Saying Goodbye

Though I luckily got to stay longer than many other people studying abroad for the semester, the time has finally come to go back to the States.  All the bags are packed and mostly ready to go, and I get on a flight tomorrow to Chicago.  I spent the day saying goodbye to Ireland.  All the streets I’ve walked, things I’ve done and people I’ve met have changed me in a way they will never realize.

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Studying abroad, while always seeming like a fun aspect in the back of your mind, is never an easy thing to do.  Even in a place like Dublin, where there (mostly) isn’t a language barrier, there will always be challenges.  Learning to overcome them is one of the greatest lessons study abroad can teach you about yourself.  Missing home is natural and there are always things you have to become accustomed to, but in the end it is an experience you will only grow from.

I’ve loved the four months I’ve spent as a student at Trinity College in Dublin.  It’s an amazing city, full of great people and fantastic culture.  And, as happy as I’ll be to be back in the US for Christmas, part of me will always be in Dublin.  For now, I have to say goodbye, but really it’s more of a see you later.  I want to and will return to Ireland, hopefully very soon.  But for now, I’ll enjoy my last true pint of Guinness for awhile, and sit back and marvel at the wonderful experience.

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Christmas in Europe Trip :)

So, my last class for the semester officially ended December 12th, and I am staying in Ireland until the 20th.  What to do with those eight days? Travel of course.  In honor of the holidays, and my large amount of Christmas spirit, I headed off to some of the most festive places to spend time in during Christmas in Europe (they actually are, I googled them).  Therefore, I took off for Belgium, Cologne, and Paris for a quick last hurrah to my European travels.

I started in Brugge and Brussels, two places that I’ve already been to before when I was 15.  A bit different going back now, but I loved being back there again.  Walking around Brugge is beautiful, like stepping back into the Middle Ages.  I also got the chance to do a bunch of things that I didn’t do the last time I was there, like climb the Belfry.  It was a great first city, a nice destress time after finishing classes (and papers!) for the year.

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Next I headed to Brussels, and started major European Christmas marketing.  The festive spirit here is at a completely different level than the US, and it will almost be anticlimactic to go back.  Brussels was a good time though, and still has some absolutely amazing waffles.

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Next, I took a bus and headed to Cologne, Germany.  I thought Dublin and Belgium did a good job at Christmas, but when it comes to holiday spirit the Germans win hands down.  The city was great to walk around, and I did a 2+ hour walking tour, and they still have great food and beer, just like when I was in Munich (though different beers and specialties).  But most of all, the Christmas Markets there were absolutely incredible.  Cologne itself has five, each with their own theme.  Cologne Cathedral also contains the Shrine of the Magi, so it was an appropriate Christmas visiting spot.

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Finally, I took an overnight bus and ended up in Paris.  The overnight bus isn’t something I’d overly recommend, but it definitely worked for the time.  I spent exactly one day in Paris, but walking around it again helped me realize I liked it a lot more this time than when I last visited.  The Eiffel Tower was still majestic, Notre Dame still inspiring (and celebrating 850 years next year) and the Louvre still completely overwhelming.  I also stayed across from the Sacre Coeur, and could see if from my 5th floor window, which was a great view for a 20 euro hostel bed.  Unfortunately, my pictures from this trip to Paris aren’t quite what they were last time, since my camera lens jammed in Cologne and I had to use my phone for the entirety of my time in Paris.  But it was still an amazing city.

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Now back in Dublin, it’s time to unwind, do laundry, and get ready to say goodbye.

Parents Visit Ireland

So, my parents, since I was already over here, decided now would be a great time to visit Ireland (I think they just wanted another excuse to take a vacation but….).  They flew out on Thanksgiving Day, and spent the next 8 days exploring Ireland.  And yes, I know this post is coming somewhat late.  The academic side of study abroad had to come out during the last few weeks, which led to extensive paper writing as opposed to blog updating.  But after finishing my final two essays, both 3,000 words and for the same class, I finally regained the mental capacity to post another blog entry.

So, in the 8 days my parents were here, we went on the grand tour of Ireland.  It truly was a grand tour.  They started out in Dublin, and rented a car.  Let’s just say the car and Irish roads definitely win, everytime.  Luckily we had insurance, because the poor rental car hit a couple bushes and had huge dents along the side of it.  Driving in Ireland is the best way to get around, but unfortunately also some of the craziest roads you will ever see.

