The Clifton Hill House in Bristol

 

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The first instalment of ‘United Inkdom’ – now that I’m settled in at UNI over here in Bristol, UK, I’m excited to begin sharing the sights and experiences each week. This is my ‘dorm’ – the Clifton Hill House, a manor house older than the United States of America.

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A few things about Bristol I’ve learned so far:

  1. It is always raining, and even when it’s not, it’s still kinda raining.
  2. The locals (human and animal) are quite friendly.

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3. They are pretty serious about their graffiti.

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4. Every other building is an ancient church.

5. Humble brag: there’s some family history

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And do NOT forget the difference between ‘pants’ and ‘trousers’…

Until next week,

Cheerio!

-Gwyer Sinclair

 

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Wait, there’s an Irish language?

The Irish language has existed in some form for centuries, but most people do not even know that the language exists, because English is more prevalent in Ireland.  While Irish school children are required to learn the language for the first twelve years of their education, many are proud to say that they remember none of it.  It is depressing to think about the dwindling of the Irish language, which can be seen on all official signs, yet is almost never spoken outside of the official Irish language regions (Gaeltacht).  In response to this, there has been an effort for the last hundred or so years to bring about a reemergence of the language in normal society.

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The Irish language can be seen in green here, as required by the Official Languages Act of 2003.

I have spent the last six weeks in Galway learning the basics of conversation in Irish, should I find someone else who knows the language.  I thought that an interesting way to share this experience would be to write a short blog post completely in the Irish language.  However, I mostly know how to say where I am from, which would get annoyingly repetitive as well as incredibly off topic in a study abroad blog.  So, I’ve decided to piece together the following small paragraph in Irish instead, with an English translation below and a brief description of my experience learning the language.  As a warning, I will be using the vocabulary and pronunciations of the Connemara dialect.  There is nothing wrong with the Ulster or Munster variations; I simply do not know them.  Please enjoy!

Dia dhuit! Meg Bojarski an t-ainm atá orm.  Cén chaoi a bhfuil tú?  Tá mé togha.  Chuaigh mé chun Gaillimh seo samhradh. Tá mé ag foghlaim Gaeilge. Is as Meiriceá ó dhúchas mé. Tá mo teach lonnaithe in Georgia, agus tá m’ollscoil lonnaithe in Huntsville, Alabama. Is maith liom Éire. Tá Éire beagán fuar agus fliuch, ach tá sé álainn.  Tá mé i mo chónaí sa “dorms” ag OÉ Gaiilimh.  Tá campas in aice le Abhainn na Gaillimhe.  Tá cairde ó Éirinn agam.  Is maith linn ag canadh agus ag éisteacht le ceol. Tá sin ar fad tá a scríobh agam.

Hello!  My name is Meg Bojarski.  How are you?  I am grand.  I went to Galway this summer.  I am learning Irish.  I am originally from America.  My house is located in Georgia, and my university is located in Huntsville, Alabama.  I like Ireland.  Ireland is a bit cold and wet, but it is beautiful.  I am living in the dorms at NUI Galway.  Campus is beside the River Corrib.  I have friends from Ireland.  We like singing and listening to music.  That is all I have to write.

I tried to piece together several of the topics that we learned how to write for this admittedly limited paragraph.  For those of you who do not know about the Irish language, some aspects are oddly complex.  For instance, there are two completely different grammatical structures to say “to be”, three different forms of counting (for counting time, things, and people), and no definitive ways to say “yes” or “no”.  Because of this, I did not get the opportunity to dig as deeply into vocabulary in my time learning the language as I may have with other languages.  But I am happy with what I have had the opportunity to learn.

For me, one of the most interesting aspects of learning a language is learning the fun and often frustrating quirks.  For instance, “I am sorry” in Irish is “Tá brón orm”, which is directly translated as “The sorrow is on me”.  We all had fun joking about this structure once we learned it, triumphantly declaring that happiness was upon us after a fun day out in the city.  Another interesting fact is that many letters in Irish are not actually pronounced.  Often, consonants will take up an urú, which will silence the second vowel of a given word (For example, “nGearmáin” is pronounced nyar-mahn, with the n completely silencing the g).  There are also often two to three vowels in a given word, which only take the sound of one of them (the letters “aoi” take up the sound of the letter í, which is pronounced as ee).

