I went to a concert today in downtown Derry, and Phil Coulter (a pretty famous Derry-born composer and musician) performed this song. It beautifully captures how I feel about my adopted city I hope you enjoy it!
Well, I meant to write a dramatic blog post about how I only had ONE MONTH left to living in Ireland, buuuuuttttt . . . I went traveling instead. So this is me belatedly saying, “Where the heck has the time gone?!?” As of today (assuming I finish writing this in one day), I only have 18 days left until I’m back home in the States! That’s less than three weeks!!!!
I think I’m going to get all philosophical and mushy here, so either bear with me or leave now without any hard feelings!
Less than four months ago, I was a nervous wreck. I’m the type of person who gets really excited about something new when it’s in the murky, abstract, possible future, but I tend to like to panic and back out of things when they actually become reality. This whole study-abroad idea had sounded amazing for the past couple years (ever since I heard about it from Maria when she went to BC), but I never actually thought I’d be able to do it. Because of that, I let myself imagine all sorts of wonderful things about what I thought studying abroad would be like. Lo and behold, however, I was actually blessed enough to apply for and be admitted to a study abroad program for Northern Ireland. Even last semester when I found out, I was still excited because January seemed like a long way away.
As time began ticking down til my departure on January 22nd, though, I got more and more terrified. I delayed packing because I was in denial, I lied when people asked me if I was excited to go abroad, and I felt on the verge of tears before finally breaking down to my Mom the night before I left. All in all, I felt like I was in over my head and I had no way to escape.
Why do I bring all this up (you’re probably saying “TMI” right now!)? Because I could not feel any more different now. I look back at that person who bit back tearing as she hugged her family and smile a little bit. I haven’t changed so much that I don’t get nervous or worried about change, but I have changed in that I feel confident to tackle problems head-on now.
I’ve learned that I can be an adult. I can make all my own meals, clean up after myself, go grocery shopping, make a budget (and stick to it), know my limits with alcohol (it’s very low!), and I can be independent. I can plan plane flights, book hostels, navigate in a foreign country, beg random strangers in a bus station for help when I have no way to get home (that’s a story for another time!), stand up for my beliefs, and realize when I don’t know everything.
I still don’t know exactly who I am or where God wants me to be in life, but I feel more confident that I can find the answers now. I was so, so glad to see my parents when they came to visit me (a blog post is coming soon, I promise), but I’m also thankful that I haven’t ever gotten overwhelmingly homesick. All semester, I had an imaginary blog post all written out about how much I missed everyone and everything in America (yes, I know I have too much time on my hands), but I’ve never had to write it. Part of that is due to the wonders of Skype, but part of it is due to me being more comfortable with where I am in the moment.
In 18 days I’ll fly home and resume my old life, but I won’t be the same old me. Don’t worry, I won’t feel offended if you don’t notice some dramatic change, but I have grown up on the inside.
If any of you reading this are contemplating studying abroad, I’ll quote Nike and say, “Just DO IT.” Yes, it’s expensive, and yes, it’s scary. Trust me, though, you won’t ever regret it!
So where did this sentimentality and self-reflectiveness come from? I really have no clue. Maybe it’s due to me just finished my last exam of sophomore year, but I don’t know. Don’t worry, it will be gone soon, and when it is, I’ll probably look back at what I just wrote and smile, but it’s here now!
Anyway, I promise to put pictures and at least one more blog post up soon about my latest adventures, but I had to get this out of my system!
As always, God bless,
No, I promise I haven’t actually fallen off the face of the earth, despite my lack of posts recently. Life has gotten crazier and I’ve gotten lazier (hey! I’m rhyming now!). Anyway, this is the long-awaited post that wraps up my Easter break. Without further ado . . .
Dark and early on Holy Thursday morning I caught a shuttle ride to lovely Heathrow airport. I say “dark” because the shuttle came at 4 AM, so I got to see London before most of the population! Believe it or not, there still were a fair number of cars on the road for that time o’ the morning!
I caught a flight from London to Milan (“MILAN, darling, Milan!” Who can name that quote?), mercifully got through customs without a problem (the group of students ahead of me were stopped and questioned very intensely, which freaked me out a little bit), and continued on to Rome. ROME!!!!!!!!!!
Yes, I was so excited that I took a really bad picture of the road sign through the bus window. Don’t judge me.
I got into Roma Termini (the bus/train/metro hub) and met up with my wonderful friend Annette and her Uncle Bill. I have to stop a moment and thank Bill. He was the one who invited Annette to come to Rome with him for Easter to attend the Papal Masses, and she asked if I could tag along. He arranged our hostel, got the tickets, treated us to dinner, and was an all-around great guy.
After dropping my stuff off at the hostel, we set off to visit some churches. When in Rome, right? Our first stop was the Basilica of Santa Prassede. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santa_Prassede) Just a little church tucked away in the corner that has a piece of the pillar where Jesus was scourged. EXCUSE ME?!? I stood five feet away from WHAT???? The crazy thing about Rome and the number of priceless artifacts they have is that the pillar wasn’t even on prominent display or anything. It was just tucked away through a grate in the side wall of the church. No signs or anything. Just sitting there. Mind blown already, and I’d only been in Rome for a few hours.
The one good picture out of about ten that I took. My poor camera did not like the lighting in the Roman churches.
Our next stop was at the Basilica of Saint Mary Major, but they had already started Mass when we got there, so we didn’t go inside.
