Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Alive alive Oh! Alive alive Oh! Crying "Cockles And Mussels, alive alive Oh!"

Once again I find myself updating this before departing for another adventure across Europe. I must say, I never thought I'd take the phrase "backpacking across Europe" quite so literally.

Thursday the 17th was St. Patrick's Day, and I spent it in Dublin watching the parade and touring the Guinness Factory. Besides the parade on the 4th of July in Washington, D.C. last summer, this was probably the most crowded and loudest parade I've ever been too. It was based off of the novel called "Brilliant" by Roddy Doyle. The costumes were vibrant and beautiful, the music was great and company was even better. We met people from all over; Italy, Spain, New York and California to name a few. We had to take an early bus into town (it left UL at 6:50 a.m.) but it was definitely worth it beating the crowd and finding a place in line to watch the parade. We walked around for a little while once we arrived, grabbed breakfast and did the touristy things. The parade started at about half 11 and went on until about 2 p.m. The time flew by with all of the activity and excitement going on around us.

After the parade, our group took a tour of the Guinness Factory, which was absolutely packed! Our tour company, Paddywagon, was a bit disorganized, but we all made it inside together and began our walk around the brewery. It was really neat to see how it was all made, but I think it would have been much more enjoyable had there not been a million people inside. Definitely the wrong day to partake on this little journey. We got our free Guinness at the end and the view from the top was amazing. You could see all of Dublin, it was so neat!

Our tour was over at about 5 p.m., and about half the group stayed in Dublin for the night while the rest headed back to UL for the weekend. I was lucky enough to get to stay in town and meet up with my parents friends for the weekend. I got to be shown around Dublin by true natives, and it was a fabulous weekend. Definitely one I won't soon forget! I stayed with my parents friends the Kearney's and their daughter Roisin on Thursday night, and they made an absolutely delicious dinner and took me Céilí Dancing. I had never been before, and it quite an interesting experience. It looks so much easier than it actually is! We tried about 4 different dances and each one was a little bit different. Some were more fun than others, but once you got the rhythm going (which for me wasn't until the end of the song!) it was a lot easier.

On Friday morning, Roisin had a meeting at her college, TCD (Trinity College Dublin). This is a huge tourist attraction so she was nice enough to take me along so I could tour the campus. What an absolutely beautiful place to go to school. All of Dublin was packed with tourists all weekend, so getting around anywhere proved to be a bit of a challenge. It was so nice to have my own personal tour guides all weekend long!

After visiting TCD, Roisin took me all around the rest of the city. We did some shopping, grabbed the best cup of hot chocolate I've ever had and walked through a beautiful park. The weather has been absolutely amazing the past 2 weeks. Sunshine and mid 50s! I don't know how I'm getting so lucky, but I am loving it. While we were walking through the streets, we stumbled upon the "The National Leprechaun Museum" and just had to go check it out. It was absolutely hilarious, and I'm so glad we went inside. They had a "Giant's Room" where everything was 5 times your size, a tunnel where you got smaller and smaller the farther you walked (so you felt as short as a Leprechaun) and there was a pot of gold room where we were told stories about the dangers of stealing a Leprechaun's gold. It was such a fun way to spend a few hours of the day.

We met up for dinner with the Kearney's at a great Italian restaurant before heading out for an evening of literature and music at the new convention center. The program started at half 7 (which, in Ireland time, means 8 p.m. because the Irish never start anything on time!). It was a really interesting and enjoyable program. There were traditional readings and music for the duration of the night, and a few famous authors read excerpts from poems and novels, while other musicians played some great tunes. The whole performance ran very long so it was about 12:15 a.m. by the time Mr. Kearney had dropped me off at my next stop, Eamon Kelly's house. Needless to say I was ready for some rest before another great day of touring Dublin.

Saturday morning Eamon's wonderful daughters took me into town and we went to the Saturday morning market. They showed me the famous Temple Bar and a bunch of other really neat shops and sites of the town, like the Customs House (built by the British, I was reminded) and the Government Building.

Saturday night was a HUGE night in Ireland because Britain played Ireland in rugby. Need I explain more? Eamon got tickets to go to the game, and it was such an incredible experience. We went out for drinks at a local rugby club that Mr. Kelly is a member of and then we headed inside to the stadium. Not only did Ireland win, they absolutely creamed England 24 to 8. Oh what a game it was. Ireland was definitely in a great mood on Saturday night to say the least. That was the first rugby match I've been too and from what I'm told (and saw) it was certainly the one to be at. What I liked about rugby compared to American football was that it was only 80 minutes and the clock never stopped. In American football, the game itself is only 60 minutes but it winds up taking about 3.5 hours because of all of the penalties and stopping of the clock. Rugby was such a fast moving and interesting game.