Now that you know a bit about the oddities of the Irish language, I’ll provide a few short phrases for you to impress your friends with.

Hello: Dia dhuit. Dee-ah hrr-eet  (roll your r)

I am grand: Tá mé togha. Tah may t-ow

I am tired:  Tá mé tuirseach. Tah may tear-shogh

I’m sorry: Tá brón orm. Tah brone orm

Thank God:  Buíochas le Dia! Bwee-hahs luh Dee-ah

Thank you:  Go raibh maith agat. Go rah mah ad

Please:  le do thoil leh duh hell

Bless you: Dia linn. Dee-ah linn

Good luck: Ádh mór! Ah more

Good bye: Slán. Slah-n

 

 

Going to Church Abroad

Before I left the country, I spent a few hours researching churches in Ireland.  Where they were, what denomination they were, and when their services would be held.  I created a list of all of the churches in Dublin and Galway with all of their information.  However, when abroad, time seems to fly away.  We often went out on field trips on Sunday mornings, and when we didn’t, I justified not going to church by my exhaustion.  I had morning classes throughout the week, so I tried to sleep in when I could manage it. But as my trip was drawing to a conclusion, I was getting hit with all of the things that I had wanted to do but somehow never did.  The largest of these was my desire to go to church, so I pulled up my list and decided that whether I was tired or not, I would be going to two masses at the Galway Cathedral: one in Irish and one in English.IMG_6122

At the Irish service, we were given a bulletin with all of the words of the service written out, those of the priest and our responses.  I’ve spent the last six weeks learning the Irish language, but this service was far beyond my capabilities.  I knew enough to recite the words, albeit slower than those at the service who were native speakers, but I did not fully understand what was being said.  Somehow, though, it didn’t really matter.  There was some larger element at play in that church than just the words that were being said. Even when I went to the English service, the power was not in the words, which I could then understand, but in the feeling of genuine divinity in the building.

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The Cathedral is laid out with the altar in the center and four sections of pews positioned around it.  There were also side rooms for specific services and a timeline of the church’s history.  During the Irish service, most of us were seated in one section of the pews, facing the pastor.  There were only around twenty of us for that service, though.  In the later English service, there were people seated on every side of the altar.  I have to wonder what it would have been like to attend the service from behind, where the focus was less on the presentation of the service, but on the words and feelings alone.

Going to church was one of the best decisions I made while in Ireland.  The service was spiritually fulfilling, as well as an excellent occasion for me to immerse myself in the Irish language, which is sadly not used by most Irish citizens.  The cathedral itself is stunning, presenting itself as a beautiful stronghold for the Christian faith in western Ireland.  In every way, attending church in Galway enriched my entire trip and easily ranks among the top five places I saw in my entire trip.

A New High: Anxiety and Adventure

blog2“Are you Miss Rachel Byrd?” asked the uniformed lady, her striped scarf coordinating intimidatingly and perfectly with her navy blue skirt.

I am sitting at a table alone, waiting to take a ride in a zeppelin. My heart is racing as I answer with an affirmation of my identity. It is early morning, I am over-caffeinated and under-slept.  I panic, automatically assuming something has gone terribly wrong.

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The views were amazing, and so was watching the propeller spin!

Her bright red lips break into a reassuring smile, “You are the only English speaker on board, so I will give you your safety briefing separately.” Almost immediately my mouth is dry, my heart galloping, and countless scenarios waltz through my thoughts. What if there’s an accident and my language barrier prevents quick response? What if it crashes? What if it is too windy? If I disembark incorrectly? What if, on this perfectly clear day, a bolt of lightning strikes us from the sky? As anxiety wells up prior to take off, these outcomes feel distinctly possible. Doing anything for the first time can be quite intimidating.


