I have neglected this blog.

December 15, 2011

So what have I been doing for the past month?  Here’s a quick rundown:

Italy

Rachel and I went to Rome, Florence, and Siena for a glorious and sunny four days.  Do not be fooled by the sun, however, for Italy was COLD.

The Colosseum, Rome

Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence (Why yes, I am eating a large Italian pastry.)

View from the Torre, Siena (The lovely Sam Leahy brought us here!)

Rachel and I spent our time in Italy looking at naked Italians in museums and eating A LOT of food: pizza, pasta, and gelato, specifically.  If you go to Italy, I suggest you do the same.  All three cities we visited were amazing, but Florence was my favorite.  There was a lot to see, and it was absolutely gorgeous.

Thanksgiving

I spent my first Thanksgiving away from my family, but that didn’t mean that it wasn’t awesome anyway.  I had my first and only visitor from the US: Anthony!  We spent Thanksgiving dinner quite traditionally at a long table with my abroad family.  All of my favorite people were there: Charlie, Chantel, Marine, and Maxime, and there were a lot of people I didn’t know as well too.  It was very American, as Thanksgiving should be.  Charlie forced all of us to say what we were thankful for.  I said I was thankful for being with people I love on Thanksgiving, and I meant it.  As strange as it was to be away from my family on that holiday (and Maria’s birthday!), my Irish Thanksgiving was pretty great.

For the rest of the weekend, instead of sitting around eating and listening to Greek music up north, Anthony and I went to Bantry, observed some mountains and sheep, and sat around eating.  As long as there is food and some form of family (blood related or otherwise) involved, Thanksgiving is bound to be a success.

Anthony really wanted to pet the sheep, but they were having none of it.

Killarney

For our last hurrah, Chantel, Rachel, Tonya (visiting from Galway), and I went to Killarney, one of the most touristy places in southern Ireland.  It was wonderful, though.  Many of the cities and towns in Ireland have Christmas Markets, which consist of food and craft stands and carousels.  I don’t know why the carousel is a staple, but I don’t mind.  We enjoyed the extreme Christmas decorations of Ireland (no need to worry about being non-denominational when everyone is Christian), and we even took a carriage ride to Ross Castle in Killarney National Park.  It was our last opportunity to be tourists—we had to.

Meet Martin (the man) and Paddy (the horse), our tour guides.

Cork City

I have spent the past couple of weeks trying to get the most out of the rest of my time in Cork.  I finished my final papers earlier this week, so I’ve been free to explore, enjoy, and shop for Christmas gifts.  I’ve been going to the English Market almost every day.  In fact, I’m here right now.  I’m sitting in a booth at Farmgate Café, overlooking the stands of the English Market.  I can vaguely hear the old man outside singing Christmas carols loudly in a suit and a bowler hat.  There are cut-outs of snowflakes hanging from mobiles attached to the rafters, and there are red stars hanging from the lamps.  Christmas lights cover the fountain in the middle of the market on the ground level, and there are strings of lights lining all the stands.  The Christmas spirit here is incredible.  When I told my mom that there are Christmas trees everywhere, she said, “Oh, it’s just like it is here.”  No, it isn’t.  At home, there are fake plastic trees on the streetlights in the Wal-Mart car park.  Here, there are strings of lights in the windows of every restaurant, and there have been icicle lights hanging in front of every Centra since October.  There are multiple (real and fake) Christmas trees in the city centre.  At Bowdoin, there are wreaths on the door of every building.  At UCC, there is a Christmas tree by the quad and a Christmas tree in the Student Centre, and there are two Christmas trees in the library.  Hell, there’s a tree with a blinking string of lights across from me right now.  I admit it: I love Christmas.  I love the lights and the cheesy music and especially the cheesy children’s movies.  I’ve never experienced the Christmas spirit so intensely.  It seems like every day I have another conversation that ends in “Happy Christmas” with a random Irish person.

I don’t think the Irish are the happiest people in the world.  Much of Irish culture is based on repression and avoiding pain by joking about it.  Although Ireland has a lot of pain in its not-so-distant past, the way they deal with it makes the Irish so great to talk to.  Random people don’t talk to you in the streets and shops of New England.  In fact, it’s weird if they do.  I don’t mind it—sometimes I avoid places where I might have to talk to people too (the Shaw’s in Windham, for instance).  But over the past four months I’ve come to love the fact that I can strike up a conversation anywhere, and people will appreciate it.  Even I will appreciate it.

