Monday, June 29, 2009

Recaps: Brussels

Our trains from Switzerland into Belgium took most of the day. By the time we arrived in Brussels, it was dark outside. The part of town we were in was a bit sketchy, too, so I was glad when we discovered that our hostel was only a half-block away from the train station. We dropped our stuff off and went around the corner to buy a delicious pizza dinner, which we brought back to the hostel to enjoy. One unique thing about the Brussels hostel was that we had a private room, which was more than excellent. It was sparsely furnished - a bunk bed, a plastic patio table and two plastic chairs, and a lamp occupied all the available space - but just having the room to ourselves lifted our spirits tremendously. Without much ado we crashed for the night.

The next morning, we went downstairs for breakfast (a bowl of frosted flakes and a piece of bread), where we met Steven. You'll see Steven if you watch our videos. He's our age, a German major, and has been living in Vienna, Austria for a little over a semester. He's pretty cool, as well as a total linguistic nerd like me. On his suggestion, the three of us headed out to a car museum, which was interesting. Well, Steven and I thought it was interesting, anyway. Kristina rapidly became bored with the whole thing, so we cut our visit short. After that, we wandered around the city for a while, discovering odd sort-of playground type things, as well as getting cones of Belgian fries with strangely named sauces. (These fries are something else. They are dense, fried about three times over and absolutely coated with salt, and probably the most popular food in the city. Despite this being something like our entire lunch, the only one of us who even finished his was Steven, who got a small instead of a large.)

Brussels is not the prettiest or cleanest city in the world; we saw more than one fountain with all kinds of garbage clogging it. But it has a sense of humor. For example, the most famous site in Brussels is the Peeing Boy Statue, which shouldn't be as famous as it is - just a plain statue of perhaps a two- or three-year-old peeing water into a fountain. One night, when the three of us went to dinner together, we found another statue of a dog lifting its leg against a lamppost. Not a fountain, or anything worth going to find. Just a statue - lit up by a light with multiple shifting colors. To make sure you didn't miss it, I guess. Man, those Belgians are strange. :P

Overall I enjoyed my time there. The next morning, we caught our flight back to Ireland to see Mom and David.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Recaps: Zurich and Munich

Zurich, Switzerland
When Kristina and I planned our trip, we found that there was no direct train from Bern into Munich, so we decided to take a few-hour break in Zurich first. We caught an early train out of Bern and had an uneventful train ride into Zurich.

When we arrived, we wandered up the main road to find, essentially, nothing. We wanted to find some lunch, but for a pretty long way, there were no restaurants... or anything else, for that matter. There were few shops; no churches, parks, or anything else of note jumped out at us. We finally found some food (we split a plate of spaghetti), but after staring out the window at a quiet intersection, we eventually decided that we'd just catch the next train out to Munich. So all told, we only spent maybe 2 or 3 hours in Zurich. Probably not enough time to form a proper impression of the city, but we did need to move on to Munich.

We hopped on a train and crossed the border into Germany.

Munich, Germany
When we arrived in Munich's main train station several hours later, we thought we'd be able to find our hostel, no problem. After all, my directions were clear and concise, and the hostel's owners expected us to make it there in about five minutes. So we grabbed a map from the station, only to become immediately confused because, for the life of us, we couldn't find the street we wanted on the map. After walking up and down a busy sidewalk, we finally asked a pair of women if they knew where we wanted to be. At first, they told us they couldn't help us, but after we thanked them and walked away, they actually ran after us and started examining our map - and fortunately, pointed out the street we wanted. It was QUITE close to the train station after all.

The unique aspect of our stay in the Munich hostel was the fact that they had Kristina and I sleeping next to each other in a double bed, instead of two single beds. This wasn't a problem - the beds were wide, pink, and comfortable - just interesting. I liked the hostel overall. It was very clean and pretty.