However, it is my birthday. A few weeks ago, feeling brave, I allocated money in my meager budget (along with birthday money from family) to buy a flight ticket on a zeppelin ride. With my wallet reminding my brain that it will be an enjoyable experience and my heart screaming “run,” I sit strapped into the cabin of the zeppelin, a tin can attached to a big balloon. The flight attendant continues to give instructions in German. Occasionally she repeats her instructions—in English, looking directly at me. Not only am I the only one on board who came alone, it quickly becomes clear to my fellow passengers that I am the only English speaker. I feel distinctly out of place.



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The inside of zeppelin. It’s quite small!

The aircraft rises. We safely reach cruising height. Free to move around the cabin, everyone has cameras in hand, relentlessly attempting to capture moments of this incredible experience. It is a beautiful morning as we floated along the Bodensee. Two other countries are visible, Switzerland and Austria, as we drift past the German patchwork scenery of fields, towns, and forest. With such beauty, awe replaces anxiety.

 


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Because it was obvious I was alone, several of my high-altitude acquaintances offered to take pictures of me.

Instagram and Facebook obsess over adventure, with the most daring exploits. Social media is rarely a platform to discuss the anxiety that, for some people, tangles impossibly with new experiences. This anxiety is no less a valid experience. Every marvelous adventure, as your heart races from excitement instead of nerves, reinforces the importance of recognizing that anxiety, resisting it, and refusing to let it control your course. Victory is sweet, especially victory against yourself. Without these victories and these adventures, we can never reach new heights. Let me assure you, the view is indescribably stunning.

 

 

 

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On the left, you can the the border between Baden-Wuerttemberg and Bavaria. On the right, off in the distance, the Rhine River is visible.

 

 

 

 

 

A summer in India

My name is Anvi Dalal and I traveled to India for a two month research abroad internship in Mumbai. Initially, I took some time to get used to the big city life but now I am finding it hard to leave this amazing city! Over the past few weeks I have learnt a lot culturally and educationally. For my internship I worked alongside PhD students in Chemical Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay, conducting research on possible configurations of a Ni-Pt system that would lead to a more effective and cost efficient catalyst than the traditional platinum catalyst. The Institute is situated in a tranquil area of Mumbai over acres of green land. Furthermore, it is monsoon in India right now and it rains almost all day, making the environment absolutely beautiful.

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I recently had an exciting experience in Mumbai’s famous BEST bus that connects the entire city. It is usually so crowded that people inside barely have room to stand but luckily I was not travelling during peak hours! It is one of the most commonly used mode of transport in Mumbai that served as an amazing city tour bus for me. I also tried a traditional Indian thali meal which is an exotica food plate with an unlimited supply of over 12 food options . It is the kind of meal royals in India traditionally ate and is now available at certain restaurants around the city. It is a pleasure to the human palate and the flavors on that plate left me speechless. I also made a day excursion to a village a few hours from Mumbai to learn about rural life in India. I came across small houses, empty roads, beaches and lush green patches through the drive. The roads were so empty that I was able to sit in the middle of a lane and take a picture!

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I would like to thank the Honors SAGA program for giving me this opportunity! My experience in India has been unforgettable, educational and absolutely amazing and I will cherish every moment I spent in Mumbai!

Namaste!

The Traveling Nurse: Setting Up Clinics in Ecuador

Hello friends,

My name is Beth Gates. I am a senior in the UAH Nursing Program. This past week, I had the opportunity to journey to Guaranda, Ecuador with fellow nursing students and an instructor for a medial mission trip. I wanted to say a quick thank you to the Honors SAGA program for being a part of sending me.

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On this trip we set up five different clinics around Guaranda. In these clinics, our team (the team included nursing students, a pharmacist, a doctor, and EMTs) provided basic medical care, medications, and eye glasses. Different stations were set up for patients to move efficiently through the clinic. First, the patients registered and went to triage. In triage, the patient’s symptoms and complaints were written down, vital signs were taken, and protocols were followed to determine if the patients needed to see the physician. The most common complaints in these areas were back pain, acid reflux, dry eyes, and dehydration. From these patients and encounters, I learned to never take for granted the ‘basic’ knowledge we have been given about hygiene, nutrition, and caring for oneself. In this clinic, we were not able to treat chronic illnesses or anything that required invasive measures. It was hard, but we did have to tell many people that we could not provide the care they needed. Healthcare in Ecuador, for the time being, is free to all citizens but many people do not have physicians in their regions.

