Thursday, January 30, 2014

Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones…Wind and Hail Might Kill Me


Hello again!

Now that I'm mostly recovered from the plague, I can get back to blogging about the good stuff! Last weekend was the first time that we got the chance to explore outside of Galway. We love our city but it was time to get to adventuring! So the three of us (Sarah, Lauren, and myself) booked a two day tour to see the Cliffs of Moher and Connemara.

The first day, the bus left at 10:00am so we all begrudgingly got up on a Saturday morning, skipped the farmer's market, and headed to the bus station. After a few turnarounds, we realized the station was just around the corner and let me say that the bus station here in Galway was so nice. And so clean! I detest the Buffalo bus station with it's shoddiness and grossness and unsafeness so I was delighted to find this was not the case over here. Keeping with the usual, the people who worked there were helpful and accommodating and quickly got us on the right bus.
So began our journey.
I know you guys in the States are having some serious weather. Trust me, I know. None of you will shut up about it on Facebook. It's cold, it's windy, it's cold, it's snowing, it's cold. I get it. But you have not felt wind until you bus is shaking back and forth on the side of the cliff as you drive next to the ocean. 
Our first stop was to Ailwee Caves. By now we were high up in the Burren (even though they told us it was the lower part). The Burren is a region of the land that is covered in limestone, sparse in population, and very beautiful. Well, I imagine it was beautiful; I couldn't see much out of the rain-streaked windows. Back to the caves.
           My childhood claustrophobia came back the second I walked into the dark entrance and the iron gate closed behind us (was it really necessary to close the f-ing door?). It took all my energy not to turn around to Sarah and Lauren and go Guys, what would happen if this whole thing just caved in?
You would die, Marie. You would die.
Some Irish dude discovered the cave in 1940 when his dog chased a rabbit into it. Thinking that this miles long hole in the side of a mountain wasn't a big deal, he kept his mouth shut until 1975 when some British cave-lovers came by and that's when he revealed the big secret. The coolest thing was that there were 2000 year old Irish Brown Bear bones just lying there. Next to a big indentation in the cave dirt floor where the bear slept. Again, I had to stop myself: Hey guys, what if the bears aren't really extinct?


Toward the end of the tour, the guide announced she would be turning off the lamps that lit the wall and that all cellphones should be turned off and put away. Is everyone okay with this? she asks, as if a bunch of college kids are going to say they are scared of the dark. Pssh, I’m not afraid.
Wrong.
If you’ve never been victim to 100% darkness then I envy you. Keep it that way. It was the craziest and most frightening thing I’ve done in a while. Here I am, standing on a rickety bridge over a ten meter drop into a cave and I couldn’t even see my hand waving an inch in front of my face. Of course, my basic instinct was to curl up in a ball and cry and wait to die but then the lights came back on and as the trembling subsided, I realized it had only been about thirty seconds.
No big deal or anything but at the end of the tour, the guide said she would not be accompanying us out and gave us the type of directions all good Irish give (go left here, then right, then straight for a bit, then left again. You can’t get lost!) But we got out and jumped back on the bus to head to the rock thingy.
I’m still not sure of the rock thingy’s significance or purpose. I do know that it was some type of monument and that a guard stood outside at all times to stop people from lighting bonfires beneath it. Stupid people. Then I got outside in the ferocious wind and the rain and I thought, Actually, a bonfire wouldn’t be a bad idea.