We spent a lot of our day touring Munich inside the Nymphenburg Palace, which was comprised of the main palace, as well as three or four restored guest homes and a couple of lakes covered with birds. (The video on YouTube about the diving bird, as well as one in the main palace and one showing the carriages are all from the grounds of the Nymphenburg). It was lovely, and the grounds were absolutely enormous.

That night, two things happened. First of all, we saw this awesome string quartet under a bridge, and they played excellent music. The violinist in particular was very good, moving with his instrument dramatically and playing quite complicated solos. The group played everything from classical to modern pop music, and we enjoyed standing there and listening for a good half hour or so. Secondly, we got a box of fries from McDonald's (don't judge, we needed the pick-me-up) and then Kristina lost the map in their bathroom. So we thought we knew where we were going and that we could get back to the hostel without the map, but we just ended up going completely the wrong direction. Proof that God looks out for us: We ran into a tourist who didn't know which direction to go anymore than we did, but he actually had an extra map and gave it to us! That was fantastic, and I navigated us back home that night.

Next up: Brussels.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Recaps: Bern

Bern, Switzerland
Kristina and I arrived in Bern mid-afternoon on a Saturday, to find that, once again, the directions I'd copied from the hostel's website were a bit unhelpful. They instructed us to get on a particular tram, but gave little to no indication where the tram station might be. So we set off in a random direction, hoping that we'd find street signs, but all we really managed to find was a residential area. After we turned around, though, we ran into a few middle-aged women who, despite not speaking a word of English, we got directions from. (They say "ciao" in German-speaking countries too, interestingly. Must've borrowed it from the Italians.)

Our hostel, once we found it, instantly made a better impression on us than the Parisian one. It was clean, roomy, and comfortable. The staff was friendly, spoke great English, and gave us a map and information about the town. After we settled in, we wandered around a bit, but the streets were very quiet and most of the shops were closed.

The next day, EVERYTHING was closed, since it was Sunday. A bit bummed out because we could foresee nothing to do with all the shops closed, and no particular attractions in Bern, we went into the church we'd decided on for morning Mass. That, too, was silent and empty, and I was beginning to wonder if we'd arrived at the wrong time when a young priest walked up to us and said something in German. We shook our heads, and told him we only spoke English - and to our surprise, he answered not only in perfect English but with hardly a trace of an accent. He explained to us that because it was Palm Sunday, Mass would begin half an hour later - and also downstairs. We followed him down a winding flight of stairs into a cold, cavernous basement of a room... but it was also fully furnished as a church, complete with altar, pews, and a very small organ. He explained to us that Mass was held here throughout Lent, but today, we'd only begin downstairs, then go outside and up to the main church in the Palm Sunday procession. In concern that we only spoke English, this amazing man also found a woman, Margot, who agreed to translate parts of the Mass for us!

The Mass was lovely, as well as interesting because, in the lack of palm branches, they handed out sprigs of holly instead. Also, at the conclusion of the service, the priest said, in English, that there would be a coffee and breakfast across the street - something he only did for the two of us, as the rest of the congregation spoke German. :) We, of course, went to the breakfast - which was mainly coffee, tea, and chocolate Easter eggs.

Margot, as it turns out, is an art history professor at the university in Bern, and it was her pleasure to show us around the town, and particularly the formerly-Catholic-now-Reformed cathedral in the middle of town. We walked around both the outside and inside of the church, learning far more about architecture and the old protocols for building a cathedral than I ever thought I'd know. We inspected carvings, stained glass, the columns, the ceiling.... It was fascinating. The three of us went to lunch across the street from our hostel, and then said our farewells.

We took a siesta at the hostel, then got dinner - cheese fondue. It was my first experience with non-chocolate fondue, and to be honest, it's not my favorite. Kristina was a little cheesed-out by it as well. But it was pretty good, and a quiet end to a quiet day.

The next day we went briefly to Zurich, Switzerland, then Munich, Germany.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Recaps: Part 1: Paris, France

So, I know that I've been utterly and woefully neglecting this poor blog ever since I went on my trip, so I'm going to try and recap what Kristina and I did in each city. I apologize right now, because my memories have already faded, and I'm probably going to forget a lot of stuff that happened, but I'll do my best. And I'll come back later and fill in any information I remember later, too.