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In addition, since my parents were coming, I decided to wait and see most places in Ireland until there were here – I provided my travel funds for the semester, so I decided this should be on them and I could be tour guide, with my newly acquired Ireland knowledge.  We started out in Galway, wandering around the city and looking at the Saturday market.  We also stopped into a pub during the Irish rugby match.  None of us carry extensive knowledge of rugby, but it was fun anyway.  The next day we headed down to the Cliff of Moher.  They were beautiful, and we just beat the rain that came in for the rest of the day.

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After stopping by the cliffs, we headed down to Killarney.  They had just started their December Christmas in Killarney activities.  That was a lot of fun, mostly because I love that song, so it was entertaining to be there during the holiday season.  Continuing in Irish tourist trails, we drove the Ring of Kerry the next day.  It really is some beautiful scenery, and the old castle ruins and ring forts add a lot of character and history.  Though if you ask my dad, he would definitely think the Irish roads in that part of the country take a bit away from it, especially with their small, one direction size and when we passed some border collies in the car and they tried to herd us.  Not kidding.  We also spent some time in Killarney National Park, which was also beautiful and a lot of fun.IMG_3813

 

After Killarney, we headed to Cork, and did Cork City and Blarney Castle.  This was the one place I have been before, so you already know about it.  Interesting tidbits to add would be the Chinese restaurant in Blarney is surprisingly good.  Oh and don’t go to Blarney Castle if you’re afraid of heights.

After Cork we continued to our last city, Waterford.  While there are actually a lot of things to do in Waterford, most of our time got eaten up by the most popular – the Waterford Crystal Factory.  I was awestruck watching the pieces be created, and if you’ve ever wondered where some of the world most famous crystal based trophies come from, it is there, and they still have most of the molds.

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Finally, we made a pit stop at Glendalough before heading back up to Dublin.  Upon finally reaching the city, and dropping off the rental car in mostly one piece (which my dad was overjoyed about)  we finished the week with touristy Dublin things, included walking around Trinity, seeing the Book of Kells, a free Dublin walking tour, and drinking (it is Ireland after all).

 

Holidays in Dublin

The past two weeks have encompassed Thanksgiving and the official start of the Christmas season in Dublin.  Ireland for its large amount of American related things, just doesn’t embrace Thanksgiving in general.  But, being helpful to all the Americans that invade its shores, there are a large amount of ingredients to make the perfect Thanksgiving meal readily available.  So, joining many other US study abroad students, we planned an extensive feast!  We also added some others, including Irish and Australian, to spread the American love of sitting around, eating, and watching football for the day.  In potluck style, we ended up with all the Thanksgiving regulars, including mashed potatoes, cornbread, rolls, cranberry sauce, some great turkey, apple and chocolate pie, stuffing, and a large amount of wine.  It was a great meal and made me feel like I was still in the States.

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Though very subpar about Thanksgiving (obviously) Dublin goes all out when it comes to Christmas.  They began putting holiday lights on the streets beginning in October, and just continue getting more and more festive.  The Irish, similar to Halloween, also take Christmas sweaters to another level.  In any contest, they would definitely win for the most obnoxious Christmas ‘jumpers’.

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In order to get further into the Christmas spirit, we also decided to go to a Christmas Carol Concert!  To make it even better, because anything Christmas related is pretty good in and of itself, the concert was at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  It was a beautiful place to listen to some carols and get further into the holiday spirit 🙂

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A Trip to the North

This weekend involved a trip to another, extremely close, country.  I went up to Belfast with my study abroad program.  Well known by the majority of the population, Northern Ireland is a member of the UK, aligning itself with the British government, currency, etc.  But besides having to convert my money from euros to pounds, many parts of Northern Ireland reminded me of the republic.

There were a couple major excursions involved in the trip to Northern Ireland.  The first was an Irish sea coastal drive along with a visit to the Giant’s Causeway.  The area was beautiful, even though it rained all day but that just made it more stereotypically Irish – rain, castles, sheep, etc. it had it all.  We also stopped at Carrick-a-rede rope bridge, originally used by salmon fisherman but now open all year, and Dunluce Castle, which is now only a ruin surrounded by cliffs.

 

The Giant’s Causeway was an entertaining stop, a geological abnormality that exists in Ireland and a few other places throughout the world.  Though the true origins are known, the entertaining back story of a giant running away from Scotland, playing an organ, and up to a variety of other mischief gains much more popularity than a scientific back story.

 

The next day we took one of Belfast’s famous black taxi tours, learning about the impact of the Troubles on Northern Ireland.  The difference between living there compared to the Republic of Ireland or the United States during the same time period is remarkable.  Worrying about bombs going off and people getting shot daily was truly beyond comprehension.  Though they are working towards peace, there is still a long way to go and hundreds of years of resentment and questions to sort through.