By this time, we’re starving and tired and just been told that the Cliffs have closed due to the 75 mph winds and the bus driver was sorry, but we couldn't go. Ugh, whatever, I thought, lamenting the loss of my thirteen euro. We pulled into this small town to eat at a pub and found no less than four other tour buses parked outside. Everyone else had the same idea. Instead of taking us somewhere else, the bus driver gave us forty minutes, lined us up, fired the gun, and off we went, to battle for a place in line for food.
Seeing that I have no luck anywhere I go, we were last in line, and stood for forty-five minutes, praying and hoping that the bus wouldn’t leave without us. Note of interest: someone came up to me while I stood in line and was like "Oh my god!" It took me a second to realize it was a girl from high school. In New Jersey. And here we were in the same tiny pub in Nowhere, Ireland. Life is weird. The bus didn't leave without us and we ate out of take-out containers on our knees while sitting on the bus. It was still the best food ever. After living off of egg sandwiches and tuna melts for three weeks, the pasta and three different kinds of potatoes tasted like heaven. I wasn’t even mad about the thirteen euro anymore.
Our driver decided that even though the weather was dangerous, he would drive us to the Cliffs and we could go in the back gate. Great.
We hit the wind head-on as we get off the bus. Of course we were walking straight into it. We kept getting blown to the side and backwards and forwards and basically had no control over our bodies. Which is why that rock barrier along the Cliffs was so important. In the pictures, it looks cool and in person it is cool but we were just not at the best angle and time of the day and the sun was right over the Cliffs in our eyes so we could only see dark outlines. Not to mention, we were getting tired and it was getting easier for the wind to knock us around. Back to the bus.





Our last stop was to the mini-cliffs. I’m not sure if they have a real name or not but everyone just calls them the mini-cliffs. The actually Cliffs of Moher are about 700 feet high and the mini-cliffs are half that. Still, the ocean was shooting up spray over top of them and one of the waves caught us when we weren’t looking! It was a much better view though and probably my favorite part of the trip.







Day Two.
            This time we picked the later pick up time at 11:30. Thank goodness! We weren’t really sure of what we were getting into or what the attraction was but we were game for anything!
            Turns out we traveled from Galway to Connemara, which boasts some pretty impressive mountains. The driver kept stopping and letting us out to take pictures. Don’t get me wrong, but, uh, all the mountains started to look the same. Wow, yes, impressive. Let’s move on.





            We got to the main attraction, Kylemore Abbey in the afternoon. I was in Ireland during summer of 2009 and as we rounded a corner and caught sight of the Abbey, something about it seemed so familiar. The castle is breathtaking, one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen while being here so far. And I was sure I’d seen it before. A chat with my mom the next day confirmed my suspicions: we had driven by the Abbey almost five years ago.






Take note, future-husband-wherever-you-are. This is what our house better look like.

            We got some lunch and perused the souvenir shop until two which is when we bought our tickets to get into the Abbey. I know Kylemore also has some impressive gardens but we didn’t get a chance to see them (this time) so I won’t be talking about them. But the castle enough was incredible. Sarah, Lauren, and I spent a lot of time inside, reading everything and taking too many photos. From the 1920s to 2010, Kylemore was actually a girl’s boarding school, so there was a lot of information on it during those years. Me, a total history nut, was in nerd heaven as I imagined all the girls who had come and gone over the years and all the history the castle held within the walls. Because we had a bit of extra time, we decided to make our way to the Gothic Church (no, that’s really what it’s called). It was cute and old and historic. Outside was a graveyard where all the previous nuns were buried (ten still live in the Abbey).





The real adventure began we tried to walk from the church to the bus because it started hailing. Ever been caught in a hailstorm? No? Let me help you out.
It’s like being pelted with rocks. In Ireland, where the rain blows sideways and not down, it was like being pelted in the face with rocks. And even though we had our scarves up, covering our faces, the rocks hurt. Not to mention I couldn’t see and was really hoping not to fall in the lake we were walking next to. Wouldn’t that just be the icing on the cake? The three of us were shouting promises to God the whole way, negotiating our grades, our vices, our first borns, anything as long as he would make it stop hailing. He must have heard because the hail stopped and the torrential sideways Irish rain started up right on cue. I imagine God sitting up on this throne in hysterics, Hahaha, Marie, I don’t want your first born. Only you will be able to handle that creature.
We made it back to bus, faces stinging, completely drenched but also exhilarated. There’s just something about walking through a hailstorm that brings people together. I’m pretty sure I fell asleep on the bus ride more than once, wet hair and all.



It was definitely a weekend to remember, between the wind and the hail and the rain. So I know it’s cold at home folks, but hopefully my suffering makes you feel a little bit better. At least I have some cool photos to show from my struggle!


The lake in front of Kylmore


Inside Kylmore


Signing the guestbook! So exciting!



Gotta love the rolling hills.


Roomies!