We took the train from Cork into Dublin. This was our first of many, many experiences with the train system throughout Europe, and we had our shiny new Eurail Passes validated at the Cork station. I loved watching the Irish scenery fly past our window, greener than green, with horses, cows, and sheep at frequent intervals. When we arrived in Dublin, we took the convenient shuttle straight to the airport, which took, to our surprise, nearly an hour. Fortunately, we'd left plenty of buffer time, and still arrived in plenty of time to catch our first Ryanair flight into Paris.

By the time we got to Paris, it was quite late, and the shuttle into the city from the airport took nearly as long as the one in Dublin. Fighting off exhaustion, we hunted down the Parisian metro, on which we promptly went the wrong direction. Unfortunately, Paris's metro is the most unforgiving of all the ones we encountered, and we were forced to pay again in order to get on the correct one. By the time we made it to the right metro stop, it was about 1:30 in the morning, and we didn't have a clue which way to go to get to our hostel. Fortunately, we ran into a small pack of college kids who knew where we wanted to be - good thing, too, because I probably would have walked right past it. From the outside, it just looks like a bar. Which it is. It also happens to have a damp, unkempt courtyard out the back door, with stairs leading to probably twenty or so cramped, bed-filled rooms beyond.

Sorry. As you might guess, I'm not a big fan of our Parisian hostel. The whole place only had one functional shower to its name, which you had to go outside to access. It had no lockers, twelve beds in our small room, and the rooms were left unlocked most of the time, because there were only two keys. They did provide breakfast free of charge, but they were stingy even with that.

Anyway. We headed out the next morning, immediately in search of the famous Eiffel Tower. Having obtained a decent map, we found it in short order, along the River Seine. We also saw a long rack of identical bikes that the city makes available to anyone who cares to use them; we played with the idea of hopping on a couple, but they apparently required a mysterious card that we had no idea how to get. We got to the Eiffel Tower (see video), which was pretty awesome, if tiring to climb. Additionally, we saw the Louvre, and a bunch of buildings in between that we thought might be the Louvre but weren't - one of these was the Museum of Modern Art (we didn't go in, but wanted to.)

Paris is a very awe-inspiring place. People call it romantic, but I didn't feel that so much as its grandeur, the way everything towers over you. It's all elegance and beauty, but I felt like an outsider there, very much a tourist and not at all a part of the environment. Paris is to other cities what a supermodel is to other women - lofty and beautiful, but not familiar.

After our failed, hasty expedition to the Notre Dame (again, check out the videos), we took some roundabout trains into Bern, Switzerland.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Safely in Paris

For the benefit of all who worry, Kristina and I are safely in Paris. Big day today.

Staying safe, being smart. This computer sucks. Write later.


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Video-Blog Begun!!

Kristina and I have begun a video-blog for our trip - you can find our videos here:

Hope you enjoy. We are complete dorks, I know. :P

Friday, March 27, 2009

Friend-filled Ireland

Ever since St. Patty's Day, I've been hanging out with Mike, Dave, and Kristina a TON. The four of us get along famously, and it's tremendously enjoyable to have guys to hang out with.

Last Thursday, the four of us hung out at Kristina's place. We watched Father Ted (have you heard of this show? It's an Irish comedy following the life of a Catholic priest. I was expecting to be offended, to be honest, but it's actually not bad at all), ate frozen pizza, and drank wine. There was a small mishap involving the mixing of red and white wine, but overall it was a lot of fun.

This week has been filled with a historical figure known as Michael Collins. If you don't know who Michael Collins is, he was basically the leader of the Irish fight for independence from Britain in the early 20th century. He helped organize the Irish militia, gathered intelligence, was present at the formation of the treaty with Britain, and was assassinated at the age of 31. The Cork Opera House is showing a musical based on his life, and the four of us, plus a guy named Nevin, went to see it last night. I thought it was great; the music is still stuck in my head. To get us ready for the musical, the guys decided to show Kristina and me the movie by the same name (Michael Collins) on Monday night. Mike and Dave, both history buffs, would not be quiet for the life of them during the entire film... but at least they didn't talk during the musical.