Last week, I was buying my second to last loaf of buttermilk soda bread from my favorite stand in the English Market, the Alternative Bread Company.  The woman working the stand told me they were out of the bread, but I showed her where I saw one more.  I told her I came straight to town after class, hoping it wouldn’t be gone.  She asked me where I was from, and it turns out her husband teaches at UCC and they spent a semester on exchange at Colby.  This Irish woman lived in Maine for a semester, and now she bakes piles bread every morning and sells it at the greatest covered market in Ireland.  As I bought my soda bread, I told her I would also like to try a mince pie.  “You know what?  I’ll just give you one,” she said, “I know what I’m doing…you’ll be back.”  And I have been back.  Their mince pies are delicious, and I plan to pick up another before I leave today.  And as I do so, I’ll remember my first free mince pie from the Irish woman who lived in Maine.

I’m going to miss the cheerful nature of the Irish.  I’m going to miss the English Market and its daily supply of soda bread, produce, fish, and mince pies.  I’m going to miss all the lights and the old men wishing me a “Happy Christmas.”  I’m going to miss how relaxed this country is, and the idea that tea breaks are not only okay but essential.  This country has a lot of problems, but it also has a lot of things right.  I’m going to miss those things, but I think I’m going to miss this country’s flaws too.  It’s all part of Ireland’s charm.

But I have this to look forward to:

I’ll be back in the US on Saturday, and I’ll be at Bowdoin on Sunday.

And I couldn’t be more excited.

Happy Christmas!

Real life?

November 14, 2011

It’s nice when life becomes something you don’t feel the need to document.  Aside from this weekend, I spent the past few weeks in Cork.  I stage managed one short play, experienced the Cork Jazz Festival, made lots of Irish friends, wrote a paper and three in class essays, read a lot of books, and wrote a lot of letters.  I haven’t felt like a tourist the past few weeks, and I’ve recently learned how to feel truly comfortable here.  I’ve created a life for myself in another country, and that’s pretty cool.

This weekend, though, I was in Dublin with two of my best friends from home: Sarah Miller and Sean Stewart!  Sean visited from Budapest, and the two of us stayed with Sarah at her university in Dublin.  It was so lovely to see them.  We did Irish things like eat fish and chips, go to the Guinness Storehouse, and expose Sean to Irish pubs.  It was fun to be back in Dublin, but on Saturday we went to a small coastal town nearby called Howth.  There was a beautiful harbor and lots of delicious seafood.  We walked along the cliff walk, enjoying the view of the water on a gorgeous sunny (!) day.

Look at those outrageously good-looking people.

Next stop: Italy on Thursday morning!  Then it’s Thanksgiving – Irish style.  EXCITED.  See you in just over a month, USA!

P.S. Check this out:

Thank you, Italy.

Where Men Wear Kilts

October 23, 2011

“I was climbing Tinto in Glasgow–I was wearing my kilt because trousers constrict the calves…”

An old Scottish man told me his life story between 3:20 and 4 am today in the airport.  Kilts are still going strong.

I went to Scotland this weekend, both Glasgow and Edinburgh.  Both are absolutely worth seeing, but I must say that Edinburgh is spectacular.  Is it a massive city speckled with 300 million year old volcanic hills.  And the views are out of control.  When we reached the top of Calton Hil–a mild peak compared to what we were about to encounter–Chantel said, “Is this place real?”  It was that amazing.  Granted, we got very little sleep this weekend (“sleeping” in the airport HAH), but we were coherent enough to comprehend how incredible it was.  Trust me.  Or, rather, I have pictures to prove it!

View of the city centre from Calton Hill, Edinburgh

But the best was yet to come: the 251 meter Arthur’s Seat.

View from Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh

I’m still not quite sure if it’s real.

As you can see a bit, Scottish architecture consists of very impressive, old, brown/tan buildings, and, like Ireland, there are spires and castles everywhere you turn.  Ireland and the UK have such a surplus of castles that they’ve turned many of them into hotels.  Seriously.  Or they’ve abandoned them to become ruins.  I mean, what can you do?  Only so much of the national budget can go toward castle preservation.

I haven’t slept more than a restless few minutes of bus sleep since 8:30 Saturday morning, so I guess it has been 36 sleepless hours thus far.  My body is very confused.  So is my mind.  Excuse any incoherence.

Can you spot bagpipes and a kilt?

I hope this isn’t an inappropriate venue to say this, but my heart goes out to my family in California.  I love you all, and I’m thinking about you.  I’ll miss you, Aunt Anne.

Thanks for reading.  I hope my adventures and story telling provide some mild form of entertainment for you.

P.S. I just realized you can make these pictures much bigger by clicking on them.  You may have already discovered this, but I find it quite exciting!

Road trip!

October 17, 2011

This past weekend, my roomie Marine, bud Chantel, and I piled into Marine’s french car and headed to Western Ireland for some exciting adventures and pretty landscapes.  Mission accomplished.