OK, so the three of us were just walking down the street to our next church destination, and we were joking about the churches in Rome. Annette had already been to lots of churches there, and she said that amazing relics are just plopped down in corners of churches everywhere, and the churches often aren’t even anything extremely special to look at. We happened to pass by a little parish church at that moment, and we jokingly said, “I bet there’s something amazing in there, just because it looks so ordinary on the outside.” Lo and behold, there’s a plaque on the outside of the wall.
Umm, can we stop in for a minute or two?
Seeing a world-famous piece of religious art: check!
Another memorable visit of the evening (we kind of saw a lot!) was to the church of San Pietro in Vincoli. This little gem of a church has the famous Moses sculpture by MICHELANGELO!!!!!! (I don’t even want to count how many times I’ve used caps lock by this point; sorry for the excessive usage!)
Yes, Moses has horns. Blame St. Jerome’s Vulgate translation for that one! (Google it, my friends, just Google it)
So, you’d think that a church would be content with “just” that, wouldn’t you? Well, that might be true for churches elsewhere in the world, but not here! Look what we found under the altar!
“What’s that,” you ask? Oh, you know, that case holds the chains that bound St. Peter before his martyrdom. No big deal.
I also saw the Pantheon. Me. At the Pantheon. Whoa.
I also ensured that I’ll come back to Rome some day by throwing a coin in the Trevi Fountain.
After that rather AMAZING introduction to Rome, we got some pizza for a late dinner/one last meal before fasting for Friday. Quick side note: Italian pizza puts all other pizzas to shame. Really, the two should not even be in the same category because Italian pizza is so much better. You’ll just have to come and try it yourself, because I can’t describe it well enough to do it justice.
Good Friday was another warm and sunny day in Italy. (The entire time I was in Italy, I reveled in the fact that I didn’t need to wear a winter coat AND it only rained ONCE while I was there. Once!!!!! Do you know how glorious it is to not have to worry about getting soaked when you walk outside?)
Bill had arranged for us to spend part of the day at the Borgheose Gallery. I didn’t know anything about this art museum before we went, but apparently it’s world-famous. http://www.galleriaborghese.it/borghese/en/edefault.htm
I absolutely loved it. I will freely admit that I normally am not a huge fan of art museums (history museums are more my style), but I really enjoyed this museum and it was largely because I discovered my new favorite artist there. (Okay, so I didn’t really have a favorite artist before, but now I do have one!) Have you ever heard of Bernini? If you have, you probably understand exactly why he’s my favorite; if you haven’t, let me introduce you!
We weren’t able to take pictures in the museum but my awesome friend Google has volunteered to step up to the plate and help out. https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=bernini&client=firefox-a&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&channel=fflb&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=HIKCUazkN_CU0QXynYHYBg&ved=0CAcQ_AUoAQ&biw=1366&bih=618
So yeah, I like Bernini. The rest of the museum was beautiful, too, but it paled in comparison to the Bernini sculptures! My favorite is his version of David, and, even though it’s practically heretical to say so, I think his version is better than Michelangelo’s (which I have also seen, but that comes later!).
Yup. Pretty cool.
Then we got ready for the Good Friday service at the Vatican. AHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!
First of all, God is good. We waited in line for a while, went through security, and got inside St. Peter’s Basilica only to discover that there were no more seats. So we resigned ourselves to that and stood waiting for the service to begin, when the guards started waving people over to another area. Immediately we all rushed towards the area with a few seats left. Let me just tell you, you do not want to get in the way of a bunch of Catholics who are determined to get seats inside the most beautiful church in the world to see the new pope. It is probably the first time I have contemplated ruthlessly pushing a nun out of the way to get ahead of her. What can I say? Rome changes you.
The pope. Papa. His Holiness. Ohmygosh, I love that guy!!!!!! He is so holy and prayerful and reverent and wise and CUTE! (Like in a little old man sort of way. You know, the kind of guy you want as your grandpa. Come on, you all know what I mean! )
First good picture of Pope Francis!!!!!!
I can’t really describe how wonderful the Good Friday service was, but it was like a mini-retreat and a renewal, all within about two and a half hours. I must say that I love being Catholic!!!
Most people would consider themselves blessed to see the Pope once in a day, right? Not this girl! After the service, the Pope leads the Stations of the Cross outside the Colosseum, so guess where Annette and I went???? (Hint: if you said “to bed,” you’d be wrong!).
Now, you might think that this is just a really blurry picture because I’m a horrible photographer. My skills in photography are pretty limited, but I’d just like to show you what I was dealing with . . .
Holy Saturday was my Vatican day. Annette and I went off to explore the Basilica together. I just want to thank Annette right now for putting up with my ceaseless refrain of “I can’t believe I’m actually here!” for about 8 straight days.
I saw that!!!! Cue the Catholic girl squealing!
Chair of St. Peter, and beneath it, chair of St. Peter’s successor. Plus some bonus workers getting ready for the Easter Vigil.
There were Swiss guards, so I got a picture with them. They’re pretty awesome. ’nuff said.
Then we got in line to wait for the Easter Vigil. After waiting for a few hours (and meeting some cool people from around the world), we didn’t get in. BAM! Betcha didn’t see that coming, now did you? How’s that for an anti-climax? Apparently the Vatican gives out a couple thousand more tickets each year than they have seats, thinking that not everyone would show up. Unfortunately for us, everyone did show up, so we were out of luck. Bummer. Didn’t they know that they were ruining my plan to see the Pope three days in a row?