All my classes are finished! I know, crazy, right? I have until next Thursday to write my paper for my Human Sexuality class, and I have 3 exams when I return in May, but other than that my obligations to UCC are complete. The system strikes me as a little strange, but it works out grand for visiting students, many of whom are taking full advantage of the month off to travel.

Kristina's and my trip around Europe begins in less than a week! We're flying into Paris late next Thursday. I am so excited, but Kristina is practically bouncing off the walls thinking about it. Now that I've made these new friends, I wish they could come with us, but they both have other plans. (We're thinking of doing video-blogs each evening, but I'm going to try and write a journal entry for each day as well while we're traveling).

I have to meet Kristina and Dave shortly, so I must bid adieu for now. Sorry about my lax updating schedule - it's hard to remember to write everything down sometimes!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

St. Patty's Day

Yesterday was an absolutely brilliant day. St. Patrick's Day for the win!

So Kristina, my two new friends Mike and Dave, and I decided we would meet up at noon at Mike's place before the parade began at one. Another girl, Avril, was also there; she's a redhead, very nice, and a Brit. Amazingly, all of us were on time - even Dave, who had to drive into town from his home in Blarney.

When we walked onto Grand Parade (that's the name of the street - it never occurred to me before the coincidence there), the place was absolutely packed. Half of the county must have been crowded into City Center, and due to this huge number of people, we almost immediately lost Kristina, who had stopped to buy a green hat from one of the many vendors who had set up shop along the way. She found us again, though, and we actually managed to get decent positions along the parade route, towards the beginning. The parade, unlike everything else that is Irish, started smartly at one o'clock.

What surprised me was how quiet everything was. I mean, there was plenty of normal-speaking-voice level chatter, but hardly any of the floats or groups inspired shouts or cheers or even really applause from the crowd. Maybe it's an American thing to be noisy at parades? I don't know, but I was pretty weirded out. There were cool floats though - a huge water dragon whose head moved around, occasionally swooping into the crowd; a giant robot controlled by what I was told were Star Trekkies; and some random alien-shaped balloons. Most of the people were on foot - a few weren't even dressed up - and the whole affair was decidedly low-tech in comparison to what might be put on in the United States. I'm sorry to keep thinking in terms of comparisons, but I rather expected it to be like other parades I've seen... and it just wasn't. It wasn't bad, or not fun - it was just different.

The parade lasted about an hour, and then the five of us wandered off to find some food. We ended up at Four-Star Pizza, where we got a massive amount of food for 20 euro, and ate it in a green, grassy park I'd never seen before. It overlooked the city, which made for a completely gorgeous view. I can't believe I forgot my camera yet again... argh. But I could see the cathedral, and the bell tower, and a couple miles of residential areas and small businesses from the high spot on which we sat. We all sat happily for a good two hours, trading stories, "shooting the breeze," as they say. The sun was shining, and it was lovely, warm, and comfortable; I couldn't have asked for better company, either. What was interesting to me was the huge diversity of places the five of us came from. Mike is from California and goes to school in Maryland. Dave is born and bred a Corkonian, and was the only Irishman among us. Avril came from England, about 20 miles away from London. Kristina is from Michigan, and I of course am from Mississippi and go to school in Oklahoma. It's amazing to me how we all came together, despite our different backgrounds.

