style of play by Real Madrid as they won 3-0. One of those points was scored accidentally by one Levante's players and good lord, the fans had to let him know he messed up! (I don't feel like typing any more since my flight is leaving. Sorry for only two panoramas. Looking to post some more normal photo-posts!)

Dust Spots, Self-Portraits, and More Posts

Well, my time here in Ireland has flown by and I am staring down the last month I have left abroad. In retrospect, my workflow didn't translate all too well when I started traveling, hence, I didn't have too many posts. What posts I did have were compromised of low-res iPhone shots. That's nice to an extent, but now I have a lot of work to catch up on, starting with the insane amount of RAW files I have sitting on a hard drive. Dust spots. I am incredibly angry at how many dust spots there are on my sensor. I was treating this used Canon 5D like a baby and was even using one of those nasal spray devices to clean the sensor with air and gravity...I know for a fact the dust wasn't from my lenses. So even after today's cleaning, I was still disappointed to find the usual suspects in the same spots. Any photographers out there know what I should do? I don't have any sufficient cleaning supplies, besides what I'd use on my lens.

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I have been alone a whole lot on this trip, something I did not anticipate valuing as much as I do now. But in most cases, I didn't bring my bulky tripod. So in order to shoot these self-portraits, a new sub-genre I've become found of after visiting so many art museums throughout Europe, I had to prop my camera on whatever I could. Then, with the 10 second timer counting down, I'd have to dart to my desired position, with the focus locked on wherever my butt would be. For the above shot, I slipped into the lake a few times; even though the image was shot with a 50mm (close to what our eyes see), I think I was further away from the camera than it seems. So I really had to rush out before the timer went off and compose myself quickly.

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Family members wanted me to be in some of the photos I was taking, but the awkwardly spaced iPhone selfie was not appropriate for what I wanted to capture. In both instances, these images were intended to portray the feeling got while being there instead of what the viewer him/herself sees when viewing the photograph.

With that being said, I'm looking forward to getting back to posting more routinely!

Easter Crowds in Prague

Prague has been the complete opposite from Vienna. I fell asleep on the bus and when I woke up, we had just crossed into the Czech Republic. I immediately noticed the different alphabet and constant advertisements for strip clubs, which inevitably allude to prostitution in this country. I thought the latter would be an inescapable issue as it had been in Amsterdam (and in Madrid). But I still haven't found myself in an area in downton Prague where there is that kind of smut. So in addition to the districting of Prague, I really liked the architecture and number of churches on almost every corner. Churches in Germany and Spain were beautiful and I always think that cathedrals and basilicas are extravagant to instill awe from the believer/visitor. But here in Prague, the churches are packed full of tourists who gape and take pictures of all the artwork. Even though America is plagued by technology and a subsequent need to be visually stimulated by a smartphone, I am very surprised and pleased to find that the visual beauty in churches, which were undoubtedly and initially intended to invoke certain emotions, still have that effect today! One of the churches, the Loreta, is thought to be a replica or some sort of mystical duplicate of the Santa Casa, the Virgin Mother's birth place. (I didn't go into this church because its staff was on its lunch break). But the folklore from the past still draws crowds which I think says something about a certain post modern view of religion. In this present age of science ad technology, which is almost inextricably (and erroneously, if I might add) associated to a condemnation of faith, believers or just simple tourists still marvel at the views. I think the same could be said about people in the past; they may have just wanted to look at the artwork, or even some relics, just simply because they existed in order that one might look at them. Churches aren't made for salvation, but they certainly have the power to move believers and tourists alike to experience something extraordinary. Even though people were improperly using DSLRs and camera phones to get pictures of the artwork, which annoys me to no end, I thought that the new technology of today distinguishes more clearly now than before that human beings have always been drawn to visual beauty, despite what post modern thinking says. The streets were packed in Prague. It was hard to get some shots without a huge crowd in the foreground. I did aim up above people a few times, so we will see how those shots come out on a bigger screen. A Brazilian from the hostel deduced from her travels that there are usually two cities, when situated closely to one another, juxtaposed and compared to each other. Sometimes it's a capital city and the artsy city, other times it could be a variety of characteristics that distinguish a region's culture. Madrid to Barcelona, Galway to Dublin, Interlaken to Bern/Zurich, and Prague to Vienna. Aside from Madrid, I prefer the non-capital cities. I know Prague and Vienna are from different countries, but most people are heading from one to the other if they're touring Europe. Vienna falls into the category that I've preferred: not the huge party scene, quieter, less of a tourist trap. Yet I really liked Prague, despite a lot of chain companies and a constant debauchery in the streets outside my hostel. I got out of the touristy area and liked it there even more! But the tourist attractions at the palace were really enjoyable and I didn't have to go very far to out walk the heavy crowds. I guess my only complaint was arriving right before Easter because the narrow, maze-like streets were fairly packed. Oh well! Had a great time there! (I don't have a lot of images in my iPhone, which is a good thing because it means I took a lot with my 5D! So I'll post those at some point...)

