Monday, September 29, 2014

Into DublinTown

Dear Diary,
I went to Dublin this past weekend...WHAT a truly awesome city, with so much history. Hopping on a nine a.m. bus along with my three program study partners, we arrived about three-and-a-half hours later. I totally got car-sick at the end, however. Part of the problem was that there was a lot of road construction coming into Dublin, with many jerks and stops, and the other problem was that I decided to use the toilet in the back of the bus in the midst of it jerking around like that. Yeah, bad idea! Should have taken the dramamine. So I got off the bus all nauseous and with a headache, as we met up with our director and walked to the hostel. Our rooms weren't ready yet so we had a few minutes to grab a bite to eat or whatever before our excursion into the city. I walked to the supermarket right close by and grabbed some pretzel sticks and ginger ale. That did it, and within a few minutes I was feeling much much better. Soon the Galway girls arrived,(those in our program who are studying there), as well as the Dublin boys, and we adventured off into the city. We crossed a pretty foot bridge and walked down street after street, hearing musicians sing and play, artists with their incredible handiwork, illusionists, and a great mass of people of all ages.There was just so much to see that I literally couldn't see it all.

After some time we came upon the Garden of Remembrance, where many Irish men fought for their freedom, and where the Queen of England came to give a speech two years ago and actually bowed to the Irish people's hard-earned independence. While we were visiting this garden, it was also interesting that there was a pro-abortion rally going on. I hadn't realized that abortion hasn't yet been legal here, and I was thinking that they have no idea what they are getting themselves into. I cringed while walking past signs that said, "Get your rosaries off my ovaries". They need prayer. Needless to say, it shook me up quite deeply, especially as this same group was later marching up to Dublin's headquarters. In contrast to this I also saw numerous expectant mothers while walking down the streets, as well as parents enjoying their kids. At least there was a little joy on the scene.

We trotted through the city park on our way to Trinity College. It was most loveliest of lovely. A river curved through, with big trees on the banks and large lawns about, people sitting and lying everywhere, to catch the afternoon sun rays. I heard electronica-type music playing loudly from somewhere in the center, and it echoed all about. I stopped along the river to snap some photos of the swans and other birds having fun on the water.

Standing in the main court of Trinity College, it felt very "scholarly". The building structures are very British. I thought it looked like a cool place to study. The Trinity College has the Book of Kells library. It was really inspiring to see all the old manuscripts and to learn about the conquest of Brian
Boru many hundreds of years ago. It was very beautiful in the library. We also visited the Dublin Castle nearby, and gazed upon the entrance gates where many Irish rebels were shot to death as they tried to march into the castle courts. There is an old fashioned part of this castle and a modern one. President Obama has apparently come to visit this place before. I realized that it is a great gift to stand in such rich places of history.

My Friday night in the city was spent with my new friend Raquel, who's also from Michigan. We had a very nice introductory chat in the hostel about our families and life back home. Then we went out and toured the city together, getting Starbucks smoothies first and then just walking around all the little shops. Walking the streets at dusk, we were shoulder-to-shoulder with all the local Irish people returning from that evening's hurling match nearby. I enjoyed checking out their jerseys and fan decker. Hurling is a big deal for the Celts and apparently it costs a lot to go to a game. So there was no way in heck we Americans could afford it. Thankfully the game played on TV just like our football games do. Anyway, Raquel and I had dinner at an off-street place called Lemon Jelly, which I highly recommend. I had my first crepe there: a banana-nutella-ice cream one, and I can't tell you just how good it was! The chefs were super polite and it wasn't nearly as hard to order food as it would have been at a pub, since the pubs were packed. We went to a couple pubs later, hitting only the ones with good live music. My favorite was The Merchant, which had a traditional Irish band playing called "Reely". They played a number of jigs, my favorite being "Galway Girl". I couldn't believe just how much fun it was to stand there and listen to them; the people all around were so jolly too!