We finally left the grassy slope, and unfortunately Avril had to leave at that point to get homework done. The four of us remaining walked back to the City Center, to the courthouse, where Mike was meeting a few friends of his. The courthouse steps, oddly, were full of drunken college students - and Mike's 3 friends were no exception. They had greasy pizza boxes and some kind of alcohol wrapped in a jacket sleeve to hide the label. One of the girls was Mike's particular friend, and he seemed a little anxious to find her so trashed. We followed them into a different park, this one right in the middle of the city... which was also full of drunk college kids. It wasn't as if there were fights going on, but the majority of people there were dressed gaudily and had unpleasant expressions on their faces. I wouldn't have felt safe in there by myself, and I deliberately stayed close to Mike and Dave. When we were getting ready to leave, Mike decided to stay behind with his drunken friends; I guess he was still worried about the one girl. I don't blame him.

Dave, Kristina, and I, then, the only remaining members of the group, trotted off with a scheme in mind to feed the ducks and swans at the Lough near Kristina's place. We went to Lidl, bought three loaves of bread at 60 cents each, and then went back to Kristina's place to hang out for a little while before going back to the Lough. Well, "a little while" turned into a couple of hours, complete with making toast that I suggested as a result of staring at the loaves of newly acquired bread. We sat and talked for a long time, periodically idly debating whether we should get up again and go feed the swans and ducks. By the time we finally got out the door again, it was after eight o'clock and very dark outside. The ducks were totally disinterested in our bread, and it took us quite a while to find some swans who would take it from us. It was still a lot of fun though, and Kristina and I were giggling (probably a little too much, haha) at the grunting sounds the swans made as they ate.

We finally got rid of that massive amount of bread and called up Mike again, who'd eventually left the drunks and gone back home, only to find a huge, noisy party at his apartment. When we got back there, he was sitting outside looking gloomy. Fortunately, the day was not yet over. (Yeah, I know. You're telling ME it was a long day). We walked down the street, got some Chinese food, then got in Dave's car and went to yet another grassy area. This one was peaceful, dark, on the river, and nobody disturbed the four of us at all. It was also quite cold, and I wasn't particular dressed for the occasion, but that was all right. We had Chinese food, after all, and I was with people who were (and are) some of the most awesome I have met.

After we left, we drove back to the parking lot of Lidl, where Dave and Mike were going to drop us off, but when we got there, the whole place was filled with smoke. Dense, white smoke. It turned out that a chimney was blocked and nearly on fire, right next door to Dave's grandparents' place. We called the fire brigade after talking to the man who lived in that house. We also knocked on his next-door-neighbor's door, who seemed confused and peeved that we were disturbing him to tell him that sparks were flying onto his roof. (Go figure, right?)

It was only after this, and meeting Dave's grandparents briefly, that Kristina and I went back to her place. We studied for our exam, which was the next day, and went to bed around midnight. (I didn't much fancy walking back home 30 minutes in the middle of the night).

So yes. That was my sober St. Patrick's Day. I loved every minute of it. :D

Monday, March 16, 2009

Kinsale and a concert

Sorry it's been so long since I've updated. School work is finally coming to a head, and I have two tests and an essay due this week. So unfortunately, this might not be a very long entry.

New things:
I went to Kinsale on Saturday with Kristina. Susan was supposed to come too, but that ended up not happening because she didn't feel well. Also, the original plan was to go to Kinsale the Friday before that, but the weather was bad. So we did it this time. I don't know if we're ever going to get to Killarney. We're running out of time before the month off and major traveling happens. :D

Anyway, so Kinsale was really nice. The weather was great - sunshiny and warm. Also, Kinsale is right on the water, and there were lots of sailboats and hills and a very local feel to the town in general. It's a perfect tourist locale, and they take advantage of it. There are bed and breakfasts every few feet, it seems like. We got a lot of nice pictures - those should go up on facebook soon.

I invited Mike over for a movie night one night; we watched stand-up Robin Williams, and that was fun. I've also been getting to know his friend Dave, who is an uber-nerd, but very cool to talk to. He's been helping me a bit with my Irish. :)

The concert was last Friday, and I think it went pretty well. It was held in City Hall. We performed 10 pieces in all, with interludes of string quartet, flute, and piano. One of the pieces, Dulaman, is in Irish, and Tom, our director, was slightly obsessive about making that one absolutely perfect, even though I could hardly understand what it was he wanted us to do differently. But overall, I think the concert went better than most of the rehearsals, which was highly gratifying, and it was a lot of fun as well.