Our trip went like this:  We left Saturday morning for Connemara, a gorgeous region in County Galway.  We drove through Connemara National Park to visit Kylemore Abbey, a famous castle and former abbey and school.  Now, this was the one place I couldn’t leave Ireland without seeing.  My father visited Kylemore Abbey 18 years ago, and he drank tea in the abbey with his great aunt who was a nun there.  My dad has a framed picture of the abbey in our bar at home, and he pulls it out and tells this story whenever anyone mentions Ireland.  This aunt has since died, but my grandmother’s first cousin still lives directly across the street from the abbey.  She is 92 and has lived there for 60 years, since the nuns had that house built for her and her husband, who was a chauffeur for the nuns.  I couldn’t quite understand her directions on the phone (because of her strong accent), but I knew she said something about a green gate.  As we exited the abbey driveway, we saw a green gate directly across the street.  It was the only house around.  Inside, I met Mary Ellen Aspell, my 92-year-0ld first cousin twice removed and Róisín, my third cousin.  It was a tiny little house, and we sat in the living room, surrounded by pictures of the Virgin Mary, crosses, and various popes.  There was a fire in the fireplace, and Mary Ellen sat right by it to keep warm.  It was interesting and a little awkward–we spent quite a bit of time talking about the weather.  But it was the coolest experience.  Because of my distant blood relation, I got to experience this life with which I have zero familiarity.  “Nice to see you, love.  Send my love to everyone back home.”

This is just like my dad's photo of Kylemore Abbey, except I'm in it.

Connemara National Park. Yes, it is that perfect.

That night, we went to Galway City and met up with Tonya!  I met Tonya at the St. Paul’s summer program I went to in 2008, and I haven’t seen her since high school.  It’s always cool to clash worlds by meeting up with old friends in different countries, I’ve found.  We stayed at a nice, cheap hostel and headed to the Cliffs of Moher the next morning!

Talk about a tourist trap.  There were 12 tour buses and people everywhere.  The abbey was really busy too, but these places are so natural and amazing that it doesn’t even matter.  The Cliffs of Moher are on the coast of County Clare, just south of County Galway.

The Cliffs of Moher

The Cliffs of Moher rise to 700 feet at the highest point, and they were formed from mud and sand carried by a river about a bajillion years ago.  Point is, they are spectacular.  I really don’t like feeling like a tourist, but this place is absolutely worth it.  We also got to drive through a beautiful area called the Burren to get there.  Western Ireland has some of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve seen in Ireland.

Sheep love to graze on the side of the road in Connemara. And sometimes they graze in the road. (Sheep are not the smartest.)

In other news, my parents’ chapstick and floss package finally arrived today, after Chantel’s boyfriend brought me six sticks of chapstick last week.  I’ll never want of chapstick again.

It’s about time I complained about the Irish weather.

Let me start by saying that I think New England weather is great.  As much as we all complain about the cold, the snow in April, and whatnot, the seasons make it worthwhile.  The most extreme weather we usually get is extreme ice.  Life isn’t bad in New England.  It’s cold a lot of the time, but the cold allows us to appreciate the sunlight and warmth when we get it.

Sunlight and warmth don’t exist in Ireland.  Okay, the sun will occasionally come out for maybe five minutes and it feels like it might be warm, but then the perpetual and often threatening clouds cover it and it’s cold again.  Really cold.  Cold not in the “the temperature is really low” way but in the “I haven’t felt the sun’s warmth in so long that I will never feel warm again” way.  It’s a perpetual chill.  When I got here in mid-August, there was a high of 60 degrees every day, and there was always a high chance of rain.  Check out Cork’s current conditions and those predicted for the rest of the week.  Keep in mind that it is currently 8 pm.

This is an accurate representation of Cork’s weather from at least mid-August through mid-October.  The evening gets a little chillier, usually down to 53-55 degrees, as you can see from the stated lows.   Apparently December will get down to the 40s but not colder.  The lack of sun, though, is difficult.

Whenever I leave my room, I wish I had worn something different.  My boots might feel too warm, or it might have been one of those rare days when I decided to risk it and leave the rain jacket at home.  I wish I had worn another layer or one fewer layer.  I think this is the norm.  The problem with this initial assessment, though, is that immediately after you wish you had worn a heavier jacket, you start to walk around in the humidity.  And then you start sweating and you feel gross.  And this happens every day.  Do not be deceived, as this is not warmth you feel.  It is merely your body reacting to how confused it is and trying desperately to regulate your body temperature.  It doesn’t work.  And my confusion on how to dress is not just because I am foreign; Irish people don’t know how to dress either.  I walk by people in t-shirts and thirty seconds later by people in heavy winter jackets.  No one knows what to do.  It’s a constant struggle.