I learned so so much while in Ecuador: some personal, cultural, travel, and nursing related. I learned that there are many different types of bathrooms that can be used; some with running water and some in which you run your own water. I learned many new Spanish words and phrases. I learned that the people of Ecuador are very hospitable. Overall the trip was a beautiful experience, illnesses included. I made, what I think will be, lasting connections with the people I worked with and served. I learned a lot about myself and what I think my career will involve moving forward. I also learned that Ecuador is a beautiful country full of amazing people.

Driving through the Andes Mountains was a humbling experience. The scenery was breathtaking. At one point we reached an elevation of 15,000 ft. We learned about Mt. Chimborazo – the people of Ecuador are very proud of it. Chimborazo is the tallest mountain in the world. It is not the tallest mountain by elevation above sea level, but its location along the equator makes its peak the farthest point on the Earth’s surface from the Earth’s center. It has been a dormant volcano since 550 A.D.

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Mt. Chimborazo

 

Here is a list of a few tips for those traveling to Ecuador or traveling in general:

 

  1. Take toilet paper everywhere you go
  2. Bottled water is essential: never drink or use the tap water without asking someone with experience in that country
  3. Bring snacks and comfort food: eating in other countries is often a challenging experience and it is nice to have something from home
  4. Bring a jacket even if you don’t think you will be cold, be prepared for any weather and temperature
  5. Take lots of pictures, but don’t be stuck behind you camera and miss out on taking in the beauty in front of you
  6. Be flexible: schedules and needs change AND time is often viewed differently in other cultures
  7. Be careful about eating food that you or your host didn’t prepare BUT don’t be afraid to try new things, there is some delicious food waiting out there
  8. Drink lots of water: the extra exertion will dehydrate you and if you are in Ecuador, the elevation will too.
  9. Do your job or task to the best of your abilities but don’t forget to see the person in front of you and the other needs they may have
  10. Carry a journal with you: don’t write down every detail, just the ones that mean the most to you and the highlights
  11. Be culturally sensitive and learn as much as you can about the culture and people around you

 

Thanks for reading!

All the best,

Beth Gates

 

Missed Connections

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Traveler tip: If life rains on your parade, play in the puddles. Or explore the gardens of Schloss Charlottenburg in Berlin.

The doors slam closed and the train races off into the dark.

It is one in the morning and I just missed the last subway train to the bus station.

berMoments like this, sitting  in an abandoned railway station, are painfully familiar to travelers. You miss connections all the time. Good planning reduces the number of missed connections. You learn to leave wiggle room, never believing the estimated arrival time promoted by a booking website. Buses run late, trains are delayed, and missing connections is terrible. Everyone deals with this inconvenience differently. I have seen everything from panicked crying to a small, frustrated shrug of the shoulders. I swear. I swear a lot, attempting to keep it under my breath. However, I suggest keeping impressionable children away from me after a missed connection. Despite our different coping processes, travelers deal with the headache of botched plans one way: by figuring out what to do next. It is one in the morning in an abandoned subway station. Google Maps estimates a two hour walk to a destination I need to be at in an hour, by myself and through a city I do not know. I call a taxi, grimacing at the expense.


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My grandmother’s house and one of the family friends who showed me around the town.

I must take a moment to mention the connections that travelers make. After a few hours, a few more adventures, and a few more methods of transport, I arrive in the Ravensburg train station. Ravensburg is near the town my grandmother lived in prior to moving to America. I am meeting with family friends. They showed me my family’s old house, the local church, her school. We ate lunch, I met their children, had a grand tour of their town, attended a school play, and was introduced to everyone I encountered as “this is Rachel, she comes from the USA.” It was an amazing weekend, filled with much laughter. I come from southern America, where we pride ourselves on our hospitality, and yet I have never experienced such warmth and welcoming.


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Lueneburg harbor, featuring the medieval crane that took twelve men to operate, eight of them ran on a giant hamster wheel.