After the game we met Mrs. Kelly at a hotel nearby for drinks before heading off to dinner. I got fish and chips for the second time since I've been here and it was delicious. Everyone was in such a fantastic mood from the big win that everywhere you went was packed and full of people celebrating. I think Ireland beating England is kind of like when the Eagles beating the Cowboys :-)

On Sunday morning Mrs. Kelly made a traditional Irish breakfast that was delicious. Gerry Geoghegan, a friend of my parents and the Kelly's, came over for brunch as well and it was great to see him again. I really enjoyed all of their company and I loved being able to experience Dublin "the right way." After being sent back to UL with homemade brown bread and scones (yumm!) I boarded the 1 p.m. bus and returned back to campus at about 4:30. Gosh, why can't Limerick have an airport again? That is literally my only complaint about where I am at school. But I digress...I spent the rest of Sunday unpacking and doing some work and then headed over to my friend's for dinner to catch up on their weekends.

Monday morning I had my economics class, which I won't even rant about here because it's not worth the time or energy. I can't wait for that one to be over! Afterwards my journalism group met to organize our pitch for class. Basically we were all split up into groups of 6-7 people and were responsible for pitching the professor and a current magazine editor our idea. Whichever group won would be the "head team" and then from there we will all be writing feature stories for the magazine and it will be published at the end of the semester. It was pretty neat and I really enjoyed the assignment. I'm lucky to have such a good group of people to work with! In the afternoon I had my geoscience class and then spent the remainder of the day doing work and some reading. I figured out my class schedule for next semester (which I'm NOT looking forward too! ugh) and began to organize my notes so I can start studying for my final exams here. Work is beginning to pile up, as it always does near the end of the semester. There are only 3 more full weeks of classes and then Easter Break, followed by Reading week and then two weeks of exams. Where has the time gone? So crazy...

On Tuesday I had my Folklore class from 11am-3pm. I decided afterwards that, for a change, I would cook dinner for my friends on Tuesday night. I know, shocking. I can't cook for my life, but I wanted to give it a try! I took the bus into town to gather all of the ingredients for one of my favorite dishes, Taco Pie. I had to search high and low (okay,fine, only 2 places) to find all of the ingredients for the dish. I also did a little shopping in town which was exciting! They were having a great sale at Penny's so I grabbed a few new springy items because my wardrobe here is almost entirely winter sweaters and cardigans. It was beyond beautiful outside today! But anyway, I got to the bus stop, and as I was getting onto the bus, my shopping bag broke. A very nice lady (who I know was laughing at me on the inside) had an extra bag so it all worked out okay thankfully. I got to my friends house with my arms full of food, drinks and my new items of clothes! I started cooking and what I thought was going to be an absolute disaster turned out fantastically! Between the differences in measurements and cooking time/degrees, I was really nervous. Even though it was not as good as when my mom makes it, I was pleasantly surprised and so were my friends. As you can see, they didn't like it at all :-)

I only had one class today which was great because it was another gorgeous day outside. We decided to have a picnic outside the library! Such a fun and random mid-week thing to do. This week is election week for student government so people have been campaigning non-stop all week. Positive: you get free candy whenever you agree to vote for someone. Negative: they ring your doorbell at 11 p.m. at night. Alas, tomorrow is voting day so no more late doorbells! Thank goodness.

Well, I am off to Barcelona in about 6 hours so time for a little bit of shut eye. Of course, I always have the 3.5 ride to the airport to look forward too. It should be a great time and I'll fill you in when I get back Sunday.

Adios mis amigas,

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

“When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money."

Well if this quote doesn't sum up my time here, I'm not sure what does! It has once again been a while because I never actually sit down and do this. So put your reading glasses on, get a comfy chair and some coffee and get ready for some excitement :-)

I last posted on Monday, so by the natural order of things I shall start with Tuesday. On Tuesdays I have my folklore class, which meets for a 1 hour tutorial and a 2 hour lecture. I've gotta say, I love the content of this class. But the way in which it is taught? Not so much. The tutorial and lecture are taught by 2 different people, and let me tell you, it makes a world of difference. The tutorial is a smaller version of the lecture, so it only has about 30 students and it's very interactive. We've already done presentations, done a report on a movie and completed review games for quizzes. The professor is a younger guy and he makes the class really fun. The lecturer is a great guy as well, but he has an extremely monotone voice and literally talks a mile a minute. We've asked him to slow down several times, which he does for about 2 minutes, and then we are all lost again. It's really interesting stuff, but they could present it in a much more interactive way. I have some ideas for them if they need it...

