Travel adventures provide Dodge a real "final exam"

Although I have fallen in love with both the people and the beautiful green landscape of Ireland, the time came for me to move on to the next chapter of my adventure. The gorgeous cathedrals and castles, Cliffs of Moher, and peaceful Aran Islands will be memories that I will treasure with reverence. I have met some amazing people in Ireland that have had a profound impact on my life and travels. Ireland as a country is beautiful, but the people are what truly defines the experience. After two wonderful weeks of touring Southern Ireland, I made the decision to book a flight to Nice.

My biggest concern when deciding to go to France was the language barrier. One of the reasons I had initially chosen Ireland as my first country to travel to was because English was widely spoken. After two weeks abroad, it was time to take off the training wheels and dive even deeper into the cultural experience. I have had three years of high school French, but reality can’t compare to a controlled classroom environment. In a way I consider this my French final exam. The best way to learn is by simply putting yourself out there and going for it.

Most of my family has been very supportive of my decision to travel, but some of them are concerned about me being in France due to the terrorist attacks. I am aware of the possibility of another attack, but I truthfully have no concern. What happened in Nice a few months ago was a terrible act, but if we allow fear to control our lives, we will miss out on extraordinary experiences.

My first night in Nice, I visited the memorial on the Promenade des Anglais. I can’t describe the emotions I felt from seeing the reminiscence of something so devastating first hand. The reality is heart wrenching, but at the same time reading the notes left for those lost and the way people have responded to this tragedy touches your soul. Seeing the strength of France after these attacks is truly awe-inspiring.

On my first official day in Nice, I had the opportunity to tour around the entire French Riviera, which can be a lot to pack into one day. It is full of beautiful, elegant architecture and of course plenty of boutiques. The best part wasn’t the plentiful beaches, but the food. Practically a work of art, French food expands beyond just cheese, wine, and macaroons. Although it isn’t French food, my favorite food in France so far has been a kebab from a little restaurant next door to my hostel. As miniature works of art, French food can be lacking when it comes portion size. Italians however will try to feed you more than an entire family can eat. As Nice is close to Italy’s border, I just hopped on over there one night for dinner. Despite only being in Italy for a few hours, as soon as you cross the border, the difference between the two countries is apparent. Not that the French are unfriendly, but Italy has a light, welcoming atmosphere. I don’t know where my next adventure will take me, but I would certainly like to spend more time in Italy.

My travels have taken me to three countries so far. Although I have had amazing experiences in each country, my favorite memory is of the Aran Islands, specifically Inis Mor. Tour buses and bikes are the main mode of transportation on the island for tourists, but I decided to take the less convenient way, walking. Although that meant I wouldn’t be able to explore as much of the island, I was able to see parts that are overlooked by tourists.

Getting off the main road and taking a scenic walk through winding stone paths led me to my own private beach. The view of the ocean, matched with the open, rocky shoreline, was breathtaking. After a cross country hike back to the main road from the beach, I made my way to the main attraction, Dun Aonghasa. The stone structure lies on the edge of a 100 meter cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Wind rushes across the Atlantic Ocean and the fort walls catch it. Barely able to stand without being blown away, I walked to the edge of the cliff and stared down at the sheer drop into the ocean below. It is both exhilarating and terrifying standing on a cliff edge swaying in the wind. Imagine the open Atlantic stretches before you, and to your left the flat, rocky landscape juts out. Behind you is an immense, ancient stone wall circling the cliff’s edge. Such a sight remains deep in your memory and can be quite humbling. Throughout my adventures I have seen many gorgeous and wonderful sights, but Ireland and the Aran Islands captivated my heart in ways no other place has.

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