Every traveler’s nightmare is a missed connection. It is incredibly difficult, but we ought to worry less about missing trains, and focus more on making connections. Connections with the wonderful, unique souls encountered throughout a trip create memories that far outlast the panic a retreating train evokes. We learn from each other. We share our hometowns, expand our horizons. We share stories, drinks, laughs, little pieces of our very selves. These connections that we make are not easily forgotten. In all likelihood, we part ways, surrendering our course to the whims of a fickle wind, never to see each other again. But my parting words are genuine: “if you are ever in Alabama, let me know.”  Because I choose to live in a world where connections are made, valued, and not easily forgotten.

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“Remember me with smiles and laughter, for that is how I will remember you all.” Laura Wilder My friends and I in Cologne, where we laughed until it hurt and tears streamed down our faces.

 

 

The Right Shoes

When I was planning for my trip, I saw that every packing list, blog, and guidebook said to bring hiking boots when traveling to Ireland.  I, like many of the others on my program, wondered whether these would really be necessary if we were not planning to be hyper-athletic.  As a fairly cautious person, I decided to go ahead and get some good ones.  So here I am now to give you a definitive answer on whether or not you need hiking boots and for what reasons.

Do I need hiking shoes?

YES. You probably expected this.  But I want you to understand that I am generally a fairly frugal person, and there are things that those books will tell you to bring that are thoroughly unnecessary.  These are not some of those things.  My roommate brought fairly good shoes, and the sheer amount of walking and the terrain we covered resulted in the image you see below.  She exercises regularly and did absolutely nothing wrong.  Ireland is simply that brutal.

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My roommate’s shoes, athletic taped together after the sole literally fell off.

I admit, I am not an athlete.  At home, I drive/ am driven most places and consider a two mile walk to be a bit much.  I knew coming in that I would probably need to get more accustomed to walking while abroad, but I don’t think I truly understood just what all that entailed.  My experiences are not universal, but I’ve seen some amazing places, and they would have been impossible without good shoes.

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Climbing mountains in Connemara

Okay, but where will I really need them?

Everywhere.  Okay, not everywhere.  But most cool places.  I would suggest that you wear them on any treks in Dublin that will be longer than three miles, on any mountain hikes (the most obvious uses), at any castles you will be exploring, at all cliffs, in the woods, and in the hills.  So, basically anywhere that isn’t on a campus or in the city.

Why?

In my first week in Ireland, I averaged five and a half to six miles each day on cobbled streets, at best.  Following that, weekends were long, walking around four and a half miles each Friday and Monday up steep mountains. Yesterday, we had a special weekend trip that took us both up and down mountains and around part of the coast of Inishboffin, a beautiful island on the western coast of Ireland.  It was one of the best days I’ve had so far in my trip, but I spent a lot of the time thinking about my feet, shoes, and where to step to not kill myself for the six miles that we walked.  Consistently, the travel in Ireland is beautiful, but rough.  There are rarely real paths, and even if you are lucky enough to find a day that it isn’t raining, you will probably still walk through several rivers.  All of this adds up to my supreme love for my good hiking shoes.

Rocks move.  Mud will make you slip.  Rabbit holes will show up where you do not expect them to.  The ground will be covered in sheep poop.  You do not want to have to stare at the ground with every step you take while you are in the midst of what I consider to be the most beautiful landscapes in existence.  Ireland is a rugged beauty, but that ruggedness will take you out if you are not careful, so I beg you to do yourselves a favor.

Bring good shoes so that you can see all of the beauty that is Ireland.

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The Day-to-Day Tico Life

I would like to start this post out with an apology: my computer stopped working about a week into my trip and I have not been able to connect to the internet on it since then.  I am now just getting settled back into Huntsville, so my posts will be more of a recap on my trip.  Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy reading about my time in Costa Rica.

As a whole, my stay in Costa Rica was absolutely amazing!  Despite my nervousness going into the trip, I enjoyed nearly every second of the time I was there!  So many things were new and exciting (and sometimes a bit surprising), but so many were also familiar and welcoming too.  Upon my arrival, I was very hesitant and was unsure of myself in everything I did.  Fortunately, I quickly grew accustomed to the Tico ways, traveled through some of the country, tried as much food as I could, took buses on my own, and communicated with people in every situation I was presented.  I’d say I came a long way since day one.