Tuesday night we all cooked a great dinner because Morgan's friend Andy from back home was here visiting. We (okay, fine, Morgan) made chicken and veggie stir fry. It was so delicious and probably the best meal we've had so far. But let's be honest, that's not saying much considering we live off of PB&J's and pasta with sauce.

I LOVE Wednesdays because I only have one class, my economics tutorial, from 15:00-16:00 and it's so nice. I got to sleep in, go to the gym, do some cleaning, catch up on Glee and do some homework. It was a good day. After class I decided to try choir again since I missed it the previous week. I must say, it was a lot better the second time. After knowing what to expect I really did enjoy it. Singing is always so much fun so I'll take whatever I can get. Afterwards I decided to try out the Christian Union Society as well. Why I decided to wait so long in the semester to go is beyond me because it was an awesome night. We basically just all sat there for about 3.5 hours talking and getting to know each other. The bible study was wonderful and I definitely needed it. It helped to fill the void a little bit since I haven't been able to find anything here like my church back home. The people were so great and it made for a really enjoyable way to spend the evening.

Thursday I had my magazine journalism class, radio tutorial and geoscience lecture. Journalism is a neat class but I really enjoy my writing classes back home better. Right now we are working in groups to design our own magazine and then we will be pitching our idea to the editor of an Irish magazine. Whichever group has the best pitch is the "Editorial Team" for our class magazine that we will be designing. However, my group is not too set on winning the pitch because a few of the members were on the editorial team for the newspaper class last semester. I'm trying to convince them that it might be fun, but we'll see how it goes!

Thursday night we went to a circus. Yes, a circus! I don't think I've ever been to a legitimate circus before...if I have I definitely don't have any recollection of it. So, thanks mom and dad for never taking me to one because it was extremely weird and very long. The acts came from all across Europe, which was neat though. All in all it was a fun night since we were all just laughing and hanging out together. At the circus there were: fire breathers, trapeze artists, Disney characters, motocross racers and camels. A pretty eclectic mix if you ask me.

I got back to my room at about 10 p.m. from the circus and had to pack for my trip to Brussels and Amsterdam for the weekend. Since our plane was at 7:50 a.m., we had to take the bus from UL to the Dublin airport at 1:10 a.m.! Luckily I slept the entire ride so it wasn't bad at all. My roommate Chihiro and friend Kelsey didn't sleep though unfortunately. We got to the airport at around 4:30 a.m., checked in and went to our gate. We feel asleep there thankfully so the journey wasn't too rough. Our plane took off on time which was nice so we landed in Brussels, Belgium at about 10:45 a.m. But who knew that there are 2 airports both called Brussels? Not us. Our airport was about an hour outside of the city and about an hour and half from our hotel. We made our way to the bus stop to get tickets, but there must have been at least 80-100 people waiting in line to get a ticket. I guess most people use this airport instead of the one directly in the city because it is a lot cheaper! While we were standing in line to get our tickets for the bus, a group of Irish guys and girls turned to us and asked if we wanted to split a taxi to the city instead of waiting hours for the bus to get us there. There were 8 of us so it was only 12 euro a person which was really nice. Definitely beats waiting for the bus, that's for sure. Once we got into the city, it was a matter of finding out hotel. We successfully, after much time, navigated the metro and found our hotel. I'm pretty proud of myself, not going to lie. Although I owe all of the credit to my summer in D.C. Our hotel was called "Hotel Opera" and it was actually extremely nice. I was really impressed for the price we paid. We checked-in and then took an hour power nap before setting off to explore. The city itself was amazing. The Grand Place, which is the main square and center of the city, was great. Throughout the day we checked out museums, got Belgian waffles, went to St. Micheal's Cathedral and basically just walked the city.

After our day of exploring we set off to find some dinner. All of the menus were of course in Deutsch or French so it was an interesting experience. We wound up going to a great Thai restaurant though which was right downtown by a lot of the other nightlife. We walked back through the Grand Place at night, which was incredible, and then went for drinks. We got cherry beers, which I think are my new favorite drink. So delicious!

Saturday morning we got up and took the metro to the other side of town. We saw the European Parliament and the Antonium which were amazing. We're such tourists by hey, what are you gonna do, right?

We took the metro through the town of "Louiza" which is basically like 5th Avenue in New York. All of the amazing designer stores were located there and it was great fun to window shop. We also got to see a palace and had an incredible view of the city too.

We of course went back and got another Belgian waffle before departing for Amsterdam. This was, by far, the BEST waffle I have ever had in my life. The man behind the counter was one of the funniest guys I've ever met. He kept calling us "queen's" and he gave us our waffles for half price. Gotta love that, right?!