I've got my Eurail pass now, which is exciting. Kristina and I are thinking we'll take the train up to Dublin the first day, when we fly out of there to Paris. We have 10 days of train travel available to us, and we're not using all of them, so we can indulge that way while we have the chance.

That's all for now - I'm sorry I don't have more time to write at the moment. Love to all!

Friday, March 6, 2009

An excellent few days

The last few days have been really cool. I've had a lot going on.

So, on Tuesday evening, I went with Susan to choir rehearsal, from which I left early. Despite the concert being next week, we still received new music at that rehearsal. It's fine, though, it's mostly pretty easy stuff. Anyway, after I left choir, I went straight to the comedy hypnotist show, where I was meeting Kristina.

The place was packed. Held in the same room where the orientation for foreign exchange kids was held back in January, there were just as many people in there this time. The show started very shortly after I arrived, and the hypnotist was a dark-haired, quick-fire man, well capable of keeping the attention of the hundreds of students in the room. About thirty students volunteered to be hypnotized - among them, Kristina. He told them to close their eyes and squeeze their hands together, all the while talking to them, telling them to keep squeezing more and more tightly, to clear their minds, etc etc. You could tell some people were taking his suggestions to heart and others weren't - for instance, Kristina's fingers were turning red and white with the pressure she was applying, while a girl in front of me had her hands so loosely intertwined that there was a gap between them. Then the hypnotist walked behind each of them and laid them down on the floor. Some people were eliminated from the line-up at this point because they were neither hypnotized nor becoming that way. Others seemed to actually fall asleep. Then the hypnotist started taking them through the show. At first everything was a group activity - it's really hot, it's really cold, something stinks, you're a class of kindergartners, etc. Then he started having them do individual feats, and it began to be obvious that these people were not just pretending to be under the influence of his suggestions. The most striking thing, to me, about hypnotized people is that, no matter what they do, they never laugh at themselves. Not once.

So there was this sequence where all of the people on stage were convinced that the people in the audience were off-duty soldiers, and they were our superiors. They were supposed to order us around, tell us to do push-ups, and so on. After a few minutes of this, Kristina walked up to me and barked at me to stand at attention. I didn't stand, but instead sat up straight in my chair and saluted her, grinning at her. Of course to me this was a big joke - nobody here was a soldier, and the whole thing was more than a tad ridiculous. But instead of grinning back at me and trying to get me to play along, Kristina's whole demeanor was instead incredibly stern, and I swear she was actually insulted by the fact that I didn't stand right away. Taken aback, I did as she asked, and she told me to drop and give her five. Which I did - or tried to. She shoved me down so hard with her foot on my back that I couldn't do the push-ups properly, and then she actually pushed my head in the ground, apparently angry that I was doing wimpy push-ups. I wasn't hurt, just surprised.

Generally I thought the whole thing was pretty entertaining. One guy danced with a broom to an Elvis Presley song, another was convinced that a mop was Angelina Jolie, and a third thought he was Rocky Balboa. Kristina was kind of angry about the whole thing after it was over, though, and doesn't want to repeat the experience.

On Wednesday, the two of us went to our usual stand-up comedy night at Club Aras in the Student Center. This time, though, when I walked in, I found Kristina sitting at a table with one of the student comedians. His name is Dave, and he is well-suited to his hobby. It's pretty much impossible for him to talk about anything without joking about it, and due to this, we had a great time. Kristina really couldn't hear him say anything without bursting into laughter, so we mainly listened to him, and the chief part of the interactions were between Dave and me - which is unusual... I'm normally the quiet one. Kristina would probably have talked more if she could have got a breath in between laughing. :P

On Thursday, there was another choir rehearsal. Not very many people showed up - maybe a quarter of the choir - but that was fine, since it meant that the altos got to go over the parts that confused them. Certainly helped me out, at any rate - I'd missed half the rehearsals by not joining until later anyway. After we were done rehearsing, Tom (the director) showed us some YouTube videos of different awesome musicians. I showed the choir the video that Katie Baker, my roommate back home, made with the track of her choir singing "Water Night" by Eric Whitacre. It was good times, and I enjoyed myself.