We spent the first few days in the country in a series of orientation meetings.  These were designed for us to address any fear we had coming into the country and how to quickly get rid of it.  We discussed aspects of  “culture shock,” natural disasters, health and safety, and money.

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The paper money was actually one thing that I loved! All of the bills were colorful, increased in size as the value increased, and had animals on them (such as sloths, monkeys, and deer!)!

Once we got settled in, my typical day (Monday through Thursday) consisted of taking the bus to the city of Heredia where I took classes at Universidad Nacional de Costa Rica (UNA).  This class was a bit different, but still a good experience.  There were only three of us in the class (me and two other study abroad students from the same group), with one teacher and one assistant teacher.  Neither one of the instructors really spoke any English, so if there was ever something that we did not understand (or they did not understand what we were saying) communicating and resolving the issue was a bit tough (often resulting in me giving up and trying to figure it out later on my own).  In addition to the communication issues, there was also the fact that all three students were at different levels in their Spanish careers.  They say if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.  While “smartest” may not be the best word in this situation, I had studied Spanish for the longest and was definitely in the wrong room…  I do not want to say that I did not get anything from the class, but I definitely could have been challenged more.  While I did practice my speaking, listening, writing, and reading skills in the class, I feel that it was probably the least helpful activity while I was there. (Pictured are photos of the campus and our first and last days of classes)

We only had classes from 9:00-11:30 in the morning, so our afternoons and weekends were pretty free.  Most days, after class, I would return home to eat lunch with my host family and then hang out with them or do homework or various things.  On occasion, we would go to the mall after class, or grab lunch in a cool restaurant.  A few too many times we went to a small cafe near campus.  We stopped in many mornings for coffee, utilized the WiFi and studied there sometimes, tried smoothies and pastries and anything we could, and definitely spent way too much money!  It was a family-run, Venezuelan place (Tepuy Bistro if you ever make your way to Costa Rica!), where the staff was so friendly and helpful!  It quickly became our go-to any time we were free!  Below you can see pictures from some of our trips there (included are some of my Snapchat captions to capture the mood of each day).

Most evenings the two other students (pictured above), my Tico brother and sister, and I would all go to the gym together (yes, I did pay for a gym membership while I was there). This was actually really enjoyable because it was another opportunity to interact with people, hang out with my super cool Tico family, and get a little exercise!

In addition to the everyday stuff, we also went on some cool weekend trips, had weekly cultural activities, explored a little off the books, and found our favorite club!  Another day-to-day thing that I need to discuss is the food (arguably the best part), but that, and the other activities mentioned, should get their own posts.  So I will update you all again soon!  Hope you enjoyed your first look into Costa Rican life!

Until next time,

Natalie

More to see than can ever be seen…

I have written and rewritten and deleted and drafted until I couldn’t stall any longer on this post.  I have only been in Ireland for a little while now, yet it seems like I’ve had a year’s worth of experiences, at least.  I’ve been trying to think of what kind of cohesive blog post I can possibly post to capture everything that has gone on in my life, but I can’t see a single narrative forming.  Now that classes have formally begun, perhaps I can get more organized.  But I feel that the chaotic post that follows is the only way I can get anywhere close to sharing my first week in Ireland at this time.  I’ve included the most memorable moments, certainly, but nowhere near all of them; there were millions of little memories that will prove to be important in who this trip is making me become.  Below is the only way I can think of to share that.

Tuesday, June 20

Obligatory Plane Photo
Obligatory plane wing photo

Flight day.  My flight was delayed by over an hour, because apparently the same level of rain that I’ve learned is normal here in Ireland is enough to stop a plane from landing in Atlanta.  It had already been pushed back by a few hours around a month ago, meaning that my four-ish hour layover changed into thirty minutes to run across O’Hare International Airport and board my plane before it took off.  Stress controlled me on the two hour flight to Chicago, wondering if I would make it or if I will be sleeping in the Chicago airport that night.  Luckily, I made it at the last minute.  On the plane, I ended up switching seats with an Irish man who was separated from his wife; they got to sit together, and I got eight hours on an airplane with my first friend (and now-roommate) on the USAC program, Niella.  We were set to land at 8:05 am in Ireland; I had been terrified for months that I would not sleep.  I brought a blanket, a pillow, and melatonin to make sure that I would.  And I did, technically.  I got about an hour of sleep, waking up on and off, and then my first day of Ireland starts with me sleep-deprived and jet-lagged.