 

Though it has a sad past, there are many interesting facts about Belfast also.  For example the Titanic was built in Belfast shipyards (I know, not doing much for undoing a sad past yet).  In the modern day, Belfast was also the home of author CS Lewis, and they have monuments to him up throughout the city.  In extremely modern times and for HBO show fans, Belfast is also the location of the main studio for Game of Thrones.

So, that was Belfast in a nutshell.  An interesting city, with a large mix of English and Irish.

Reading Week!

So a bit of a side note before I truly get to the heart of this blog post.  Right before reading week was Halloween in Dublin.  I thought America did Halloween up well, but there is no comparison to a Halloween in Ireland.  The Irish love Halloween, and the costumes were beyond anything I’ve seen in the States.

Okay now for reading week.  Reading week is a week in the middle of the school term where students normally work on their readings, papers, etc. Unless you’re a study abroad student.  Then you take this time as an excuse to travel Europe.  That’s what I did.  With a full 9 days off, I decided to get further from Dublin than I usually do during weekend trips.  So, I boarded an Aer Lingus flight to Prague, and spent the full 9 days wandering around Central Europe.  We worked our way by train through Prague, into Vienna and Salzburg, and finished up in Munich.

Prague is an extremely popular destination for study abroad students, both to visit and to study for either a semester or year.  After visiting, I could see why. Prague is a gorgeous city, full of the historical buildings you’d expect, but taken to an entirely other level.  We spent our time in Prague doing a variety of things, starting at the Ice Bar.  It was fun, and a cool experience, since I don’t normally get a drink handed to me in a glass made entirely out of ice.  The next day we went on a free walking tour of Prague, sponsored by Sandeman’s.  They have tours all over Europe, and if you ever get a chance to do one, I highly recommend it.  The tour was 3 hours and fascinating, covering the full spectrum of Prague history, which is quite a lot because of the role Prague has played in medieval all the way to modern times.  That afternoon we visited one of Prague’s many museums, the Communist Museum.  This was also very interesting to me personally, living after the fall of the Soviet Union, never having a full grasp of the tensions that occurred during the Cold War.  We also went over to Prague Castle, which is beautiful and still used today as government offices.

 

 

The next stop after Prague was Vienna.  Vienna ended up being a very classy section to the trip.  Finding restricted view seats for eight euro, we went to see the ballet Romeo and Juliet at the Staatsoper Wien, the Vienna State Opera House.  The inside was beautiful, and the seats weren’t too bad.  While exploring Vienna, we also ended up going inside a church that happened to be having an organ concert.  The weather in Vienna was bad that day – and the next too, the first day it rained, and the second day had 30-40mph winds – so we stayed inside for the entire concert.  The church was gorgeous, and had great acoustics.  We also stopped by a few palaces, including Schonbrunn and Hofburg.  Schonbrunn is the same as when the Hapsburgs left, and Hofburg is now a museum.  The food was also delicious, and I highly recommend sachertorte if you ever find yourself in Vienna.

 

 

Continuing our time in Austria, we headed off to Salzburg.  Salzburg I knew a little bit about (as does every other American) through the Sound of Music, which had many scenes filmed in the town.  Salzburg was the smallest of all the cities we visited, and was a nice change from Prague and Vienna, which were both much larger.  Salzburg was touristy, involving us visiting all of the Sound of Music sites that were in the city, including the Mirabell gardens used during the song Do Re Mi.  We also did a self guided walking tour, which was a good way to see the city and get our bearings.

Our second day in Salzburg involved a small day trip to Fuschl, about 20 km outside of the city center.  There, we went on a hike up Mt. Filbling.  The hike was pretty steep at first, but the views at the top were worth it, as you could see the beginnings of the Alps spread out around you. Oh, and there was snow, which we have not had the privilege of seeing in Dublin yet.

 

We finished off the week in Munich, and more importantly, took a day trip to Neuschwanstein Castle.  I’ve always wanted to see the castle – a result of the amount of times I’ve been to Disney and seeing posters of it when my French class shared a room with a German class.  The castle was everything I expected it to be, straight up Cinderella, but better.  We took a tour of the inside, but they ran out of places on the English tour, so we had to do an audio tour in French.  Though my French is extremely rusty, between knowing a bit of its history before hand and some basic vocabulary I could understand most of what I was seeing and hearing.

 

We finished off our time in Munich with a Beer Challenge – truly, since in Germany they sell beer in 1/2 liters and liters.  A liter is the equivalent of 4 US beers.  It was a lot of fun, and a great way to learn about something so important to the region.  We also went on a walk around Munich the next day, during which it unfortunately was raining, but the city was cool, getting ready for Christmas, and very very wet.

