It’s been a week!

I’ve been in Menorca a week and I feel completely at home and in my element. I’m back to the old me. The me who embraces life and enjoys every experience. The last week has been nothing short of amazing. Seriously one of the best of my life.

It’s been so busy – up at 0515h every day to be eat and catch the bus to the dig site and start by 0715h. Dig for 3 hours in intense humidity and heat, catch the bus to the lab and either lecture or clean or label pottery, then bus back to the residence by 1500h. Because it gets so hot by 0900h, we start early and finish early. By 1500h, we are free to do whatever.

Cala Macarelleta (top) & Cala Macarella (bottom), Menorca

The dig site has been amazing. We were filmed for an interview on local tv news, and I’ve learned so much about a late antiquity Roman settlement. I’ve also been pretty lucky to find two coins, bronze fish hooks, a lead weight, and some pretty neat bone fragments. I’ve learned more about ancient Mediterranean pottery than I ever thought was possible, and gotten quite the workout with a pick axe. ⛏

Most of this week has consisted of walking the old town’s back alleys and gorgeous buildings, trying and eating amazing tapas, drinking frozen pomadas, and parking my ass on one of the many gorgeous beaches. Yesterday, I did my first dive for my open water certification. Quite the experience.

Today, my roommates and I ended up at Cala Blanca, about ten minutes away from Ciutadella. We swam, napped on the beach and finished up with an amazing few hours at Hola Ola Mediterranean Bar. Such a fun, kitschy bar with an eclectic decor and delicious cold drinks on the edge of the cliff with the perfect view of the setting sun. It was so fun to just relax with some friends and enjoy a gorgeous sunset in a completely laid-back environment.

So excited to see what week 2 brings. Tomorrow we’ll be trying our hand at actually trying to identify and classify pottery sherds… should be interesting! Thursday is excursion day to see the Talayotic sites across the island, and hopefully some more beach time. I head to Rome and Pompeii on the 18th for five days before returning to wrap things up here and head to Barcelona.

I have to say, I was a bit worried about my language skills but I’m pleasantly surprised at how quickly and easily I am picking up and understanding both Spanish and Catalan. The locals are so happy to practice and explain and I’m enjoying every second of it. I’m also enjoying every second of tapas for dinner here! 🤤😋 Menorca is such an amazing and special place and I am already excited to plan a return trip soon.

The fun thing about traveling is that each new place I go, I leave a piece of my heart behind. I fell in love with Menorca on day 1. It captured my heart much like Rome did.

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Day 1 of the Dig

Day 1 started bright and early at 0600h. We were on the road to the dig by 0630h, and on site by 0715h. After a quick orientation of the site, we were discussing potential finds and asked to take a walk and see what we could find. After a few feet, I happened to look down and find a bronze coin. I couldn’t freaking believe it. Literally the thing I had been hoping to find ever since I signed up nine months ago, and I found it within 30 minutes of being on site!

The site is really cool. As I mentioned, it’s an old Roman settlement – first as a fort and then the city. We moved on to take a look at the necropolis number 4, which contains Christian burials. We know this because they face East, towards the rising sun – a trait that signifies Christianity.

I was digging in the city today, and will be all for the entire dig. We started the excavation of Street Number 2 today, and after a few hours of finding pottery sherds, glass pieces, and animal bones, I came upon a piece of smooth oval-shaped quartz. The consensus is that it was/is an insert for a piece of jewelry – likely a necklace or ring. Another way cool find! Another few hours of digging saw some bronze slag (scraps from forging).

As we finished up and headed back to the residence, I couldn’t help but think how incredibly lucky I am to be able to participate in this. This is my dream. And finding something so amazing on my first day was literally one of the coolest and best things that has ever happened to me. I’m so excited to see what tomorrow brings!

Made it to Menorca

Finally settled in and made it to Ciudadela de Menorca, where I’ll be staying while at the Sanisera Field School. Menorca is, from what I’ve seen, a pretty neat little island. It’s part of the Balearic Islands, which also includes the better-known Ibiza and Mallorca. Menorca is the less touristy, more laid-back and not developed island. In fact, it’s been declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. It is very hot and dry, but the beaches are some of the best anywhere in the world.