Wednesday, June 21

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The infamous in-hotel pub

Day one in Ireland is day one of classes.  We get lunch on our own, our first interactions with locals outside of our taxi driver, who told us horror stories of why Uber is the worst thing that has ever happened.  Coffee shops are remarkably similar from country to country, though Irish coffee shops definitely have better pastries.  I had an amazing lemon tart and smoothie.  After that, we begin our tour of Dublin, starting at City Hall.  I don’t much know what we were supposed to be doing there, because we did introductions and then were kicked out after a showdown between our tour guide/teacher, Angus, and a security guard.  Then we walk to Dublin Castle where we sit outside and get a lecture about the Easter Rising.  Half of the class is drifting off, because nobody actually slept, and it is incredibly hot out.  Fun fact: June 21, 2017 is the hottest Ireland has ever gotten in June.  We return to the hotel, where our rooms are finally ready and we get our bags out of the in-hotel pub (I know, SO Irish).  We change and then have dinner/orientation.  I sit at a table full of people that I do not know, and try Beef & Guinness Stew, which is not bad, but is definitely a strong taste.  After dinner, a small group of people goes out for a little while, and then we head back to catch up on sleep.  One problem with that, however:  my room is directly above the pub, which is currently hosting a sing-along.  So I go down and join them, dancing a bit.  Finally, they finish up around midnight.  I get to sleep somewhere around one, a fitful, stopping-starting kind of night.

Thursday, June 22

The tour of the city is kicked into high-gear with six miles of walking.  We hit the GPO museum (which I massively recommend to anyone coming to Ireland), 16 Moore Street, the Garden of Remembrance, Collins Barracks, and Arbour Hill Cemetery.  Angus allows us to ride the tram back, which means that we would have walked far more otherwise.  I love how many different angles of the history we get into, but it is getting to be too much for me, still jet-lagged.  I now know the story of the 1916 Easter Rising, though we continue to go deeper into it Saturday.

Christ Church Cathedral
Christ Church Cathedral

After our tour, we go to Christ Church Cathedral, where we explore the tomb, the exhibits on the practice of the church, and listen to a choir practice that is being done in Latin.  The Latin kind of surprises me, because the Cathedral has not been Catholic for centuries.  In fact, by an odd quirk of history, the  cathedrals of Dublin are primarily Protestant due to the domination of Ireland by Britain, particularly in the east.  After this, we go to Riverdance, which is just stunning.  It was the opening night of the season and was the first performance of the new female lead.  It also included a dancer who has cystic fibrosis, the charity that they were collecting for before and after the performance.  Several judges and dancers from Dancing with the Stars came for the opening.  The story is clear, and the music and dancing are filled to the brim with meaning.  We get gelato (lemon meringue pie gelato.  Yum!) and walk back to the hotel’s pub, as I won’t be able to sleep while it’s open anyway.  I teach a few of the girls the basics of the waltz, which is really hard to do in the corner of a somewhat-busy pub.  But it’s fun anyway.  They agree to learn more dances later.

Friday, June 23

Exhaustion hits.  I almost don’t get out of bed in the morning, but we have places to go, things to see.  We have a group trip to Newgrange and the Hills of Tara.  Newgrange is the location of a famous burial mound predating the Egyptian pyramids.  On the winter solstice, the sun enters the chamber in such a perfect way that for just a few moments it will light the space, and then fade again, supposedly for ritual or religious purposes.  Honestly, it doesn’t seem like anyone is too sure of what went on there, but that tends to be the case with such ancient monuments.