So, a bit disappointed, we moved on to Plan B. I know I’ve said this already, but God is SO good! He managed to take our disappointment and turn it into something incredible! Easter Sunday Mass with Papa Francesco outside in St. Peter’s Square was one of the best experiences of my life! The square was literally stuffed with thousands upon thousands of fellow Catholics from around the world, the sun was shining and it was warm, and we were all filled with joy! What could possibly be better?!?
That’s the pope, I promise!
He went through the crowd, blessing people and kissing babies! Seriously, isn’t this man so cool?!?
After Mass, Annette and I decided that one incredible moment wasn’t enough, so we went to the Colosseum to do some sightseeing.
Then we saw Palatine Hill (the original hill of the city of Rome). By this point, my inner history nerd was in full throttle, and I’m pretty sure I skipped around a bit during the tour. Annette showed her true kindness by laughing at me, but at that point, I didn’t even care! I was walking where people I’ve read about in history books walked! If you don’t like history, you’re probably saying “so what” right now, but IT’S A BIG DEAL, OK?!? Anyway, I liked it. A lot.
So if the statue’s little toe was this big, how big was the rest of him????
That evening, Annette, Bill, and I met up with two priests from St. Louis for dinner. Both of them are studying for advanced degrees/doctorates in Rome (pray for them!), and they were great dinner company, even though we hadn’t ever met before that day.
That was my time in Rome. Yup.
But wait, there’s more!!! I went to Florence!
Annette had to go back to Florence on Easter Monday to prepare for class the next day, so I tagged along for a couple days.
My time in Florence was really restful and laid back. I stayed at a hostel by myself and just spent the days wandering around the city, stumbling upon various beautiful sights.
The Florentine skyline.
Michelangelo’s (fake) David. This is the smaller copy of his actual statue, but I didn’t feel like paying money to see the real thing. I’m pretty pathetic, I know! I didn’t like Michelangelo’s version as much as Bernini’s, however, so I’m okay with just seeing the miniature!
It was so hot I could walk around in short-sleeves! I was so happy!!!!
The Duomo, the most famous church in Florence.
Its accompanying bell tower. That’s a long way up!
Guess how I finished off my time in Italy?
I kinda fell in love with gelato. I miss it. Ice cream just isn’t the same. Therefore, I have to return to Italy some day to satisfy my need for creamy, sugary amazingness.
On Friday, April 5th, I left my hostel at 6am and: walked almost a mile to the train station, caught a train to Roma Termini, rode a bus to the Rome airport, flew to Paris, went through customs, jetted off to London Heathrow, traveled on a bus WITHIN Heathrow (seriously, that airport is huge!), went through customs again, flew to Belfast, rode a bus to Derry, and caught a taxi back to my dorm. All in all, 18 hours of traveling! I think I ended my Easter Break pretty spectacularly, don’t you think?
Although it must seem hard to believe, judging from the ridiculous length of the post, I really have no true words to describe this experience. Sure, I can tell you “I saw this, then I saw that,” but I can’t really tell you how this trip changed me. Don’t worry, however, I’m sure I will bore you all for years to come trying to explain it!
Lots and lots of love to all!
First off, I apologize for keeping you all waiting with baited breath for my next installment of “Where has Erin gone this time?” The truth is, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to travel to so many places and experience so much that I was intimidated to even try to write it down. That’s why I never told you about my week of Gaelic immersion in County Donegal, which happened way back in early March, and why I’m just now sitting down to tell you about my first week of Easter break.
Yes, my FIRST week of Easter break. See, my university over here is pretty darn awesome. We may not get a regular Spring break, but we do get TWO full weeks off at Easter. Actually, counting in the fact that I have four-day weekends every week, I got 18 off around Easter. That’s more than half a month. Wow.
Anyway, so I couldn’t just sit around for 18 days. Well, I could have, but that doesn’t make for a very interesting story to tell all of you folks, and who wants that?
Sooooooooo . . . my Easter really feels divided into two parts: March 22nd through 28th, and the 28th through April 5th. The first week was spent with three of my fellow American exchange student friends: Kristina, Brittani, and Anna, and the second week I spent with my BC friend Annette (see, Annette, I mentioned you!).
Because I would keep you reading for forever if I did a blow-by-blow of 14 straight days, I’ll just tackle Week One in this post (and I’ll try to refrain from a total blow-by-blow recall of events).
We (Kristina, Brittani, Anna, and myself) set off from the Derry airport bright and early on Friday morning and headed for Scotland, the magical land of haggis, kilts, and bagpipes. I won’t show you all the pictures I took (you can refer to Facebook for all several hundred of them!), but some are worth sharing again:
We spent our first day/night of the trip in lovely, freezing, overcast Glasgow. Actually, I use the term “lovely” loosely. Glasgow’s main thing it had going for it was that it had the cheapest flight into Scotland. The town itself is not much to look at (no offense, Glasgow). It’s apparently a hub of industry, or something like that, but it basically translates to mean that the city is not exceptionally picturesque.
We spent our first afternoon wandering around the city. It sounds better to say we were exploring, rather than to tell y’all that we were lost for the majority of the time! We did find one or two thrift stores, however. Did you know that Salvation Army is overseas? You can thank me later for your newest bit of trivia knowledge.
So remember how I said Glasgow wasn’t a hub of tourism? Well, when we looked up activities in Glasgow, we did find one thing that looked cool. Before I tell you what it is, can I just reassure you that I’m not actually morbid? Good, we’ve got that settled.