White girl mirror selfie!

*Reminder that you can make the pictures larger by clicking on them.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Plague Lives On In Ireland

Sorry I haven't posted in over a week, but I was a little busy dying from the plague.

Only twenty-four hours after I discovered the wonderful drink that is Jameson and Red Lemonade, I fell victim to the Ireland weather. In case I haven't said it enough, let me say it again: Ireland is wet. All the time. Every day. It doesn't matter if the sun is beating down, it's still wet. For a country where it rains 90% of the time, Ireland has astonishingly bad drainage. Puddles everywhere. 
So I woke up Thursday with a cough and was like, hmmm, weird. I don't usually get sick. Okay, whatever, it's not that bad. I rolled out of bed at the ripe time of 6:45, put my hair in a bun, and headed to school so I could stand in the cold for a couple hours in order to register for a certain English class.
Let me say that online registration is a beautiful thing. I will never complain about it again. There's actually a lot of things I'm never going to complain about again (hot water, quiet at night, good TV, internet).
Flash forward to Friday where the cough has gotten worse and I'm starting to think maybe I'm getting a cold so I grab some cough drops and continue on my merry way to the school library because that's where the only good internet is. 
Saturday is when I realized I had the plague. I know things are getting bad when I don't have the energy to read. Which left me with about, oh, absolutely nothing to do. Seriously, being sick while here was the worst thing ever. For five days, I have split my time between playing solitaire, sleeping, and listening to music. Sometimes, when I wanted to go really insane, I listened to an audiobook. Not to mention we get about five channels on our TV here and all they play are Irish soaps and the same three American movies on repeat (James Bond, The Hulk, and The Perfect Storm). 
If you know me at all, you know that I adore the TV show Supernatural. I'm an honest-to-goodness fangirl that hasn't gone this hardcore since my obsession with Rent and Adam Pascal back in middle school. So obviously I brought some of the show with me, carefully tucked away in a CD case, thinking that I would only break it out in times of desperate homesickness. Instead, I've gone through about five discs so far, staring blankly at the screen as my head spins. I'm surprised I'm not speaking in lines from the show. Maybe this was just God's plan to detach me from my obsession because if so, well played, God, well played. The amount of me that wants to watch another episode is at about .0001%. 
Because I wasn't getting any better, I decided to visit the doctor's office on campus Monday morning, just to make sure I didn't actually have the plague. The night before, I looked up where it was on campus, scoped out the hours, and decided to get there right as it opened.
Which would have all gone perfectly if I had gone to the right place. Who knew that the Clinic and the Wellness Centre were two different places?
Not me.
The Clinic opened at 9:15, runs on a first come-first serve basis, and because I sat for over an hour outside the wrong building, I didn't get there until 10:30. That's when the mean receptionist lady (the only not-nice person I've met in Ireland so far) told me to come back at noon. Fine. So I walked to the library, hoping I wasn't attracting too much attention by weaving instead of walking. 
The NUIG library is a strange place. I don't like it. You can't bring food or drink in. You can't talk anywhere. So there's me, sitting in a crowded library, hacking away in the silence. Don't worry, the day got worse from there. Not only do they lock you out of the library (you have to swipe your card in front of some gates), they lock you in too. Which I totally forgot in my moments of sickly delusion and as I tried to follow some girl out, the gates shut on me and I got stuck. That's when the loud shrieking noise went off. Apparently, I upset the system and some lady security guard started yelling at me, "Get out of there! Get out of there!"
Excuse me, but your gates are trying to eat me, lady. 
I disentangled myself from the gates and dug my card out of my bag and fled the library, certain that if I wasn't so miserable already, I would have lost it right then and there. Did I mention there were about twenty people watching my fail? There were.
Back in the doctor's office, I sat in an uncomfortable waiting room filled with other sick kids. At least I wasn't the only one dying. They say the plague wipes out 9 out of 10.  I got in to see the nurse (who spent a good five minutes trying to remember where in New Jersey her husband has family) and she gave me a red card, which apparently means see the doctor now. At this point, I was just happy that someone else thought I was so sick; it wasn't just in my head. 
Finally, a piece of good luck landed in my lap when an incredibly attractive, young doctor called me into his office. Yes, I thought. This is good. 
I'm sure he was charmed by my watery eyes and obnoxious coughing.
He told me the good news (I'm not dying and I don't have the plague) and told me that I couldn't go to class. The 20-25 minute walk to campus and back wasn't going to help me get better so he advised me not to leave the apartment for a couple days. He might have said more but I was too busy staring at his oh so blue eyes and the way his dark hair was kinda spiky in the front. Also craning my neck to see if I could spot a wedding ring. Honestly, he could of told me I had tuberculosis and I probably would have beamed at him. He told me some joke on the way out but his accent was so thick I had no idea what he was saying so I just nodded and smiled and he started laughing. Cue my quick exit from his office.
Today is Tuesday. I did not go to class, per Dr. Sexy's orders. I will not go out tonight, per Dr. Sexy's orders. Anything for him. 
So I'm going to go start my 500th game of solitaire and watch more *sigh* Supernatural. 