The next day we toured the Guinness Factory. I had never tasted the stuff so I couldn't say I was a fan, but I am totally a fan of great businesses and hearing their stories, and this of course was one of them. The Guinness headquarters is at least seven stories high, so you slowly tour all the way to the top. Learning about Arthur Guinness, the founder, was very impressive. I'd heard he was a Christian man, but what I didn't know is that he and his wife Olivia gave birth to twenty-one kids and buried eleven of them. Wow! That means she spent sixteen years of her life in pregnancy, woah. Anyway, the tour of the factory involved floor after floor of walking through the Guinness-making process, such as barley-growing, boiling, hops-growing, and so forth. I already knew some about brewing, so I'd say my favorite process was actually the barrel-making, watertight to store the Guinness on ships. The company actually bought a good number of ships over the years and had replicas on display. On the sixth floor, I got in with a group of older French guys and participated in the Guinness Academy lesson all in French. The men were hilarious and I enjoyed every minute of that. On the top floor I finally did try the beautiful barley drink, but honestly did not like the taste at all. Sorry to disappoint.

Our final tour in Dublin was the National Museum. I definitely recommend this place! It has SO much incredible old stuff, dating back into the B.C.'s even. My only wish is that I had nore time to see everything. I spent too much time reading the descriptions of things, because I didn't want to walk by without appreciated things for what they were. And what amazed me is that Ireland is so much older than America, with SO much more history. There was a lot of gold and gold things, as well as bronze. I learned that people were 'decked out' back in the day, with bronze or gold collars, bracelets, clothing fasteners, rings, etc. This was pre-medieval. I also extremely old texts of the Psalms, called the Psalter, from somewhere between one and two thousand years old. I thought that was very cool. One of the freakiest exhibits there, however, was the Bodies of the Bogs. These are real people, who died a very, very long time ago, but were somehow naturally preserved in the sediment of bog quicksand. They are preserved so they look bluish-green in color, and are a bit thin-pressed but have their flesh and facial features still intact. Yikes, I couldn't believe that one one the guys I looked at still had wavy red hair on his head. So, if you want to see the resemblance of your ancient fathers, that's the place to go I guess! But I could stay there long or even look at them all because it did freak me out a bit. I still can't get their dead faces out of my mind. Very neat experience, however.

Well, by the time I made it back to Cork that night, it felt like coming home actually! Funny, but a good, good feeling. I got of the bus and was like, "oh, my city!" Thankfully this city is much smaller than Dublin, though I loved it there and would totally recommend it to any person visiting Ireland.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

My Tale of Cobh

It's a sunny Saturday morning, which is a precious gift in Ireland, and I pack up for the day. I go out of my apartment complex to meet up with two other girls from my program. We head off to catch a bus that will take us to the city's main train station. We get to the train station early and wait for our program director, then we all take off, chatting and laughing, for the town of Cobh. It takes us only about a half hour-to-45 minutes to get there. I wish the train didn't go so fast; I so badly want to stop to pet some horses, and there's a castle ruin right as the River Lee meets the harbor, that I so badly want to sneak off  to. But we stay on the train till we reach the coastal town. I didn't know what I was getting myself into. We walk down the sidewalk from the train station as the sea air blows in, and the sights before us just keep getting better and better. First we go into the Titanic museum and do a 'live' tour so that we can experience what the passengers went through. This is an emotional time for me, standing at the same building and window, on the dock that those passengers stood on all those years ago. Our tour involves going from room to room so that we can experience the inside of the ship. My eyes stare at a wall for a long time, with all the names of the passengers who loaded there in Cobh. Mostly Irish people traveling third class, I learn that many of them were actually around my age. Lot of young guys and girls in their early twenties. I think about how that'd be pretty much the worst death, drowning out in super cold water at night, as as you watch the world's greatest ship sink. Never making it to the Land of Opportunity.

After that sad experience at the Titanic, we walk around the lovely town. Cobh is full of steep streets. At the top of one of these steep streets, the view takes my breath away. The name Cobh is the Irish word for Cove, and when standing on top of the hill, I watch the sea cove sparkle in September sunlight, the birds rising and dipping above it. On top of this hill is a very tall church, and as I look way up at the steeple top against the clouds moving, it looks like the whole steeple might fall down on me. We go inside the magnificent building in a hush. I take a few photos then sit down in the historic pew where bottoms have sat for hundreds of years, and pray. There is something very cool about this, hard to explain. I gaze up at the high ceilings, full of artwork, supported by marble pillars. Wow, I can't imagine the people who built that place.