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Vienna, Not My Favorite Stop

My time in Vienna seemed very transitional; arriving there awkwardly early in the morning from a night train, I had to wait to be checked into my hostel. The train ride was nice but I was still exhausted. There was a huge marathon in the city as well, so in addition to the bad weather, I wasn't really getting the most out of the place. I quickly got the vibe that Austrians are not the friendliest of people, at least in comparison to the Irish, Germans, and Swiss. In Germany (and somewhat in Spain as well), the locals can quickly figure out you're a traveller. Even if you're trying to use some bits and phrases in their native tongue, they're not very patient as you mispronounce everything. But they don't really hold it against you that your accent sucks. They just switch to English and roll their eyes. Austrians, on the other hand, came across as disgusted or annoyed by my presence as a foreigner (probably because I scream "American"). I didn't really say much to anyone while there, yet somehow I felt pretty unwelcome. Despite there being a marathon, I felt like I was the first foreigner they laid eyes on...or maybe the locals were just annoyed at the large crowds for the race. In any case, the best part of Austria was finding an Irishman in my hostel. I heard his accent, introduced myself as a student from Galway, and we then proceeded to go a bar and grab a few pints. I'd like to give Austria another chance because I had some high expectations before getting there. The true colors of a city are most evident when you are visiting between the touristic seasons. It's the early part of spring in some places more so than others, but Vienna was definitely not beyond its winter.I went for a hike outside the city in the hopes of getting some good shots of the skyline. The weather was overcast but I went ahead with no jacket (oops). I enjoyed the easy incline but the view was hazy, to no surprise, and the clouds were rolling in quickly overhead. I walked back down, past the numerous bus stops that take you up this hill for sight seeing. Then it poured. Still, it's nice to be able to ride public transportation and get away with not paying. Dishonest yes, but no one else seemed to pay for the metro.  I went to the Albertina Museum, and that made the city as a whole, worth I visiting. I really can't stand Picasso's work, especially when Monet is in the next gallery. A lot of the pieces on display had me reflecting on what it means to create art. The process, the studying, the critiquing--all of it seemed familiar to me even though my medium is different. I'd just like to reflect what photography has unfortunately become, in contrast to these artistic legends I was reading about in the museum. It cracks me up that people go into museums with hefty DSLRs to take pictures of pictures...what do they after they take them? Process a RAW file and do touch ups on a masterpiece? I can understand taking a photo of something that might catch your attention and you want to send it to someone or use it as a phone background or something. But you could easily just type in the photo's name and most likely find the artist's work online. It was just silly to have to wait in this procession of people focusing their lenses to get the perfect shot of a still image. (ie why do you have a DSLR in the first place?!)

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My Only Regret in Interlaken