Menorca has its roots in pre-history. Dotted around the island are tons of talayotic settlements from the islands first inhabitants. These sites are stone and very unique – they’re not found anywhere else in the world. We’ll be doing some site visits later in the course, so more on them at that time.

Fast-forward to 123 BCE, when Rome entered the picture. Sa Nitja was a City at the northernmost tip of the island – on the Cape of Cavalleria. In 123 BCE, Roman General Quintus Caecillis Metellus conquered the islands for the Roman Empire as a strategic trading outpost in the Western Mediterranean. He built a fort at the natural harbor, which later turned into the city of Sanisera, which is where I’ll be digging over the next few weeks. He also recruited the local Balearic “slingers” (expert slingshot-men) into the Roman Army.

Today was mostly history and overview of the island and the city/dig site. We discussed what types of artifacts we can expect to see and what building we’ll be working on excavating.

I also walked around the old city Ciudadela a bit today and was pretty impressed with its old architecture and charm. Fast forward to the 7th-8th centuries CE (AD), and the island was taken over by Moorish invaders as they conquered Spain. That influence can still be seen today. It was re-taken in the 17th century by the British, who have also left a distinct mark on the island. Fun fact: gin is a local favorite on the island held over from the British occupation- mixed with lemonade and called pomada. Eventually it became part of Spain once again – in the Catalunya region. Most of the residents speak Catalan, which I’ve been trying to pick up, but all speak Spanish as well. My Spanish is rusty, but I’m surviving.

Tomorrow is the first day on the dig site, and my first day of scuba certification class, too!

Less than a week (!!!) to go!

Oh my. I’m in full on vacation mode. I’ll be totally useless at work til Friday at noon (though, I did get a ton accomplished and it’s only Wednesday). I haven’t even thought about packing yet (beyond my bathing suits, that is)… 😬 I’m checking and double checking plans, reservations, and dates. It’s been a super awesome distraction, honestly, and has kept my mind off of other things.

Sometimes, you think that losing a close friend who was so damn important to you is the end of the world. You can’t breathe, your chest hurts, and you keep checking your phone waiting for a text from them that never comes. You keep thinking about what you could have done to fix it. What you could have done to make it better or done differently. You think about all of the fun times you guys spent laughing and talking…They knew you better than anyone…You didn’t have to say a word because they knew what you were thinking and feeling just by looking at you. They were your best and closest friend.

And then one morning you wake up and you’re at peace. The heartache is fading (because best friends can break your heart, too… way more so than any crush you ever had). Your chest goes from a full-on crushing feeling to a dull ache. You realize that there is nothing at all that you could have done to save the friendship, and that if they really cared about the relationship you two had, they would have tried harder. They never would have let it get to that point. There is nothing, nothing at all, that you could have done to save it. You realize they are no longer worth your energy, and thoughts, and efforts, and friendship. Because you fought hard and in the end they gave up. They stopped caring. They stopped trying.

Finding that feeling is like taking a deep breath of fresh air after years of drowning and man, has it been a long time coming.

Finding that feeling is like along a deep breath of fresh air after years of drowning and man, has it been a long time coming. Two years, to be exact. Deciding to take this trip set me on the path to feeling amazing again. Of being the best me. To living my best life.

I am totally a believer that everything happens for a reason. People are brought into our lives to teach us a lesson and then taken away when they no longer have anything of value to add to our lives. I’m not quite sure what lesson they were supposed to teach me at this particular time, but I’m sure it’ll come to me eventually.

In the meantime, I’ll try and take the advice of Dr. Seuss and forgive them for hurting me. I’m taking all sorts of chances, changing my life, and generally just done with putting up with other people’s shit. It certainly hasn’t been easy getting to this point, but the payoff in a week looks to be way worth it! 🏖✈️🗺🏛⛏🏺⚱️☀️

The Emotional Aspect of a Trip

The next trip can’t come soon enough. Not only have I been looking forward to it for literally the last year, but it’s coming at a particular time in my life where I really just need to go and be on my own for a while and experience insouciance in a major way. I am tired of trying to be everything to everyone. I am tired of dumping everything I have into people and having them be unappreciative and/or liars. For three and a half weeks, I am not going to be a wife, or a mom, or a friend, or a coworker. I’m just going to be me. The old me, who was fiercely independent and never needed anyone. I’m going to put myself first again. I’m going to move on from all of the people and things that have been weighing me down for years. If I’m cutting you out, chances are you’ve handed me the scissors yourself. I can’t wait.