After the most scrumptious lunch of fish n' chips at a harbor-view restaurant, we walk down to touch the sea. Or, at least, that's what I did! I can't wait to touch it, me being a water-lover. There is no beach, just sea wall, stairs leading into the water for the fishermen, and cobblestones slopes all seaweed-strewn. I stare into the seaweed at all the barnacles. I gather sea glass and shells to take home. Awhile later we have ice cream at a tiny joint, where there's just the coolest sayings all over the walls, then go to the park and sit for awhile. I sit in front of the rail over the water and fishing boats, and pen these words on the page:

                               "For the Beauty of Cobh"
                    On the coast of Cobh I sit and write
                    The day is lovely, rare and bright
                    Fish and chips is my lunch
                    Then on some sweet delight I haply munch
                    I play with slimy seaweed
                    To make haste, I have no need.
                    I find shells and sea glass
                   Some little shops I stop at and pass
                   Tall streets, steep streets, everywhere
                   Sailboats on the water here and there
                   This is where Titanic last came through
                   Loading up with third class Irish crew.
                   Memories, tales, and history here,
                   With the smell of sea air always near
                   Massive church steeples and houses on the hill
                  For the beauty of Cobh, come and get your fill.
                                                                        ~ By Amelia Newman

Monday, September 15, 2014

A Taste of West Cork

Calling all foodies. If you're a food lover, especially for the taste of fresh, local ingredients, then Ireland, particularly County Cork, is the place for you. The first time I visited the English Market, it was more like a tour. I couldn't possibly remember everything I'd seen, bu had seen enough to know that I was definitely coming back! It's kind of like an all-year, indoor farmer's market, but much more sophisticated.There are a couple delicious cafes, there are little nooks and crannies filled with wonderful things, as well as high ceilings, wood stairways and lovely artwork. There are 'group stands' or markets. And you pay for your things at each individual market.You could buy cheap apples from this fresh market here or from that one over there, for close to the same price. Everything smells as it should, straight from nature. So if you close your eyes, you can take it all in and distinguish each: herbs, fruits, meats, bread, vegetables, and dairy. My first visit there, I wasn't grocery shopping just yet, but bought some soup for 5 euro in the upstairs cafe. It was Tomato Basil, where they served it on pure white ceramics with sprinkled basil leaves on top and french bread on the side. It was pretty much the creamiest tomato soup ever. A few days later, I came back t get some cooking supplies, bringing only a little more than 20 euro with me. I only brought this much because I knew I could easily find stew supplies with this amount. So I stepped into the market and my first stop was the fresh-baked bread section. Now, breads are kind of a big deal in Ireland. So you shouldn't go waving any Wheat Belly books or Living Gluten-Free stuff around. Of course there's always some gluten-free options to those who are allergic, but still, bread's a big deal. So after asking the sweet lady-of-the-stand about the various breads, I purchased the soda bread. I had to buy the soda bread, for one because I've never had it before, and for two because she said it is best served with soups. Next I stopped at one of the many local vegetable markets, and grabbed two bulbs of garlic, an onion, and several loose potatoes. After that, I stopped at one of the meat markets, which had a lot of pork. I got a large slab of rib for fairly cheap,since I was getting stuff to make my rib stew. They took up a hunk of the smelly meat right in front of me, and then chopped off how many kilograms I wanted. I gave them cash and they handed me back my change with bloody hands and all. I thought it was pretty cool. Sometime I want to buy lamb too. If you're buying fish, you can get them whole and slimy as they come. That's what I like about this place, but occasionally I do have to scrunch my nose a bit around the fish and meats. I had to smile while I was shopping though, because there was so much other cultural stuff going on around me. One Irish daddy was trying to cheer up his little girl he was holding, while standing in front of a sausage stand. He says to his little girl,"Look, it's a sausage