When we went to Glasgow, the only thing we wanted to see was a cemetery. Not just a cemetery, however, this one is called the Necropolis. It’s a tourist attraction (trust me! http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g186534-d214206-Reviews-The_Necropolis-Glasgow_Scotland.html )
I get it – it sounds kind of weird. But let me explain. This isn’t any old cemetery. It was begun/established (I don’t know what you call it) in the early 1800′s, and over 50,000 people are buried there! That’s a lot! It was built on a hill, and monuments wind their way all the way up to the top. Glasgow was/is a center of industry, so all the really rich people erected huge monuments to themselves and their families. It was cool to walk through the Necropolis, look at the monuments, and read the inscriptions. The Necropolis was actually really peaceful and pretty.
We also went to the church right next to the Necropolis. It’s called St. Mungo’s. Try saying that with a straight face – I dare you!
After that, we headed off to the bus station and caught a bus across Scotland (it took about two hours!) to Edinburgh. Quick pronunciation guide: Edinburgh is pronounced “Ed-in-burr-uh.” Learn from my mistakes and don’t call it “Ed-in-burg” in front of a Scot. They will quickly point out the error of your ways.
We arrived in Edinburgh mid-afternoon and proceeded to try to figure out how the heck we would get to our bed-and-breakfast. Brittani had kindly printed off directions that the B&B had provided, but we had no clue how to find our necessary bus. Moreover, we had no clue where our B&B was in relation to the city center.
Quick side/related note: the Scottish people have narrowly edged out the Irish for the “Nicest people in the world” award. Everyone we met was exceptionally kind, helpful, and friendly.
Back to the story: a lovely gentleman (well, actually, he was rather handsome) helped us find our bus. Our directions told us to tell the bus driver that we needed to get off at stop X. So, we confidently step on board, buy our tickets, and tell the driver we need to get off at stop X. We hit a small road bump, a slight glitch in our plans, when he stared at us and said he had no clue where that was. OK. New plan.
We told him the general area it was in, and he said he recognized that. So he kindly let us off on some road, somewhere in the vicinity of Edinburgh, hopefully somewhere in the vicinity of the Aynetree Bed and Breakfast. Well, after we walked (and walked) and called the owner (I understood roughly every other word of what she said due to her thick accent), we found our B&B. Bus stop X was literally right in front of their doorstep. Okay, so the Scottish lose a few of their brownie points due to their bus drivers.
Soon after we arrived, I hopped on another bus and went off to find a church for Palm Sunday/Saturday evening Mass. It ended up being the prettiest little church!
Why did I go to Saturday evening Mass instead of Sunday Mass, you ask? Good question, my wonderful reader. I WENT TO LOCH NESS!!!!!!!!!!!!
Long story short, we took a 12-hour bus tour through Scotland, went up to the Highlands, and stopped at Loch Ness. It was an incredible trip; however, I came to a deep realization about myself: bus tours are wasted on me. Due to my incredible ability and overwhelming tendency to sleep on any moving vehicle (car, bus, train, plane, etc), I calculated I slept approximately 6 out of the 8 hours we actually spent on the bus. I mean, it’s not like I was seeing once-in-a-lifetime scenery or anything.
Anyway, during those precious moments when I was actually awake, I did get some pictures.
Pretty gorgeous, right?
The highlight of our day was when we stopped at Loch Ness for a few hours. Our bus driver helpfully told us on the ride there that if we downed 14 shots of whiskey, we were sure to see Nessie (the monster has a name, you know). Because I decided a few weeks ago (see previous post) that I’m not a huge fan of whiskey, I decided to forgo that ritual, so I am sad to report that I did not spot the legendary monster of Loch Ness. Oh well! Fortunately, however, the area was rather breathtakingly spectacular (I’ve really got to find some more adjectives), so I wasn’t too disappointed!
New life ambition: to own a little tiny cottage on the edge of a great big lake in a Celtic (Irish or Scottish, either is fine) country. Can someone please make that happen for me? Thanks!
Then we hopped back onto our bus and continued along. We stopped briefly at Urqhart Castle, which is situated on the banks of Loch Ness. The story behind the castle goes to show that the Scottish, like the Irish, do not have an over-abundance of love for the English. One of the many times that the English invaded Scotland, the castle’s owners were forced to flee. They disliked the English so much, however, that they decided to blow up their own home rather than let the English get their hands on it.
I take back what I just said about the little cottage. I’d also be just fine with a castle on a lake.
That was, in a very abbreviated form, our day in the Highlands!
Shout-out to my little (ok, she’s taller than me) sis, Monica, because this was her 16th birthday. That’s pretty darn cool!
This was the day we reserved for sightseeing around Edinburgh. Luckily, Edinburgh was the complete opposite of Glasgow, so there was plenty to see! We headed into town without really knowing what we wanted to do, but it worked out really well anyway!
First stop (unplanned): The Scottish National Gallery. Main reason for going: it was FREE!!!! We may be poor college students on a nonexistent budget, but we like our cultural activities as much as the next person!
Then we headed up to the cool-looking building behind the gallery. It’s just a castle, no big deal.
It was pretty cool, even if we didn’t go inside. This (below) was the incredible view we got at the castle.
Later that afternoon to a giant gift shop and a haunted house-type place called the Edinburgh Dungeon. We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the Dungeon, but I did get a picture in the gift shop!