This is my first completely solo trip. I’ll be traveling alone until I get to the field school, where I’ll know no one. My off days will be blissfully solo for the most part. And before I come home, I’ll be taking in Barcelona solo. While I am beyond excited for this all, I’ve got a little apprehension as well. First, and probably most obviously, for my safety. Traveling alone as a female is not without risks and I have been making sure I have well researched plans and safety measures in place.

However, I am also giving pause to what I might figure out about myself when I’m completely alone and independent. What if I figure out being behind a desk 8-4 for the next 25 years isn’t in the cards for me anymore? (Something I’ve already been thinking a lot about). How does that play out with a family? What if I realize just how miserable I’ve been for the last five years? What if I don’t want to come home? What if I add to the realization that I’ve been settling for entirely too long? A lot of “what ifs,” absolutely.

I have no doubt that it will be amazing, and eye-opening. I’m excited to see what I am capable of while on my own. A lot of this trip is pushing me far outside of my comfort zone and taking me beyond the role of a tourist. This trip is forcing me to become a traveler and experience a new country and culture in a way I haven’t done before – by getting my hands in the dirt and truly living like a local for three and a half weeks. By looking beyond the tourist traps and really getting to know the history of the place (and believe me, Menorca has tons of history… and pre-history to learn about). By forcing me to converse in a language that is more than just a language – it’s an identity for a whole region of people that’s tied to a tumultuous and long history.

By the time I come back, I hope to have a way better understanding of Catalan culture and history, and to be able to speak more than a few phrases. I also suspect that when I return, I’ll discover that I will be restless and no longer satisfied to merely exist my way through my life anymore. I also hope that this trip gives me the time, distance, and perspective I need to be able to know who is and isn’t worth keeping around, and how to stop being so afraid of losing someone who isn’t worthy of me being in their lives in the first place – someone who could so easily walk away from what I at one point considered the closest and best friendship I ever had. Will it be painful? Sure. But travel has a way of helping you heal in the most unexpected ways.

Saying Goodbye

Saying goodbye to family is always so hard – especially when you only get to see them every few years. Today was no different. After a fun few days, it was definitely tough to say goodbye to Máire Ann, Tomas, Áine, Sean, John, Aunt Noreen, Pol, Patricia, and everyone else.

After a 4.5 hour drive, we finally made it to Bunratty. We splurged for our last night and are staying at the Bunratty Castle Hotel, which happens to be pretty close to the airport. After settling in, we walked down the street for dessert (yum!). At my parents’ recommendation, we decided to treat the kiddos to the medieval banquet at Bunratty Castle for Will’s birthday. It didn’t disappoint. Bunratty Castle was built in 1420, and we enjoyed a four-course meal and lots of mead and wine, singing and music. They even sang Will “happy birthday!” It was the perfect way to end the trip. Flying home tomorrow afternoon!

Relaxing

It was a good day to relax. Adam decided he would climb Errigal Mountain (elevation: 2,464 feet) since it was another clear day. I was pretty disappointed about not climbing up, but the kids were not in any shape to do so, so Máire Ann and I drove into Dungloe with the kids to take care of some business and show the kids the spot where my Nana’s house used to be (the original house has since been knocked down and replaced). Afterward, we took them to the Dunlewey Centre, where they were able to burn off some energy and take a little boat ride.