lolly-pop!" Wow, I thought,"only in Ireland might a toddler get excited over a sausage lolly-pop!" So, I finished my shopping ingredients by stopping lastly at a West Cork farmer's booth and purchasing homemade cheese, garden carrots, and milk. I'll never forget the kind farmer there. He said in his strong accent,"Where in da States are ya frome?" I replied,"Michigan". He goes, "Oh, that's good dairy country too, yes?" He was one of those kind hearts that makes me feel at home here, and I cherished the items I purchased from him. Here's a funny lesson about cheese buying in Ireland though: make sure you know what you're buying! Because I didn't. Only that it was homemade, fresh farmhouse cheese from West Cork. I opened it up back at my place, took a taste, and literally could NOT finish it! I THEN looked at the type of cheese(please do this before buying, haha), and saw that it is an Og cheese. Something aged and strong, anyway, and not the sandwich cheese I thought I was buying! So the said cheese still lies in the bottom of my fridge, awaiting another brave mouth other than my own. I could literally taste the barn in it, which might be fine for some strong-cheese lovers.
I don't go out to eat too much so far, of course to save money. I'm sort of saving that for the days we have program trips away. But sometimes I grab a quick thing or two from campus cafes or in town. Since I bought a nice coffee maker for only 12.99 euro(no tax added), I don't have to buy coffee and tea as much when out and about. Coffee shops are one of my favorite things however, so I will hopefully be doing more coffee shop friend dates in the future, in order to get the best of the experience here. The other grocery stores where I grab quick supplies are Dealz, Tesco, and Centra. Say, if I need a small jug of orange juice, or a bag of coffee, Centra is great. Tesco Express has a few more things than Centra, such as meats, incredible yogurts, snacks, fresh breads, cereals, some reasonably priced produce. Dealz has a little bit of cheap everything: shampoo & conditioner, batteries, oatmeal cereals and granola bars, dried products(even buckets), laundry soap,  tea towels, and dishes, etc. Most items in the store are only 1.49 euro each, so it's totally a money-saver for some things I only need for a few months.
So, that's my current taste of Ireland living, and I'm loving it. We just might want to try importing West Cork yogurt into the States, soon, just sayin', as it really is that good!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Week 1:
Yup...THIS is my school this term. Or part of it, as the campus is actually quite large. When I first walked through the tall arch and came into the courtyard, I thought it looked too good to be true. I felt like I was in a medieval movie or something. However, this is not the building where I'll have class though, I will be in the Faculty of Business and Law. So what are my takes on my new school? Well, it's definitely world class and the fact that it's in Ireland makes it even better! I can't get enough of the awesome buildings and cold, grey stone overhung with lots and lots of vines. I love that the Lee River runs alongside campus. The coffee and food stations on campus are wonderful. The people are so very friendly and helpful, especial my program's international representative. The other day I had point when I felt like going into tears over thinking about what to sign up for and take care of, and the lovely Irish lady in the international office was so cheery and helpful that I left my unfallen tears way behind me. There are also several other international students from many different countries of the world, so I'm not alone at all. This is what I love, to hear so many languages and to be surrounded by lots of different nationalities. Today I had a total blast with some students from Lithuania, who were awesome people! They asked me if I knew where their country is, and I said, "actually, I do!"This past week has been Fresher's Orientation as well as international's orientation, so there will be many more Irish students coming back next week. I'm looking forward to this as well. This week has been a little tough in getting my feel for the school too though. There are many adjustments, and even though I expected this before coming here, it's still something that takes time. For one, although I've met lots of really fun and great people, I haven't met people whom I call 'bosom friends' yet. Hopefully soon though, and I am trying to reach out. Though there are certain connections I have with other American students, I don't wish to just stick with them. Especially since it seems like all they want to do here is drink, get wasted, and drink some more. Every night