From London, we flew to Dublin, Ireland. Dublin was a quaint, drizzly city with cobblestone streets. Baskets of colorful flowers hung from the windows of red brick buildings. People laughed loudly as they sat on barrels outside a bar, downing pints of beer.
Our first destination in this colorful city was Trinity College, specifically an exhibition called The Book of Kells. The Book of Kells was a set of famous Medieval manuscripts. The books were produced by Christian monks in the Middle Ages. They were made with ink written on parchment. To make parchment, animal skin would be soaked for a long time, then the fur would be scraped off. The skin would be cut to size, and written on. They would use feathers and cut their tips to make a pen. Then, they would spend many tedious hours writing the letters painstakingly. If they made a mistake, they could scratch it off the paper. The results were beautiful to behold! The Medieval monks were very proud of their delicate penmanship, elaborate decorations, and beautiful paintings. In the museum, the manuscripts were illuminated and the light shined through the colors, making them glow slightly.
If you visit Dublin, you must go to a distillery even if you are too young to drink! The distillery we went to was a place where whiskey was made. The process of making whiskey is very interesting, and there is a lot of chemistry involved! The main ingredients for whiskey are barley and water. The barley seeds are sprouted, and cooked over a large fire. Then the barley seeds are mashed and mixed with hot water for about 30 minutes before being put in the fermentation pot, where yeast is added to produce alcohol. After that, the liquid is placed in a big pot with a narrow spout. The liquid is evaporated, and the gas is directed into a narrow tube, where it is cooled to be brought back to a liquid state. This process is repeated for as many times as one wants. Each time, the alcohol percentage is increased. Afterwards, the mixture is put in another bowl, and water is added. Then it is transported to oak barrels where they are kept for many years. The liquid soaks in the flavor of the wood, and the wood accounts for about 60% – 80% of the flavour. Finally, the remaining liquid is bottled and sold around the world.
After we had our “chemistry lesson”, we “tasted” whiskey. (The adults drank, and the kids used their other senses.) We all sat down at a round table and began the tasting process. There were three small cups filled with different kinds of whiskey in front of each of us. First, we picked up the middle cup and rotated it around. This way, we could examine the thin film that was left on the cup when the liquid washed over it. The film was a little bit runny, and when I sniffed it, it was creamy and smooth with a hint of sweetness. Next, we sniffed the cup on the left. It was nutty and had a strange smell that I didn’t like. Lastly, we sampled the one on the right, it was fruity and sweet, but there was a distinct bitterness as well. When we had finished tasting them, the countries of origin were revealed. The one in the middle was Irish, the one on the left was Scottish, and the one on the right was American. I felt that even though I couldn’t consume alcohol, it was a stimulating experience for my nose.
After our whiskey “tasting”, we went to a Medieval museum called Dublinia. There were 3 floors, the first was about Viking raids and settlements. On this floor, I learned that the word “Viking” is from Old Norse and it means ‘a pirate raid’. The Viking period was from AD 700 to 1100. Some Vikings went to trade, others raided villages and towns. Some Vikings traded. The Vikings traded honey, wheat, tin, wood, reindeer antlers, fur and slaves. They sailed in longships, flat boats that had sails as well as oars. The Viking longships were maneuverable and because of their flatness, they were easy to sail up shallow rivers, and be hauled on land. Since they were symmetrical, the Vikings wouldn’t have to turn their boat around to retreat, they simply could sail away! I thought that it was very interesting that there was so much science in Viking longboats!
On the 2nd floor, I learned about life in Dublin after the Norman Conquest. First, I walked into a room that showed what a medieval festival would have been like. There were many colorful booths filled with interesting objects. There was one booth where I got to try on chainmail! Chainmail was made of tiny metal chains, all linked together to form one large garment. It was so heavy, I can’t believe that knights would have been able to charge an enemy, when they were wearing a suit made of heavy metal! As I continued through the fair, I saw the stocks. The stocks were a long board of wood with two holes in it. If somebody had done something bad, they would have to sit in the stocks for a day. People would walk by and laugh at them, that is where the term laughingstock came from! Next, I visited a room about the Black Death. The Black Death was caused by Bubonic plague that came from Asia, and was spread to Europe by merchants who had rats living on their boats. The rats had fleas, and when the fleas bit people, the people contracted the disease. Bubonic plague is contagious and is spread by coughing. The disease swept across Europe, killing half of the population! 9 out of 10 people that caught the plague died. Doctors were helpless and they had no idea what was wreaking havoc!
After visiting Dublin, we drove into the countryside. When I awoke in the morning and drew back the curtains, a landscape completely different from Dublin captured me. Blanketed in a rich layer of emerald green foliage, mountains with their peaks covered by mist and fog towered above me.
That day, we went to a rock climbing park called Explorer’s World. I started with the intermediate level, and then worked my way to the hardest climb in the whole park. I slowly climbed up the wall, but then I reached a section where there were very few handholds. The nearest one was nearly a foot above my hand. My whole body ached as I hung there, trying desperately to think what to do. Sweat dripped down my neck. I knew that my whole family was watching me, I couldn’t give up now. Gravity pulled at me, trying to yank me off the wall. As every minute passed, it became harder and harder to get a grip. My hands were already slippery with sweat. Finally I decided to take a risk. I bent my legs, braced my arms, and leaped up the wall. There was a heart stopping moment when I was in midair, my arms and legs flailed wildly, scrabbling on the wall for something to grab onto, something which would stop me from falling. My left arm grasped a small green protrusion, I clung on, hanging by one hand and swinging slightly. I summoned my strength and used my other arm to help pull myself up. As I grabbed onto the wall, I took a deep breath, my arms and legs were trembling. I felt like Spiderman, I felt like I could defy gravity. As I looked up the wall, I saw the top, only a few feet above me. I slowly climbed to the top. I heard a cheer below me. My mom, my brother and my dad were clapping, I felt proud. As I drifted slowly down to the ground, my legs felt awkward. My fingers hurt whenever I clenched them, but I didn’t care. The satisfaction made any soreness worth it. The lady who was supervising me told me that I was one of the very few people who climbed it. “Many people try,” she said, “but they usually fail.”