Aren’t they classy? I think I might be in love . . .
That pretty much wraps up our fourth day of break! We flew to London that evening and collapsed at our new hostel, ready to sleep after such a long day!
I just want to give a big shout-out to Kristina’s mom (who probably won’t ever see this, but who cares?). She is a travel agent, so she was able to get us a really good price on a red bus tour of London combined with a tour of Stonehenge! LONDON AND STONEHENGE, people!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Anyway, here was our bus:
We saw way too much that day for me to try and tell you in this post. Suffice to say, our day sounded a lot like this: “Now look to your left for some historically awesomely important building, but quickly turn your head because we’re passing another world-famous monument on our right, but don’t get whiplash as you return immediately to your left for something that was built before anyone had ever thought of America.” Repeat this for several hours, and you’ve got the gist of our morning in London. Seriously, I loved absolutely every second of it!!!!! Being a huge history nerd, I was in paradise because London is chock full of sights that I’ve read and dreamed about since I was little. I saw Buckingham Palace, the Tower, the Tower Bridge (which is usually mistaken for the London Bridge, but the old London Bridge isn’t there anymore and it was replaced with a boring new bridge), Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Tower Hill (where the royalty and important people got beheaded), Shakespeare’s Globe, the London Eye, and so much more (I even got to ride down a bit of the Thames River on a river taxi).
The oldest building in London (it survived the Great Fire of 1666 which wiped out the entire rest of the town). Notice how it’s just casually squished in between other buildings? That’s just how they do things in Europe. It’s like they say, “Let’s be totally nonchalant about some incredibly historically significant thing!”
Yes, it’s a wall. But let me explain! Do you see that red line near the bottom? That tile marks the top of the wall that the ROMANS built when they invaded England!!!!! The old city was eventually buried (still don’t know how that happens to cities), but future generations continued building on top of it, and it has survived to the present day! Whoa.
The Tower Hill memorial to important people who got their heads chopped off there. I stood where St. Thomas More was martyred!!!!!!!!!!! Total Catholic girl moment right there
Obligatory Buckingham Palace pic (with my eyes closed, of course!):
Basically, we saw a heck of a lot before lunch. After lunch we went to Stonehenge. I want to go on and on about it, but I realized you’re probably looking at your watch at this point, just hoping I’ll wrap up soon. I will (kind of), so just hang on for a few more minutes!
May I present . . . Stonehenge?!?
(I was a bit excited!)
Then, after Stonehenge, our exciting day was over!
This was the last day in my first week. We spent the day exploring more of London. We went back to Buckingham Palace, tried to find St. James’ Palace, found the horse guards instead (got pictures with them!), got our pictures with Big Ben, went to Abbey Road to pull out our best Beatles’ impressions, relived the magic (get it?) at Platform 9 3/4 in King’s Cross, went over the Millennium Bridge (blown up in one of the Harry Potter movies, for anyone interested), saw Shakespeare’s Globe up close and personal, tried to go to a museum, mastered the Tube system (it’s scary), and walked more than I care to remember. All in all, another amazing day!
That, in a (very big) nutshell was my first week of Easter break!
Now, as to the title. I felt like my chin might be bruised after those two weeks because I basically spent my entire trip with my jaw dropped! How am I so blessed to be able to live this kind of life?
I really hope I haven’t sounded like I’m bragging through any of this; please forgive me if I have. Whenever I tell people about my trip, I feel like it’s a constant battle to walk the fine line between being enthusiastic about what I did and sounding like I’m bragging.
I’ll post about the second week when my fingers have recovered from typing this one! Prepare yourself, I don’t think I’ll be able to stop myself from gushing even more about the second week than I did over the first week! For starters, I SAW THE POPE THREE TIMES!!!!!!!
Lots and lots of love,
Life has been relatively calm over the last week (read: uneventful), but I’m heading off to County Donegal for a week to sight-see, study, and live with a host family. I’m kind of excited (or really, really excited!) because everyone has told us Donegal is one of the most beautiful places in all of Ireland! We’re also going to be in a part of the county that is primarily Gaelic-speaking, so I’ll see how far I can get in a conversation by saying brilliant things like, “My name is Erin,” “I live in Derry,” and “I am short.”
Before I go, however, I wanted to share a few things, mostly pictures, of what I’ve done recently and where I live. The second half of this post is primarily for my Mom, who wanted to know all the mom-type things like where I go grocery shopping, etc, so feel free to skip it if it gets boring!
Last Friday, two of my friends and I decided to explore more of Derry. I really love how this town, even though it’s small, still has more to offer if you just go adventuring.
For the sake of all of you (namely my siblings) who begin yawning when the word “history” is mentioned, I won’t go into all the details that made my nerdy history side very happy, but this museum is dedicated to the struggles that have rocked Derry (and all of Northern Ireland) in the past 50 years. Derry is famous/infamous for being the site of violent struggles between Unionists (mostly Protestants) who want Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK, and Republicans (mostly Catholics) who want a united island of Ireland under independent rule. The worst of the conflicts happened in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, when events like the Battle of the Bogside and Bloody Sunday made world news. Thankfully, peace processes in the 90s have brought a lot more stability and security to the entire area, but it’s still a very sensitive topic. When we (the internationals) first arrived, everyone told us to avoid mentioning politics and religion at all costs, because we never know what kind of back-story everyone here has. Whew! That was a bit more of a history lesson than I intended, but I find it all fascinating. At the same time, however, I’m very relieved that the worst was over long before I came here!