Long story short: don't get sick while studying abroad. It's ten times worse than getting sick at home because your mom, your dog, and your TV are not there to comfort you. Besides, I like to think I took one for the team. 
You're welcome.


Saturday, January 11, 2014

A Love That Lasts


Today was our first "free" day in Ireland, meaning that we didn't have to run errands or go to endless hours of orientation. The first thing I did was sleep in. I could chalk it up to jet lag but the truth is, we've just been so busy that I'm falling asleep as soon as I pull up the covers. Not that I'm complaining!
Anyway, today Sarah and I decided to explore Galway a bit. We've really only been to the busy Shop Street (like a downtown), the school, and the far out of the way grocery store. The first thing we did was check out the farmer's market that happens on Saturdays and Sundays behind St. Nicholas Church. It was a pretty incredible place. There were vendors selling everything from hand-tooled leather bracelets to sheep wool slippers to "freshly caught Irish fairies" (which I think I have to get for my four-year-old neighbor back at home!). The knick-knacks were neat to look at but the food was the real prize.
Grocery stores are a little lacking in Ireland so we were excited to find a ton of fresh food at the market. They had fresh breads and pastries, cheeses, wine, an entire stall devoted to olives. There was a butcher there and next to him was a guy selling fresh fish. Sarah and I picked up some burgers and a couple fillets of trout (so if anyone has an easy stovetop trout recipe, let me know!). Then there was the fruits and vegetables. It was the biggest area and there were tons of people flocking to it. They had every fruit and vegetable imaginable, all for low prices! We also picked up a jar of honey (because we have to drink tea now that we live in Ireland) that was jarred in the next county over. Real honey! We'd also been hearing a lot about doughnuts. Not just regular doughnuts but the best. donuts. ever. Being that I'm not much of a doughnut person, I was skeptical but…let's just say I've been converted. I can't even describe what it tasted like; nothing will do it justice. It's just sort of crumbled and melted in your mouth. The man makes it right there in front of you while being charming and humming Irish songs.

Fruits and veggies!

The doughnut man!

I'd die for them.


After the farmer's market, we decided to explore the side of town we hadn't gotten to yet. We didn't really know where we were going but we're finding that that's kind of the way things go. By now, we're especially talented at getting lost, but getting lost has directed us to some of our favorite places! And since the Irish are so friendly, we have no problem asking for directions. There's only been one person who laughed at us and that was a little old lady who told us we were heading for the countryside instead of the department store. And then she just kept on laughing until we were laughing with her. 
We made our way along the bay/harbor where they house lots of boats. The scenery was breathtaking. Sarah and I kept saying out loud we couldn't believe this was real. It feels like at any moment I'm going to wake up and be back at Canisius. I'll be spending the next five months soaking up every single detail of this place so I never forget. Not that I ever could. I've already fallen head over heels in love. The kind of love that lasts. It's been five days and already Ireland will always be home.
After walking along the bay for a bit, we found the ocean! It was so beautiful, that I'm having trouble putting into words how stunning it was to be there. I'll just leave you with some pictures so you don't have to stumble over my mediocre descriptions.