Saturday night we took the train to Amsterdam and what we though was an hour and half ride was actually almost 3 hours! Good thing we left ourselves plenty of time. We got to our hotel at around 10 p.m. after arriving at the beautiful Grand Central Station. Our hotel (but really a hostel) was called "Hotel Utopia" but it was FAR from it, let me tell you. If I tell you it was on the top floor of an Amsterdam "coffee shop" would you believe me? What an experience that evening was. We dropped our stuff off and took a stroll into town. I don't know what it is about Europeans LOVING Americans, but they seriously do. We found an awesome bar called "Euro Pub" right on the square and by the time the night was over, we had gotten 3 free drinks from the bartenders who, no doubt, had a crush on my friend :-) It was a very successful night! We also walked through the red light district which was definitely an experience. If you don't know what I'm talking about, Google it. It's pretty much like an entire other universe they way they live. It's something I'm glad I experienced, but it's not something I'd go back and see.

Sunday morning we work up and did a free walking tour of Amsterdam, which was awesome. Our tour guide, Gerrt, was about 25 and was born in the US. He moved to Portugal during college and then to the Netherlands soon after. It was a 4 hour walking tour, but it was worth it. He made it so much fun and it was a great way to spend the day. We learned that there are over 600,000 bikes in the city and every year, the one hundred kilometers of canals are emptied and over 30,000 bikes are pulled out. Apparently people think it's funny to throw bikes into the canals if they are not locked up. I'd hate it if it were my bike, but I guess it's humorous when its someone else's. Our guide took us to the best cheese shop in Amsterdam, showed us the most famous "Coffee Shop" where we got free posters and also walked us around the Anne Frank house which was incredible to see. Lots of pictures are on FaceBook but here are a few as well.

After our tour around the city, our guide gave us information about a pub crawl through the nightlife section of town. He said he had done it and it was a lot of fun, so we decided to try it out. What a night it was! We met people from all over the world; Spain, France, New York, Portugal and two amazing girls from Northern Ireland! We went around the city to 6 different places and it was such a fun time. I loved meeting new people and experiencing a new and exciting city.

Monday we had a full day of traveling so we got up and began our adventure back home. Since I have been abroad, I think I have pretty much taken EVERY form of public transportation there is: bus, car, taxi, tram, train, metro, plane, bike, I missing any? Phew...we took the train back to Brussels since that's where we were flying out of and then the bus to the airport. We got to the airport at around 4 so we grabbed dinner and checked-in. We met two American guys who were studying abroad in London and Scotland and they were really fun. After doing some duty free shopping we boarded our plane and then found our bus back to UL. We left out hostel in Amsterdam at 11 am and got back to UL at 1:30am Tuesday morning! What a long day. I guess that's what you get for wanting to travel the globe.

On Tuesday morning I met my group for magazine journalism at 10 and then had class from 11-3. It was an absolutely gorgeous day outside; probably the best one we've had so far while in Ireland! Sunshine, mid was fantastic. After class, Morgan and I decided it was WAY too nice outside to go to the library like everyone else was doing. So instead we walked ALL around campus by the Shannon River, which was beautiful. We came across the ruins to an old tower/castle which was really neat. I actually climbed all the way to the top! So proud of myself for conquering my fear of heights. Even Morgan didn't make it all the way up...hehe :-)

Since it is almost St. Patrick's day (and it was such a nice night!), we decided to go and get Shamrock Shakes at McDonalds, which is about a 30 minute walk away. There were fireworks on campus at 7:30 too which were great! All my Irish friends had warned me that they wouldn't be as good as in the US, but they really were quite impressive. After frolicking through the HUGE football field on really...

...we finally got to McDonals at about 8:05. We went to the counter to order our shakes, but apparently on Tuesday nights they clean the milkshake machine at 8 p.m. Just our luck, right? Well anyways, we walked back and everyone decided to go watch a movie. My friend Dan and I decided to walk around a little since it was still so beautiful out and we wound up at the same tower Morgan and I had visited that afternoon. But climbing it in the dark was a little different story. Right when you get to the very top, there is a drop off and there are 2 stairs missing! It is kind of scary and you basically just have to hop over it and wish for the best. So far so good, but I bet next time we decide to take this little adventure maybe I won't be so luck? Probably shouldn't push my luck.

So that's been an update on the happenings of my life. A lot more to tell but I am off to Dublin in a mere 6 hours (yikes!) so I'm going to get some rest first. St. Patrick's day is tomorrow and I am sure Dublin will be filled with tourists! I am staying with my parents friends for the weekend and I am so excited to experience the city with people who know where they are going and what they are doing. It should be a great time. I'll be back Sunday and update you all again next week.

Until then, cheers!
Huntley :-)