 

And that was reading week! An amazing trip through some awesome places, and I already want to go back 🙂

 

Spain and Portugal!

In honor of Ireland having a Bank Holiday on Monday October 29th, thereby changing my regular four day weekend to a five day weekend, I took advantage of the opportunity and decided to take a little holiday down in the Iberian Peninsula.  It was definitely a great decision, since Dublin weather is starting to get a little chilly, and Spain and Portugal are still comfortably warm in the 70s.  Leaving Wednesday night on my regular budget airline Ryanair, I spent 3 full days in Faro, part of the Algarve region in Portugal, and one full day in Seville, Spain.

I didn’t really have much in the way of expectations when arriving in Portugal.  I studied a little bit about what I should do when I got there, but that was about it.  The Algarve region is an extremely popular European holiday destination, and booked solid in the summer months.  It’s somewhat similar to Americans going to Mexico, minus the kidnapping possibility.  But many resorts do line the region, and you can even rent a set of golf clubs at the airport.  The entire area is beautiful though, and full of history, going back to the times when the Iberian Peninsula prospered with exploration of the Americas.  In addition, there is a major Moorish influence on the region, making for interesting architecture.

Two of the days in Portugal I spent in Faro.  The city was interesting, but not overly busy, since they are definitely in their low season tourist wise.  I spent time wandering around the town, doing a variety of activities including a Portuguese Guitar show, going into the many intricate churches that dot the town, and visited the beaches on the outside of the Ria Formosa, which is a large set of barrier islands that surround Faro, as is a Portuguese national park.  On Saturday night, instead of finding a restaurant to eat at, we found a fair celebrating Santa Iria going on.  We walked around the booths, and picked up a few souvenirs, along with an interesting Portuguese bread, a bread roll with chourico inside, and a sandwich that we never really found the name of but was also delicious.  Ordering food in Portugal was definitely an experience, and I never really knew what I was getting, but it was all delicious, including bifana, merendeira, both sandwiches on delicious bread. There grapes were also good, with their green grapes much sweeter than you’d find in the States, to the point where they almost tasted like candy.

 

 

Besides Faro, I also took a day trip to Lagos, about two hours away and closer to the Atlantic Ocean.  This is one of the most famous regions in the Algarve, known far and wide for its beaches.  I took the cliffside walking path, which was beautiful the entire way down to the Ponta de Piedade and back, wearing shorts, sandals, and a tank top.  I also made sure to spend a little time on some of the hidden beaches that dot the area.  They’re hidden in the fact that they’re in between the sides of two cliffs, and therefore are shaded from most elements, yet still sunny and warm.  It was a beautiful area, and if you like beaches and are ever in Portugal, I highly recommend it.  And yes, I actually took that picture and it did look like that.

 

After Portugal, we took a bus to Spain and spent a quick but amazing day in Seville.  The food here was also fantastic, eating lunch at a tapas place by the Seville Cathedral.  Also, our hostel hosted a Spanish experience night on Sundays, so we took part in that, learning/helping to make paella, a traditional Spanish dish, and drinking sangria.  We also had these wood fired nuts, that kind of tasted like potatoes, they were good even though we couldn’t quite figure out what they were.  The food was fabulous and addicting, though paella might be a little out of my culinary range and patience at the moment 🙂

 

Besides eating, we spent the day wandering around the city, visiting important historical sites including the Cathedral, the Alcazar, and the Plaza de Espana.  Seville was also a great opportunity to take advantage of being a student, since we received highly discounted entrance fees to the places we visited.  The Cathedral was huge, which makes sense since it’s the 3rd largest church in the world.  It was built in the 16th century, and is the burial place of Christopher Columbus, who has an extremely intricate tomb inside.  The Alcazar was also an amazing place to see.  It was a Moorish fort, and later turned into a royal palace, which was easy to see the moment you stepped inside the walls.  Opulence doesn’t even begin to describe the interior, with walls covered in decorative tiles, which the region is known for.  They also had gardens that looked like they extended forever, with free roaming peacocks.  After that, we continued to the Plaza de Espana, where we walked around.  It was a good time to sit back and think about and appreciate the fact that we’re wandering around Spain right now, just because we could.  It was somewhat of a surreal experience.

  

 

Well after that trip it’s somewhat back to reality, as a celebrate my 21st birthday and Halloween here in Dublin before jetting off on my next adventure, which definitely won’t be as warm as Iberia was!