This evening, we headed off for a family gathering and an early birthday celebration for Will. My cousin Patricia cooked an amazing dinner for everyone, and the kids all had a blast playing around outside. Will was so happy to have everyone singing him happy birthday and have a cake. It was the perfect ending to our time in Donegal, and there’s no place we’d rather be than here with family. Ella wants to stay all summer and is already asking when we can come back again! ☺️

The Northernmost Point in Ireland

We stayed at Trean House, which is a quaint little B&B in Co. Donegal on the Inishowen Peninsula. It’s a working sheep farm, which was awesome. So. Many. Sheep. 😍After breakfast, we walked the five minutes down the street from the B&B to the beach – Tremone Bay (& were joined by the owners’ dog, Finn). Before we knew it, Will was in the water clothes and all (with Finn not far behind). Ella took the opportunity to jump in as well, though she was smart enough to take her shoes off. The look of pure joy on their faces is what life is all about. So, we’ve all managed to make it into the (freezing) North Atlantic and the (even colder) Irish Sea on this trip!

After walking back to the B&B, the owner asked if we’d like to see the sheep. He was very sweet and gave the kids some food to feed the sheep with. Again… the looks on their faces was pure joy! The sheep were so much softer than I expected… literally little cotton balls!

After we left we took a drive up to the northernmost point in Ireland – Malin Head. If you’re a huge Star Wars fan, this is where “Star Wars Episode VIII” was filmed in part. It was very windy and cold, and we did the walk along the cliffs -2+ miles in all. The views were stunning not only at Malin Head, but on the drive there and back as well. Ireland is probably the prettiest place I’ve ever seen in my life.

Giant’s Causeway & a Northern Ireland Hospital

Started out innocently enough! We headed over to Derry (N. Ireland) to visit my cousin Noreen and her family. Such a fun little visit and so nice to see her and little Shannon! Then we were off to spend the afternoon at Giant’s Causeway. It was a fun visit walking on the hexagonal rocks.

I honestly expected an injury there, not in the visitor’s center on the way out. Turns out Ella couldn’t resist trying to swing under the handrail for the handicapped ramp. She overshot her landing and her face made contact with the edge of the (stone) ramp. Ramp- 1, Ella -0. It was pretty terrible looking, split wide open and deep, and the two medics at the visitor’s center were awesome with her. I knew instantly it was going to need stitches (I’m pretty proud of myself – I didn’t even freak out in the slightest at the gaping hole and exposed muscle & even calmly held her chin together til we got it bandaged!), and off to the hospital we went. After a little wait, the doctor came out and stitched her up. So, she comes home from Ireland with six stitches and a story to tell. Plus, we are very thankful to the amazing doctor and staff at Causeway Hospital in Colerain.

Off for a car ferry ride across Lough Foyle and a late dinner before arriving at Trean House B&B up in Malin Head for the evening.

Tomorrow: hopefully a bit less exciting than today. 🙃

Family-filled and Gorgeous Views

We spent the morning relaxing and feeding the donkeys at Aunt Noreen’s next door. Because it has been unusually warm and sunny here the last few weeks, everyone wanted to take advantage to go down to the beach. My cousin, Pol, and his kiddos came in from their home to spend the day with us. The kids had a blast playing with their cousins, and none seemed to care that the water was freezing! It was such a pleasant afternoon with a view to match. On the way back, we visited Nana’s grave, and I have to say – she has quite the view. The sea in front of her and Errigal Mountain behind her. Not bad, Nana. Not bad.

After, we headed up to Bloody Foreland, an area about 20 minutes north of where my family lives. It’s gorgeous, and it’s also my parents’ most favorite spot on Earth. I can see why. It’s rugged and windy and just amazing. It’s the very northwest tip of Ireland. Ever feel like you just belong somewhere? That’s how I feel about where my family lives in County Donegal… like I just belong here. Which makes sense, because this is where my roots are.

After a dinner out with some of the family, we brought some flowers back up to Nana’s grave and cleaned it up a bit. The kids were really missing Nana lately, and enjoyed being able to put down some flowers. They wanted to give her stone a hug and kiss and tell her they loved and missed her, and I was able to capture a beautiful picture of it. I miss her terribly, and this was the thing I was most looking forward to while over here. She and I were as close as could be, and it’s been so hard for the past two years not having her around to just call or visit anymore. I spent a nice visit this morning with Nana’s sister, Noreen, and it helps fill that void a bit. 💚

Tomorrow: visiting the Giant’s Causeway and Northern most point in Ireland on an overnight before coming back to Knockastollar.