...was leaving. And not having a cool pair of sunglasses. Everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY, had a wild pair of shades. But I loved it here, if that much wasn't made obvious in the previous posts. It's just so expensive. I met a kid for Hong Kong last night in my hostel room and he said that their dollar is roughly 1:1 with the Swiss franc; why is the USD hurting so bad?!A few nights ago, I met some guys at the Three Tells Irish Pub. The only other places nearby were hotel restaurants or I could've walked to a Hooters in the downtown area. Of all the restaurants to have a chain in Interlaken, I'm surprised they have that...But I was later told that the main tourists that come to Switzerland are noticeably from more conservative, eastern countries. Not to make any assumptions, but I got the feelin that the ill-placed Hooters and it's neighboring casino remained in business by attracting somebody. So it made sense to me to park it at the Irish pub, go figure. The guy wearing shorts, flip flops, and a pink sports coat turned out to be the owner. As the night progressed with the beer seeming to flow freely, Shebby, the owner, started discussing business theories with me. In terms of capitalism, I could think of a few pros and cons on my own, but this native Kiwi had a really bizarre concept. I was complaining that the conversion rate from the USD to both EUR and CHF was absurdly high, despite the noticeable difference in the cost of living in Interlaken. Shebby suggested that products, particularly in the service industry-which I have a background in-are visibly more expensive to an American because the US doesn't charge enough. It was a pretty broad slap in the face to the free market concept, but I wasn't sure if he meant how they tax here or how there are government funded programs that are made more accessible via higher prices. Apparently, the waiters/bartenders have an insane amount of vacation time as well as a 13 month of salary paid. So it kind of equates to not paying taxes, according to Shebby. However that system works out, it obviously draws a lot of foreign workers. I didn't know that EU members can just travel between countries and work as long as they have their EU card. But somehow, Interlaken remains particularly Swiss; it didn't lose it's identity to migrant workers or from the impact of the tourist industry. Then again, I was there between the main tourist seasons, which I thoroughly enjoyed! So I didn't run into as many tour groups as I could've, but there were quite a few people packed into several areas with their cameras. I liked that dichotomy between the viewers and the doers. It's expensive here so why not actively do something rather than pay more to photograph it from a distance? Interlaken is dubbed the adventure capital of Europe (or something like that). So I will certainly hope to find myself here again at some point while I'm still young! I was in such a poor state last night; limited wifi and expensive exits from this town was not convenient to say the least. I'm training back to Zurich because northern Italy's train system is on strike. That made getting into France more expensive as well. Going directly east was over 100chf, and hearing that Vienna is also expensive, I thought that getting to a main travel hub might be the wisest idea. I'm going to look to bus into Germany or maybe into France. I don't think I'm doing the train traveling correctly because there are different passes for different countries that have different restrictions in different currencies. That might be easier for someone that can speak Deutsch, French, or Suisse-Deutsch, or all the above plus English...But I'm not timing things correctly. I saw on some travel forum that in Switzerland, there's some sort of saying that goes something like "the smart person travels by train." So maybe I'm an idiot for not coordinating efficiently. But Ireland, Spain, and Holland allowed for more spontaneity in travel plans, specifically when going shorter distances. I'm almost half tempted to look at what renting a car is like if the bus system is deficient out of Zurich...Until then, I'm enjoying the views from the train!

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Der Perfekte Tag

I don't even know where to begin when it comes to today. I was referred to a ski shop by a Kiwi bartender at an Irish pub in Switzerland. Went in, got a great deal in terms of skis and transportation. Basically, I crossed the street, caught a bus that brought me to a train station. From there, you train up into the mountains. So combining my favorite mode of traveling with my favorite landform (mountains) along with some skiing, I knew is gave a good time no matter what. But these Swiss Alps really are something else. The views are incredible to say the least. The slopes were pretty good as far as spring skiing goes. So what else can you ask for in terms of der perfekte tag? You walk off the train, buckle up, ski down. I think the pictures can tell a better story than I can, but I did meet some kids from Cambridge.  I thought I skied fast but apparently everybody here does! The last stop I got off of was Kleine Scheidegg at 6,762 ft. You can get considerably higher with the chairlifts but most of the bowls were closed. (That didn't stop me from dropping into one with the Brits). I don't really know where else to visit after a day like today. My friends at the pub didn't think too highly of Milan, which was the next largest city south of Interlaken. I'm considering this Cinqe Terra walk I've been told about on several occasions...

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Dachau Reflections

20140408-163007.jpgNothing screams voyeuristic existentialism like listening to the extended intro of "I Will Possess Your Heart" on a cloudy day on a train in Munich. Hokey, I know but heading to Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial is a little sobering. On another note, I'd say I can comprehend some simple phrases (written) In German. It's making traveling outside Munich's city center less difficult. Picking out other Americans is pretty easy; as I write this on a bus, I already detected two college-aged girls on the metro heading to the same memorial. Those Northface jackets are such a giveaway... ------ I feel like I've been to a concentration camp before, even though that's not true. I must've dreamt being at one and everything about it matched today; the drizzly weather, the scenery, and the feeling I'd get while walking around the place of the deaths of thousands of people. Two things that struck me as I wandered around for a few hours. First, the role Dachau played in the concentration camp system. As early as 1933, prisoners were delivered there, like cattle. That's six whole years before Germany's invasion of Poland. Many of the prisoners that went to Dachau were Soviets, Polish clergy, and various "political prisoners." political prisoners at a concentration camp added with some photographs in the museum had me wondering if the people there knew what was occurring, the prisoners and the small town right outside of it. Today, especially as an American, history is retold as if the mass extermination of people had been taking place and any and everybody knew that it was happening. I think the prisoners themselves might have had an idea that their living conditions were clearly leading them to their deaths. But the more modern view of the SS's ingenuity of mass murdering wasn't on the prisoners' mind.