Anyway, the Free Derry Museum details this history more than I possibly could, and it focuses on the recent history, especially the Battle of the Bogside and Bloody Sunday. It’s really emotional and moving to walk through, especially when I learned that the museum is run by a man whose 17-year-old brother was killed during Bloody Sunday. Even though the museum is fairly small, it still took us about two hours to get through because we had to let everything sink in.
(That tiny person is me!)
This sign was originally the end/corner of a row of houses, and it was first painted during the Struggles (the general name for all the conflicts). The Catholic part of Derry rebelled against the Protestant government in the town and blockaded themselves in to an area they name “Free Derry.” They refused to let any policemen or other government officials in, and eventually the British army had to come in and make a truce of sorts. This sign became a symbol of the movement and has lasted as a memorial.
OK, I’m done with history now, I promise!
On Monday, a couple of us went to the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. Again, if you’re familiar with touristy images of Ireland, you might have seen this thing.
I had mixed emotions before heading over the bridge. One part of me said, “You’re not afraid of heights, so you’ll be fine,” while the other part of me just kind of said, “AHHHHHHHHH!!!! You’re incredibly stupid to trust your life to a couple thin pieces of rope and wooden boards!!!!” Even though it doesn’t tend to be as articulate, I do think that the second part of my head made a lot of sense! I never use this phrase, but I did a bit of a “YOLO” moment when I decided to go first over the bridge in our little group
As you can probably tell, I did survive! It actually wasn’t too terrifying, except for when the wind decided to blow hard . . . It was all worth it, though, because we had a view of the most gorgeous scenery!
I’ve realized that when I write this blog, I drastically over-use words like “beautiful,” “gorgeous,” “amazing,” and “incredible,” but those words basically sum up my entire experience, so I just can’t help it!
Our little group!
Can you spot the smiling face?
Cute little Irish cottage
Supervalu is similar to a Dierberg’s back home, and it’s generally pricier for everything. I have found, however, that it has cheaper eggs and orange juice, so I stop in when I need either/both of the above.
I go to Sainsbury’s for the rest of my groceries, and I’m even the proud holder of a Nectar card, meaning I earn points every time I go shopping. Once I accrue 500 points, I’ll get 2.50 pounds in store credit. Only 200 points to go . . .
Of all the American things to have over here . . . (No, I haven’t been, and I don’t intend to go, either!)
My two favorite houses that I pass going to and from school. The first house has a beautiful tree in bloom right now, and I can’t help feeling happier every time I see it!
These signs are everywhere!
My residential village. I happened to take this picture at the one time when there weren’t soccer (football) players on the field. It’s such a huge sport over here that our field is always in use, whether it’s little 5-year-old boys or middle-aged men!
Welcome to my flat (or apartment – whatever you prefer to call it). This, un-amazingly, is my hallway. Five girls and myself share this swanky abode.
Welcome to my room!
This semester’s collection of comics, courtesy of my awesome family
Welcome to my “K TC EN”!
We got a dishwasher! It’s really not that cool, however, because they didn’t give us dishwashing detergent, and we don’t have enough dishes to fill it. I appreciate the pointless gesture, though! Having heat in our rooms more of the time ranks higher on my priority list, but whatever floats their boat! (We only get heat in our flats from 7-9am, 3:30-6pm, and 8-10pm. Believe me, there have been times when I’ve counted down the minutes until it comes on! I might also be guilty of occasionally curling up next to it because I’m just so darn cold!).
If you’re reading this, Congratulations! You made it through my post!!!!
‘Til next time!
A month. Wow. 31 days. Un mes. Un mois. Mesiac (for all you Slovakian speakers out there) or mwezi (if you’re fluent in Swahili).
That’s how long I have thus far graced the island of Ireland with my presence. Ha! It’s more like ‘that’s how far I’ve managed to last in this incredible place without them kicking me out!’. But that’s just a minor detail
I really didn’t know what to expect, culture-wise, when I came over. We’re all English-speakers in first-world countries, right? How different could it be?
Well, let’s just say things are a “wee bit” different over here! So, in no particular order, I’d like to share some insights I’ve gained about the culture and about myself since arriving.
1. Don’t be afraid to slow down. A lot. Life here in Ireland moves at a dramatically slower pace than back home. Offices open up later and close earlier. Emails don’t get a reply immediately. Just because something is listed as happening at a certain time doesn’t mean it actually begins then.
2. Always carry a pen with you when you go grocery shopping. I do most of my grocery shopping with my credit card, and I quickly learned that Europeans don’t sign for their credit card purchases. Instead, their credit cards are a lot like debit cards, in that they use a PIN instead of requiring a signature. Thus, when I check out, none of the cashiers has a pen handy, because no one (except this crazy American) needs one.
3. (To my friends at Benedictine and other Catholic colleges) Realize just how blessed you are to attend a Catholic school. Growing up surrounded by the Faith and faith-filled people, I never realized how much I would miss its absence. Don’t get me wrong: there are so many wonderful, God-filled people here, but its just not quite the same. I treasure my moments spent in Mass, Adoration, and faith discussion so much more because I have to work more for them. On one hand, it’s easier to slack off in religious pursuit, but on the other hand, I realize how much it does actually mean to me, personally.
4. Learn to eat your groceries quickly. Food over here is generally healthier than what we have back home because they don’t put nearly as many preservatives or artificial additives in everything. This is good (from a health perspective) and bad (from a “darn it, my bread is harboring a mold colony” perspective). I now eat all my bread toasted because I keep the entire loaf in the freezer, and I simply stick my individual slices in the toaster when I want them.