of the week too, which costs quite a bit. True, if you're a drinker you'll most like have a great time here at the pubs and "bares"(as the Irish pronounce them,lol). But if you're not into that or choose against it, there are definitely other things to enjoy. Thankfully, I've met a couple girls who aren't much into this and it makes me relieved I'm not the only one. If I'm the only one, it's hard. The pubs can be a lot of fun, but I know now to never go alone, and always go with someone you trust and feel comfortable with. This is because when you're in a big city in another country, anything could happen. So you need to find someone who's got your back. I't's easy to do something we regret when we're out of our own environment and vulnerable. Now, back to school talk. Ireland's school system in general is different than the States. I have to "play" classes for at least a week before formal registration, and I don't think classes can be changed once decided upon. What I'll pretty much be doing is studying all semester toward my final projects and exams. At, least, that's what it sounds like so far. Oh, one very cool thing is that school brand clothes don't all cost as much as in the States; I can get a cool rain jacket with my school logo for only 25 euro. Which is something I may be needing soon! Irish style really isn't much different than American style, so I'm glad I brought quite a few of my own warm things.
Week 2:
I've made some good friends! One of them is my housemate Christina, who loves to cook as much or more than I do even, and is very sweet. A couple others are friends she introduced me to when we went out one night; all responsible, intelligent women. Another, named Christina too, is a post-grad from Italy. Two other new friends are Irish girls I met at church on Sunday: Eimear, Sarah, and her sister, who has an Irish name I can't pronounce.
By now I've had a few classes, and they are quite good. I'm hoping to stick with the ones I've tried so far, but we'll see. I'd basically be doing all management classes, which may get a little dry at times, but I do love what I study. My favorite class so far is one Called "Contemporary Issues of HRM", of course, about human resource management. The teacher was very professional and the slides were great, and I was sitting among UCC senior and master level students. Ones of the ones I went to yesterday was Strategic Management, another fourth level course, also very good. The professor was hilarious, however, only because he is the perfect stereotypical professor to be planted in your memory. He's only a fill-in for the first couple weeks actually, but is from the London Business School and is very British. Not only does he have the accent, but has the perfect whisped, grey hair of an aged professor. He's also very serious about what he's presenting, and therefore helps me be more serious too. So I assume this class will be good for me, though possibly a bit challenging as well. Classes are interesting, in that it seems each one I'm attending is only a two-hour, once-a-week deal. I'm like, "sure, I can take that!" But I also see that it's helpful because my classes have been nowhere near each other either, and the overall campus is huge. So far I've been able to find them, so I hope to find the rest just as well. It's definitely a good idea to go early, to give plenty of time to find the class. Then once I find it, I sit down nearby and read my nook or whatever till class starts. Oh, you know what the most awesome thing about college in Ireland is? That I don't really have to buy textbooks! Yup, the school has every needed book and journal article in the library, so we can just use those resources. I was so happy when I got here and heard about this big money-saver. Today I tried it out: finding a resource book in UCC's huge library. The librarian was a huge help and once she gave me the floor and shelf numbers, I was actually able to find the book quite easily! There is a return deadline of course, but I can renew online if I create a library pin for myself; how cool is that? Every little thing counts, if it makes my life easier here. One big question I had about school here was of course what the workload is like. Well, the European school system seems to be all about the finals. This includes a project, and/or big writing assignment, and exam. Might sound simple, but I don't think so. If I slack off too much on the build-up of lectures and class notes, it will show up in the finals. They're a big deal. Am I ready? I don't know; I just gotta be adaptable and perseverent. So...I know I have a long ways to go in school experiences, but these are just a few of my first vibes.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