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The stone that labeled me a peasant…

The Hills of Tara are famous in the Celtic Irish mythological tradition, both as a mystical place and as a site for crowning kings.  There is a stone that supposedly will begin speaking to you if you possess ancient Irish royal blood.  Everyone is encouraged to try it out, though I have to wonder what everyone would do if the stone actually did start talking.  It didn’t talk to me, but that’s no surprise.  I’m probably the only person on this trip who has no Irish blood, to my knowledge.  After that, we explore a famous used book store at Tara, where I get an old choir book full of songs in Irish.  It is my intention to see if I can learn them once I am better at speaking the language.  We head back to the hotel and I get together with a small group to do homework.  Because in addition to walking several miles a day, cramming my head with every single element of Ireland’s past that could have an impact on the Easter Rising, and not sleeping, I still have homework to do.  But it’s fun and we eat cake while we work.  I go to bed early for once, because my whole body is on the verge of not working, and I’ll have more to do tomorrow.

Saturday, June 24

Trinity Library
Trinity College Library

The last day of our tour.  We hit Trinity College (OH MY GOD; IM IN LOVE WITH THE LIBRARY) and get a look at the Book of Kells, a famous illuminated manuscript of Biblical scenes.  Then we get back to 1916, visiting the National Library of Ireland’s Exhibition on WW1, the Roger Casement section of the National Museum of Ireland, and St. Stephen’s Green, where famous statues are scattered all around the park.  By the end of it, most of us are distracted.  Though it’s the last day of our tour, there is something else going on at the Green that captures our attention:  The start of Dublin’s Pride.

 

He releases us, and a group of us end up joining in the festivities, with it being my first Pride.  Over the course of the week, the Irish flags that border the River Liffey have been traded for rainbow flags, and on the day of the parade, no Irish flags are to be seen as the country announces its support for the LGBTQ+ community.  Pride is massive in Ireland, where the Taoiseach, who is basically Ireland’s Prime Minister, is an openly gay man.  Speaking of, we kind of ran into him and made our Irish news debut. At about 1:10 of his comment, a group of teenagers can be seen taking a selfie in the background… Whoops?

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On the news
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The picture we were taking

 

 

 

 

 

But, yeah.  So that happened.  We also walked in the parade and went out to some of the parties that night.  At one, a circle of dancers formed for individual/partner dancing.  A guy pulled me in and swing danced, which was fun… until he basically dropped me.  Luckily, a few other guys caught me before I hit the ground and helped me back to my feet.  Such a long day, but it was our last night in Dublin, and we were going to make the most of it.

Sunday, June 25

We left Dublin for Galway, stopping at a really cheesy castle, Bunratty Castle, which I would not recommend.  There was no life to the tour we were given, which honestly disappointed me.  Castles have been the biggest let-downs of Ireland thus far, because I like to think about them as full of life, which they obviously aren’t anymore.  I really do believe that they could if they were handled correctly, though.  A pile of stones is nothing until interpreted, and unfortunately that seems to be something that those at Bunratty Castle don’t understand.  The best part of going there was finding a cheap, but beautiful Claddagh ring and eating some wonderful lemon drizzle cake.

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My Claddagh ring

The Claddagh ring is one of the most famous traditions of Ireland, though it’s historically a fairly modern practice. But even so, it was one of my major goals to get one when I got to Ireland.  The Claddagh Ring is a fairly familiar image with a heart in hands, wearing a crown.  The heart symbolizes love, the hands friendship, and the crown loyalty.  How it is worn tells the relationship status of the wearer, with (from what I saw; there is some debate) crown-up on the right hand meaning they are single, crown-down meaning in a relationship, crown-up on the left meaning they are engaged, and crown-down meaning they are married.  While cliché, it was something I was determined to do.

After this, we went to the Cliffs of Moher, which is a really difficult walk, but a beautiful site.  It was the epitome of the idyllic, peaceful Ireland that everyone dreams about.

Cliffs of Moher
The Cliffs of Moher

I honestly wish there was a way that I could stay there, because it was one of the best things I have seen in my life.  Even with tourists all up and down the cliffs, when you sit and look out at the ocean below and the castle across the way, it all seems still, like a picture.  Things seemed almost frozen when we were there, and troubles and worries drifted away.  Because of something this perfect truly existed, there had to be a reason for it.  For everything.  And in the light of that, everything else seems small.

 

We got to Galway; we got rooms; I switched rooms.  We all went to bed early, because the previous few days had drained us all.  But here we were, in Galway.  Home for the next month.