5. Being a grown-up is hard work. (Yes, this is Erin’s “duh” moment for the post!) I particularly realized this one day as I trudged back from the grocery store with my backpack full of food and bags in both hands. I had already been in class that day, it was cold and rainy, I was tired, and the last thing I wanted to do was put away my groceries and cook dinner. I knew, however, that if I didn’t make myself dinner, no one else would. If I don’t go grocery shopping, no one else will magically appear to give me food. How do parents (especially single parents and working parents) do this every day? I thank God for my parents more and more as I realize how much they do for me and my siblings every day.
6. Get used to changing your vocabulary. People will look at you oddly if you say you’re “in college.” Over here, “university” is “college”, and “college” is “high school.” I had one man ask me, in all seriousness, if I could explain the word “sophomore.” Apparently, first-year university/college students are called “freshers,” but after that, you’re simply a “second-year” or a “third-year.” (University is also only three years long.) Without even realizing it, I’ve begun to call stores “shops.” I also slipped into calling soccer “football”, and football “American football.”
7. Breaking out of the mold and trying new foods can be good! OK, so I haven’t really gotten very adventurous yet, but I’ve tried new kinds of candy After a thorough taste-testing, I can conclude that Cadbury’s rivals any chocolate that Hershey’s can churn out.
8. Embrace the fact that you’re never going to see any of these people again, and be adventurous! I’m not saying I’ve completely thrown my self-reserve to the wind, but it’s OK to dance in pubs, ask complete strangers for directions and advice, and act like a stereotypical tourist
9. Delight in the small things and take time to soak in each moment. We had sunshine for over a week straight here (well, except for the darkness that comes with night time, but you know what I mean ), and that seriously seemed like one of the most amazing things that’s happened to me in a long time! When I visit castles, cliffs, beaches, etc, I try to stop for a few moments, put down the camera, and just marvel. It doesn’t matter where you are: look around and notice how green the grass is (or how white the snow is!), how blue the sky is, how bright the sun is. Isn’t it so great to just be ALIVE?
These aren’t the only things I’ve learned since I’ve gotten here (I promise), but these gems are all that popped into my head as I’m writing this. More will come, I’m sure, so watch out!
On an academic note, I completed one of the three homework assignments I have all semester by giving a presentation on St. Bridget of Ireland. So, if you ever want to know about the saint who shares a feast day with Punxsutawney Phil, I’m the girl to ask. (And yes, you can be completely jealous that I only have three assignments and three tests all semester between all of my classes!)
So yeah. One month (and a couple days) down. Only three months left. AHHHHH!!!! There’s so much to see and do, and not enough time!!!!
Wish me luck as I try to make the most of this incredible opportunity
Lots o’ love,
What does the title mean, you ask? It’s just me checking things off my Ireland bucket list right and left
When I last left you, I had wrapped up a trip to my new favorite place in Ireland. The very next day, I was able to go to Giant’s Causeway for more adventures.
Here at the University of Ulster Magee Campus (Magee, for short), there is an awesome International Students’ Society, and they (Caroline, our lovely international coordinator, and the experienced study-abroaders) organized a trip for all 40-something of us on Saturday.
We packed into a charter bus for a full day of unforgettable sights, sounds, and tastes. Yes, even tastes!
Our first stop (other than public bathrooms along the way) was at Giant’s Causeway. If you’ve never heard of/seen Giant’s Causeway, you can scroll down a bit to see pictures or just wait patiently for me to explain everything. Your pick.
So our caravan arrived, and we piled out. Half the group decided to take a path that wound along the shoreline, and the other half (including myself) decided to walk up on top of the cliffs. We were confident that there would be a way down to the Giant’s Causeway at some point. (I learned a valuable lesson that day. Confidence does not always equal correct-ness).
The picturesque path along the cliffs.
The view. (Notice how calmly I wrote that? No exclamation marks or anything! I must be getting jaded from all the gorgeous scenery. Haha!! As if )
It’s a good thing I’m not afraid of heights Those little ant-looking things down on the road are people!
This is how we climbed down from the cliffs. So remember how I said that we thought we’d find a path down? Well, as you can see, we were partly correct. The pictured path, however, was actually technically closed. Something about “due to recent weather conditions . . . for your safety” etc. We were (understandably) a bit hesitant at first to cross the yellow tape line and go down, but we also knew that we wouldn’t have enough time to retrace our steps and still make it down to the Giant’s Causeway, so . . . down we went. How bad could it be, right?
Those rocks had to come from somewhere! Looking up and around, we suddenly could spot the remnants of about six recent mudslides. Oops!
The signs (supposedly) blocking people from coming up the way we went down. Never mind us; we’re just the dumb American college students who don’t like to follow signs
Anyway, on to the actual Giant’s Causeway. Totally awesome looking!!!!! I do have to point out something that momentarily disappointed me, however. In all the promo pictures I had ever seen, it looked huge. Like, stretching for a long time along the coastline, huge. I had been misled. Don’t get me wrong, it was still big, but not as huge as I had thought.
With that being said, here she is!