That brings me to point number two: the awesome extent that human beings can systematically and efficiently kill themselves. Dachau was actually a work camp that was taken over by the SS (from the local authorities running it), which then instilled this "new model" of running concentration camps. The networking that took place between camps proves just that; there was a schematic manner to control the non-Aryan population. Mass executions didn't take place at Dachau. Prisoners would be shipped elsewhere to subcamps. But there was still a crematorium that was later replaced by a larger one for disposing the dead. So yes, thousands of people died there but my mentality really changed when I realized that there was a cunningness to the SS and their means for running Dachau that placed it as the new standard for concentration camps. 20140408-163016.jpg (The prison within the concentration camp. I found this to be quite bizarre and it consequently formed this notion I have that prisoners didn't recognize their status as we now do. A prison within a prison...what sort of implications does that give?)

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Again, this was written from the iPhone so forgive me for any typos or grammatical errors!

Munich, Munich Take Me In

(I'm just waiting for my phone to charge before I go to Dachau so I apologize for the typos and misspellings, I'm on my iPhone). Yesterday the couch surfing guy never got back to me and I was literally on his door step but with no wifi I had no idea how to get in touch with him. So I had to train back into the city and ended up doing this maybe 4 mile loop trying to find a hostel. I didn't have wifi so I used some instincts like locating the nearest Starbucks. But my phone was dying and I was about 2 miles outside of the city center at that point. I know hostels don't book the day of, or it's difficult to do that, so I wandered through the city center again. I found a large group of kids with an older leader of sorts, and again, using some instincts I've picked up from traveling, a group like that must be heading towards a hostel. I stalked the youth group ? about a half a block behind them as to not seem crazy. They lead me right to this hostel that looked really crowded but fortunately, they had a room for me! I met a French Canadian named Xavier and shortly thereafter we went out for some German food. I had Munich schnitzel and a liter of dark beer (putting the Irish pint to shame). It's nice to see a city on a weekday just because most European cities have a crazy night life on the weekends.

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How to Really Experience Ireland

I can't ever forgive myself for missing out on days with good weather here in Galway. The plan was for me to wake up early and hike with the university's group out in Connemara. But at 7:30, the downpour wasn't all too inviting, especially with a minor cold that I want gone before Madrid this upcoming weekend. The weather had a sudden change of plans, though. So by noon it was nothing but blue skies, puffy clouds, and green grass. I had to get out. But with the day seemingly halfway gone, I couldn't bus anywhere. While here studying abroad, I've had a strong interest in getting lost. So I got the backpack and photo equipment together and headed east with no destination in mind. No cellphone service is a godsend, especially with an urban area as your point of departure. (Doesn't matter for a foreigner, though. No internet + no Irish phone = I'm cut off!) Walking beyond the docks for the first time, I got to see the innermost part of the bay. A residential area lay on the other side of the water, something that "center city" living has deprived me from, even though it was only a 20 minute walk to get there. As I kept walking, one trail led to another, seamlessly. When you wander aimlessly, it's ironic that a path becomes more clear to you. (Or maybe there's something existentially more to that that I pondered over and don't feel like sharing).

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Passing some sort of military base led me to a high vantage point where I could see a sand beach. Well-gated train tracks kept me from descending directly to that foreseeable destination. So I meandered some more until I found a car tunnel to cross underneath, opening up to this beautiful recreational area. Lots of off-leash dogs and several mounted horses took advantage of the low tide. Three dogs anxiously pulled their leashes, anticipating the freedom that lay ahead. A gravel path led me out to a peninsula. From there, I could see up and down the coast; low hanging clouds were rolling in at their freakish pace. I don't know why, but I considered it better to remain by the water as the potential storm chased after me. Every time it rains, if you're not surrounded by buildings, you can see distant sheets of rain and figure if you're in their path or not. I guessed right and received only a drizzle's worth of dampness as I stumbled along the beach's pebbles, departing from the locals and their park.