The bay

Heading out into the ocean

These guys just chill and pose for pictures

A lucky, lucky girl






Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Ireland, Page One

I'm officially moved in to a foreign country. And boy was it an adventure getting here. Turns out it's not exactly easy to pick up and move for five months.

It started with a hurricane.
Okay, not really, but when I woke up on Monday, I thought there was some sort of tropical storm going on outside my windows. Naturally, my first thought was: oh shit, the flight.
I spent the morning alternating between packing up all the final bits, crying over the touching goodbye letter Mom left me, and standing next to Jack (the dog) with our noses pressed against the window, watching. Waiting.
Finally, the skies cleared and I zipped up the last suitcase, loaded them up and off we went. It was all very non-dramatic.
The filler bits are boring: there was no traffic on the way to Newark Airport (weird), no line to get my boarding pass (weirder), and no grabby stories from the blue-gloved TSA darlings. I admit, I almost cried in the security line because my parents weren't leaving. They just kept standing and waving and smiling and I was mentally saying, leave before they escort me away for hysterical behavior. Needless to say, there is no ESP in the family.
But I got through the line and got to the gate, the farthest one away naturally. That's where I met up with my friend and roommate, Sarah (check out her blog here), who I hadn't seen in three long weeks. Three weeks and two days if we want to be like that.
We were both pretty quiet, silently freaking out I think. I said on twitter that sitting at the gate was the oh shit what have I done part of the travel. Or at least the first time I had that moment. Turns out that most of our flight was also headed to Galway (we flew into Shannon airport) to attend school at the university. The gate was not big enough. Like, who decided that fifty seats is sufficient for a plane that seats over two hundred? A plane that is full no less.
Of course our flight was delayed. It was only an extra hour but it sure felt like longer, especially since we were seated under a lovely air conditioning vent. By the windows.
But board we did. I was almost last onto the plane which meant they had to gate-check my carry on (no biggie) which took extra time but then we were at last seated. Because most of the flight was students, of course I ended up sitting next to one! We actually ended up getting along pretty well, sharing our disgust for the Kardashians and airline food, and then finding out we were actually going to be living in the same apartment building in Galway.
And that's how Lauren became our third roommate.
Wait, let me back up.
We got off the plane and went through customs and they took our picture and everything was just fine until they lost my luggage. Oh yes, you read that right. I'm in a foreign country for five months with no luggage.
Just. Wonderful.
Moving on because I don't want to think about the fact my suitcase may or may not be in the country, may or may not be in the hands of some random dude, and may or may not make it back to me. Lord, let us pray.
We took a cab instead of the bus, knowing that we were probably getting swindled a bit on the price but between the four of us, it seemed worth it. The cabbie was an old irish man who was very friendly and he talked a lot about Ireland so the ride was educational, if not overpriced.
Finally, we got to the apartment building in Galway and stood in the lobby for a good ten minutes while the landlord figured out where everyone would stay. Bless him, he actually got everyone where they wanted to be. Since Lauren was alone, she got to live with us! Yay for new friends! Although honestly, by the end of the day, it feels as though we've all known each other for years.

We settled into the apartment and then, because we had no soap or toliet paper or food, we ventured out into Galway. The town is busy but quaint, with bright color buildings all right in a row so that even in the rain, it gives off a cheerful vibe. After wandering for a bit, we found the grocery store. Okay, food shopping in a foreign country was the hardest part so far. It felt like everything was different. Between the three of us, we managed to buy the basics and haul them back to the apartment. But we still hadn't had lunch. So back out we went. There's a healthy cafe place right around the corner so we dodged the raindrops and went there for sandwiches, which were delicious, although anything would have tasted good as long as it was edible. Back to the apartment for showers (can you say not enough hot water?) and a much needed nap, and now we're all a little less irritable. The jet lag is catching up to us so we stayed classy with frozen pizza and a bottle of wine for dinner. I think bed might be soon. I think if I listen hard enough, that pillow is calling me. It wants me. I'm going to go make the relationship mutual.

Thanks for reading about my first day in Ireland and check back for more updates as we unlock the secrets of our new home!

I think Mom had a hard time saying goodbye.

Reunited in Newark!

Downtown Galway!

Roommates :)