There are several different legends of how the Giant’s Causeway came into existence, but on is that Finn, an Irish giant, and an unnamed Scottish giant (well, he must have a name, but I don’t know it), were enemies, and they used to hurl rocks at each other from across the sea. One day, the Scottish giant decided to come over and just finish off Finn. He built a bridge/causeway across the water between the two islands. Once he got over here, however, Finn scared him so badly that the Scottish giant went running back across his bridge, tearing up the causeway behind him so that Finn couldn’t follow him. That’s why only a bit of the causeway remains today.
Proof that I was actually there
On our way out, I saw my first, honest-to-goodness, old-fashioned telephone booth. So I got my picture taken in it, naturally. Yes, this is the point in the blog when the parents and more mature adults can shake their heads at the fact that I am such a child of the 21st century!
Moving right along, folks, our next stop was in the charming town of Bushmills, home to the world’s oldest whiskey distillery.
I would just like to point out the words near the bottom of the mirror. “Grand Prize, St. Louis, 1904.” I got really excited!
We weren’t allowed to take any pictures during our tour, but I felt waves of deja vu throughout the entire tour due to my copious amounts of experience with brewery tours back home! That’s what happens when your uncles work for A-B breweries around the country and you Irish dance at A-B’s headquarters every St. Patrick’s Day!
I will say, however, that this tour stood out memorably because I’ve never been able to taste the finished product before at any tour! When we got to the bar at the end of the tour, we were given a selection of whiskeys to choose from. I chose “The Original” because our guide had used really pretty words to describe it. He told us whiskey connoisseurs said it had hints of milk chocolate, almonds, and flowers.
My glass o’ whiskey.
I don’t know who those whiskey experts were, but they lied. Big time. I’ll go out on a limb and say whiskey tastes worse than Guinness, and believe me, that’s saying a lot! It tastes worse than vinegar, burns going down, and leaves a worse after-taste than the initial taste. Don’t be fooled by my smiling face below!
After our stop-off at the whiskey factory, we went on to see Dunluce castle. Funny story about the castle. Last summer, before I had even submitted my application for Ireland, I went onto Google Images and typed in Ireland. All sorts of pictures popped up, and I found a really pretty picture of a random castle perched on the cliffs. Not even knowing its name, I put it on my Facebook profile. Lo and behold, nine months later, I’m taking pictures of that very same castle from the very same angle!!!!!!!! It was absolutely incredible!!!!!!!
The picture would have looked even better if we had had a sunny day, but I’ll take it anyway!
Me and my Irish castle!
The castle was built in the 1400s and abandoned by the late 1600s. Apparently the cliffs have eroded quite a bit, and the back part of the castle (including the kitchen) have fallen into the ocean!
We were able to go down below the castle and take lots of pictures there, too. I can’t post all of them here, but you’re welcome to go onto Facebook and see all million+ that I’ve taken since I’ve arrived. You’ll have to be my Facebook friend, but I kind of feel like if you’re going to be reading my blog, we should probably be friends!
Since I’ve gotten here in Ireland, I’ve been searching high and low for something in particular, and it took until my trip to the castle to finally find it. Who would have thought shamrocks would be so hard to find in Ireland? I dutifully took a picture to mark the occasion.
Before you look at the next picture and say “why the heck did she include that?”, I have to explain. Apparently, that vague, dark-blue streak in the horizon is Scotland. If I’m wrong, blame the local who misled me and the rest of the gullible tourists! Anyway, now I can say I’ve seen Scotland!
After that, we piled back into the bus one more time and headed home. It was a long, but incredibly worthwhile experience.
Just to check in with the bucket list for a moment, I can now say I’ve seen Giant’s Causeway, sampled Irish whiskey, and visited a legit castle (the castle from Castlerock was, I confess, more of a manor/mansion than an actual castle). What more could I ask for?
Wellll . . . that following Monday, I got to Irish dance in an authentic Irish pub!
(I don’t know whether that link will actually work, but it should lead you to video evidence of my dancing. If it doesn’t, you can find it on facebook!)
Lest you think that I just barge into all the area pubs and dance my heart out, I have to give you a bit of background info.
My friends Mike and Erin got together a group of us to go to Paeder’s for drinks and live music. Every weeknight, Paeder’s hosts live music starting at 11pm, so we got there early, secured good seats, and enjoyed our drinks. When the musicians started playing, I tapped my toes along and tried to keep myself from dancing. One of my friends there knew I danced, however, and she told everybody else. They all tried to convince me to get up and dance, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to attract that much attention from the rest of the pub
A little while later, though, when I left the table to use the restroom, the entire table plotted against me. When I came back, they refused to let me sit down again until I danced for them! What could I do? So I danced a few jig steps for them (and the rest of the bar). It felt so good to dance again, even if it was just for a few seconds!
When that was over, I thought my glorious career of dancing in pubs was over. It wasn’t. My friend Erin forgot to get out her camera in time to record me, so they all said I had to dance again before we left. If that link above worked for you (and I hope it did), you can see the results. That night, I definitely got outside my comfort zone, so thank you to all my new friends who made me do it (you know who you are!). I even got complimented by drunk locals on my dancing, so what could be better?
My (technically non-existent) bucket list certainly made some progress this week! I’m continuing to love it here, even though I’ve actually had to start being a student again the past few days. My brain doesn’t like having to work again after having a two month break! This semester is already a third over (how has that happened?), but I still feel like I’m on an incredible vacation where I only randomly attend classes for about nine hours a week!
I can’t even process this fact, but I have already been here a month! I know, right?!?
In the next installment of my blog, I’ll let you in on the little (and big) things I’ve learned so far since coming here