My New Life in Ireland

Dear friends and family. So here I am in Cork City, which is incredible by the way. I can show you photos, but that will never do it justice. The more I see the city. the more in-love I fall with it. It was dark out when I flew over the Atlantic, and the window was closed most of the time. I was actually sitting next to a band member from Celtic Thunder, and he opened the window at sunrise when we were over the island and flying into Shannon Airport. I remember feeling, "Wow, this is a real place! It had seemed just a dreamland up until now. Once we got off the the plane, my left ear wouldn't unplug for awhile but we walked through halls and down escalators till we got to the bottom floor and went through the gates with our passports. They had lanes with titles such as 'EU passengers, Students', and 'All other passengers'. Going through the gate was fairly easy; I just had to show my university acceptance letter, my passport, tell my birthday(the Irish way, lol), etc. Then I went to claim my baggage, which was fun. All we passengers stood around this circular conveyor belt till our suit case came out the chute. Then I went through some more doorways till I ran into Thomas, who is from London and is my resident director. He was holding up a sign with my program name on it. He gave me a warm welcome and grabbed one of my suitcases for me. Then I met up with the other study-abroad students from my program, who were all very lively after the long flight! Thomas gave us a welcome packet with some information, and visited us while we waited for the taxi driver to come. We stepped outside the airport and I breathed my first Ireland air. Beyond the parking lots and runways, I saw green grass. Once the driver arrived, we hopped into a funny-looking van and sped, (and I mean fast), down to Cork City. Trees, fields with cows and sheep, and lots of adorable-looking houses sped by. Thomas informed me that the type of single-story house is called a bungalow. They're quite colorful here! For a little while, when first driving by fields and greenery, I was thinking: "Yeah, this isn't too too different from Michigan, right? But then all of the sudden we whizzed by some awesome castle ruins and I was like,"No, that's definitely not like Michigan!" It's funny how the very old mixes with the new here; it just has to. After at least an hour, we arrived in the city and to our accommodations. The lady at the my lodge's reception desk was very friendly and pretty, and I loved the way she talked. Nothing like a first welcome. Then we brought our luggage up to our rooms, and Thomas gave us a little time to freshen up in our rooms before walking into the city and university. Okay, I love walking, but man do we ever walk here! People everywhere, (and there are a lot of them), walking throughout the city all day long. There is public transportation yes, and it's very popular, but people still seem to walk or bike places as much as they can too. But there is also a LOT of traffic and it's fast too!!! No shoulders to their roads, the sidewalk run run along the crazy traffic. So there would be no forgiveness should you trip off and fall into the street, or your dog run out. People here live more fearlessly and dangerously. I watch buses full of passengers whip around tight corners and barely miss the small cars. People also J-walk all the time. Though you're supposed to wait till the green man shows up on the crossing post, still you see people make a run for it across and sometimes cars slam on their brakes and honk at them. It's hilarious. Even today at my orientation, some of our speakers admitted that they do this and told us not to follow their example! So...into the city we went. There are such cute shops everywhere, I couldn't count them. One of our stops was to an adorable little shop called The Bagel Box, where I got the most delicious croissant I've ever tasted, (I mean, have I even ever had one before?), as well as a cup of tea. I love how at every coffee/tea shop in Ireland there are little open pictures of cold milk or cream. I've actually noticed that when you step into a lot of these shops, especially chocolate shops, it smells like the milk house of a dairy barn, because it's so fresh. And yes, food here is SO good, it really is. And Thomas told it's partly due to the fact that this is an island and it's hard to get some things imported in. Cost of living is definitely higher than in the States though, so bringing as many personal and comfort items from home is a good idea. However, we discovered that some things are cheaper too. Such as hair dryers, certain fruits and vegetables, etc. There are many many sandwich & soup joints as well, and people are often sitting at cute little tables with a mug of coffee and chatting happily. The weather here is actually much better than I thought! Throughout the day, it will be both sunny and partly cloudy off and on, and it's mostly good for light jackets or a sweaters. But it will often feel even too warm for your jacket too, say when the sun shines and it's humid. It's quite pleasant! All day as I walk and walk around, I am mesmerized by the incredible architecture. These building are intricate, and there are artistic metal gates everywhere. Lots of thick vines hang over rock walls, and willow bows sweep over the River Lee. This is totally my type of place. There are some things to get used to of course too though: such as finding supplies. I see why it's a great idea to bring a generous amount of euros with me since I needed a few things right away. Today I found out that my card does work though! Thankfully there is a Penny's store here and they have the best prices for dorm supplies. But I forgot my money the first time our group went there, so I went to Tesco's later, which has both groceries and house  supplies, and bought a pack of two pillows for 17 euro, a pot plant, flour towel for my bathroom, etc. Walking to Tesco's, I was besides a sweet Irish woman who answered some of my questions and showed me how to retrieve a 'trolly' for shopping, which are locked up and you have to put a euro in a slot to use. I was desperate to get a good night's sleep last night, so I went to bed early and the pillows were so worth it. I was a bit cold as I slept though and had to wake up in the middle of the night to turn my heater on. So thankful there's a heater! I still have yet to get a duvet for my bed, as most stores have quickly gone out of stock while students have been grabbing them left and right. I'm very glad I brought my small fleece blanket, and I recommend this to anyone else thinking of coming here. I realize that when you're a guest in another country it's important to practice gratitude for EVERY small thing, and learn to live simply. The Irish people are a little more relaxed than Americans, and most businesses close up earlier.