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I could tell my coastline was running out and that I would need to cut inland. By chance, I found a muddy driveway leading me to the same pair of tracks I crossed underneath earlier. But for some reason, the Irish have gates at the majority of their crossings. I'm not sure what purpose that serves, maybe these intersections weren't used regularly. Yet there was no way I could get around the gates to hop the tracks. This run down structure lay to my left with NO TRESPASSING, a field to my right. A black cat eyed me as I leaned over some barbed wire to snap a shot that I thought would look good for some heavy HDR editing. The three dogs that passed me earlier by the beach came up the muddy path with two men, one close to my age, the other nearing 50. I said, "Howdy. Where do y'all reckon I go from here?" (Southern accent goes a long way outside of Galway-don't ask why, it just does).

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Before coming here, I was told about the Irish people's forwardness, friendliness, and wanting to share stories. And to varying degrees thus far, I've experienced those attributes separately. But in this instance, I had no idea that I'd be getting all three for the next five hours. Just when I thought I was getting comfortable with the generic Irish accent, I was taken aback by the older man's response. From a distance, I couldn't understand a word he was saying. But his forwardness led to his welcoming me on his walk with his adopted son. Apparently, there was no direction to head but through the fields. What I could understand from this man's face-paced talking was that the six or seven horses in the field were wild. The other option was going through some psychopath's property; there was a camera that I had not seen that my new acquaintances pointed out to me. So that wasn't much of an option at all. Wild horses it was.

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We leashed up the pit-bull, mid-sized black lab, and larger puppy that just had surgery on its hind leg. Pathetically, there was some fourth dog, a Jack Russel mix, that wasn't anyone's dog. No one had a leash for it; so if it made the mistake of following us, it was on its own. I didn't fully realize what the term "wild" meant for the wild horses until all of them charged us as soon as we hopped the fence into their field. People think I'm ridiculous for having some sort of fear/respect for domestic horses. Yes, I know they're trained, but those animals are massive and muscular. It's no different (in my mind) than a tame lion at the circus. All of these thoughts came rushing into my head as our little party edged around the pack. The dogs were instinctively smarter than I was; their herd mentality versus the horses' herd mentality meant everything as one wrong step could've had me left behind my herd of humans. They kept bucking at us, to which my new friend threw his hands up, yelled, and bucked back at them! The fences we  kept close to were technically working against us, covered from overgrowth and barbed wire. On the other side of them, elevated on gravel, were the train tracks. The only direction we could head was forward as the horses' front line took up our rear. I had to walk backwards to keep them from chasing us, one of the dog's leashes in my hand.

Midway through the field, I looked back to see the crazed property owner come to the gate. His camera must've picked me up. I couldn't tell what he had in his hand, but at present, the horses posed a more immediate concern. We descended further away from the cleared portion of the field, which slowed the horses until they judged that we were no longer encroaching on their land. Badgers and foxes were the next thing we might encounter, according to my friends, but we didn't see any of those. We had to hop a low point in the fence, making sure that the dogs didn't get cut. Just then, a train zipped by overhead. "Well," I thought to myself, "At least that means there won't be another one for a few minutes."

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The terrain changed significantly once we crossed the tracks. Another path picked up, winding through a forest. Those renowned Irish stonewalls even exist in the woods, creating that fairytale-esque feel which could not be accompanied by a story of the little people. As Eamonn (the older man) talked about the tricky nature of these little people, I couldn't help think how such a fable continues for so long. But that light-hearted talk ended abruptly as we came upon a glen. On the other side of this field lay Old Dublin Road. Here, the IRA executed two men. I began to realize that I was hearing an Irishman's opinion about a topic that seems to have many sides. To me, there doesn't appear to be any unilateral understanding of the violence that occurred on the Emerald Isle. To hear this man's point of view was rare, even considering how open the Irish can be with their stories. Plainly put, violence was never a valued entity. But foreign control truly resulted in the maltreatment of the people, something that doesn't seem forgiveable, regardless of the current legal status of the Northern Counties.

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To be continued. And yes, I will do a part 2. I just have to be somewhere now...

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