It rains every day.  Washouts are uncommon, but it rains enough that you need to have a rain jacket or umbrella on you at all times.  It’s foolish not to.  It’s also always cloudy.  Rates of Seasonal Affective Disorder in Ireland are absurdly high, around 20%, while the highest rates in the US are about 10% in the northernmost states (according the most accurate source, Wikipedia).  I really should have taken the weather into account when I was deciding where to study abroad.  I don’t like the rain, levels of sunlight affect me more than I wish they did, and I have always lived in cold places.  Why on earth did I choose another cold place to live?  I’m not going to feel warmth again until Ivies!

I complain, but it could be worse.  At least the temperature is predictable even though it’s always at that confusing place between cold and almost warm.  The temperature could be worse too.  Fall is my favorite season.  It’s almost like perpetual fall, but Irish fall is very different from the fall I love.  The other day, it was cold and relatively sunny–it actually felt like New England fall!  It was beautiful.  I guess the bad weather makes us appreciate the sunny, beautiful days much more.  So there’s that.

I’ll give Ireland this: the country has spectacular clouds.

Cows & Castles

October 2, 2011

This is Ireland.

Grazing cows and an unmarked castle in the middle of a field.

Sarah came to visit this weekend!  We went to visit Cashel, a small town in County Tipperary.  It is famous for the Rock of Cashel, which is not a mere rock, but a castle.  Why is it called the Rock of Cashel? you may ask.  Sarah and I think we’ve figured it out.  Consider the alternative: Cashel Castle sounds a little too ridiculous to be taken seriously.

The Rock of Cashel was pretty and old and stone and all, but after we left, we walked down a path and discovered another better castle, pictured above.  It was just sitting in a field; no one was there or paying any attention to it.  There were cows all around the field surrounding it.  We just entered the gate, walked by the cows, and explored this castle.  Turns out we found the ruins of Hore Abbey, a Cistercian monastery from the 1200s.  We had to do some sleuthing at the heritage center in order to figure that out.  Nowhere in the US could you find an old, unmarked castle in the middle of a field.

Every so often I have those moments of total immersion in this country.  Every so often, I think, “This is Ireland.”  This was one of those times, and I’m so glad I got to spend it with one of my closest and oldest friends in the world.

Exciting news!  Someone awesome is coming for Thanksgiving.

Some Things I’ve Learned

September 29, 2011

1. Folders don’t exist in Ireland.  You know those handy things we use to hold papers–you open them up and there’s a pocket on each side?  Well, here I’m learning to make do with these so-called “document wallets.”  I’m not sure how I feel about them yet.  I’m sort of missing folders.

2. Ireland sells this lovely product called “mansize tissues.”  They come in almost double the size of a normal tissue box.  Women all over the world should be seriously offended.

3. Yogurt and granola are available inexpensively if you know where to look.  I bet many of you were worried about me.  How is she going to survive without a constant, unlimited supply of Stoneyfield Yogurt and Bowdoin Talk granola?  Oh, I’ve been surviving.  500 ml pots of delicious Tesco value yogurt are € .55 each and 1 kg bags of Tesco Crunchy Oats (delicious granola with raisins, coconut, and sliced almonds) are € 1.93 each.  This is impressive because food can be very expensive here.  Life in Ireland is expensive because 1) it’s an island, and 2) the economy is awful.  So I must say that cheap yogurt and granola improve my life significantly.

4. Humanities classes usually require 2 assignments: an in-class essay exam and a paper due at the end of the course.  Classes here are even more hands-off than in college in the states (or at least at tiny Bowdoin).  I can go to class or not, pay attention or not; the lecturers don’t care.  They tell us what secondary sources we can read, but we don’t have to.  You can get as much out of a class as you want.  This can definitely be the case in the US as well, but Bowdoin requires participation.  I’m in entirely lecture classes here.  They’re great, though.  I’m taking four classes: Irish Film History, Studies in Shakespeare, Irish Writing: 18th and 19th Centuries, and Contemporary Irish Writing.  I’ve learned a lot already, and I’ve only really had 1 week of class.  I’m definitely going to be ready to return to the rigorous participation of Bowdoin classes in the spring, but for now it’s nice to experience something different.  I get to find out how I function and learn in this sort of environment without the pressure of grades.  I expect to learn a lot this semester and read all the texts I’m learning about, but I’m still going to have plenty of time to explore this part of the world.  And that is really cool.

5. Butter is seriously amazing here.  I never eat butter in the US.  Yet, here I am, putting it on my toast and frying eggs in it.  It’s all the cows.

Curious Cows in Cobh, County Cork

SARAH MILLER IS COMING TOMORROW!