Yesterday was a lot of fun! Due to bad weather, Kristina and I decided not to go to Kinsale this weekend. Instead, we met at school, ate Subway for lunch, and then went to see Watchmen at a cinema in the city center. The movie was both awful and brilliant, terrible and good at the same time. Out of the whole cast, everyone's status as a protagonist or villain was ambiguous, except perhaps for the main two. And it was oh-my-gosh violent. I lost count of the number of times I had to close my eyes.

After the movie, we weren't sure what our plans were, but we decided just to head back to campus, so we went to the Student Center and found my friend Michael from my Human Sexuality class, hanging out with three other guys (Keane [sp?] and Dave [not the same one as the comedian]). Having nowhere to be, we sat and chatted with them for a good two hours before the Student Center closed. Then they took us to Lennox's, which is a "chipper" (a fish-and-chips place). We brought the food back to Michael's place, where the four of us (Keane had to leave) traded stories and got to know each other. It was SO nice to hang out with a couple of guys for once. I didn't realize how much I'd missed male company. After dinner, the guys headed off to see Watchmen themselves, and Kristina and I each went home.

So that's been my week! I'm pleased it's been such a nice one. :)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

It's raining again

Things have been pretty quiet around here lately. Most of my weekend was spent finishing my philosophy essay, which, though a bit on the short side, I was pleased with.

Even though not much has been going on, time seems to move more quickly now. There are fewer than four full weeks of classes before the "review week" - from what I understand, this means no class, but possibly review sessions, and possibly available professors whose brains we can pick for our exams in May. On Thursday of the review week (April 2), Kristina and I are heading out, flying from Dublin to France for the first leg of our journey.

I can't believe our trip is coming up so soon! When we first made plans, it didn't seem quite real - more like we were playing make-believe, inventing an itinerary so that we could see all these places we've only heard of. But now it's only a month left until we leave! There are a ton of details we need to take care of in the next few weeks. One of the hostels we're staying at (the one in Rome) e-mailed me to inform me that the price of our stay had increased a good 16 euro (their excuse is that their technology screwed up and posted them as having cheaper rooms than they actually do. Hmm...). So I'm going to go back and see if there's now a better deal for those nights. If not, 16 euro isn't THAT big of a deal, but it's still annoying. They should stick to what people sign up for.

Kristina and I are planning on going to Kinsale on Friday. Also, there's a "comedy hypnotist" show tonight at 8:20. Choir is at 7, so I'll show up for that and leave early. Since the concert is coming up so soon, I don't want to skip it entirely.

I'll try and write again soon. My next update will probably be about Kinsale!

Saturday, February 28, 2009

This week went quickly

So quickly, in fact, that I might have trouble remembering what I did every day. On Sunday, I went to yet another new church with Kristina. This one is the Church of the Immaculate Conception (or as Kristina calls it, "the Lough church") and it's very nice, if not so grand as some of the others. Kristina pointed something out to me that I had utterly failed to notice - most of the churches here are built in the shape of a cross. :) It's lovely symbolism, and I'm glad I can appreciate it now.

Tuesday evening was choir rehearsal again, which was great. Some of the kids are going to Budapest in early April (forgive me if I've already mentioned this), but it interferes with the timing of my big month-long trip, so I didn't audition. Nevertheless, we have a big concert coming up mid-March that I'm excited about. I've really missed choir, and participating in a concert will be just like being home again. :)

Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday were all caught up in studying for 4 exams that I expected to take on Wednesday afternoon. They were all for a computer course that I'm taking online; OU hosts it, and the first deadline was yesterday (Friday) so I wanted to make sure to do it ahead of time. But when I went in on Wednesday to the international office (a lady there is supervising my testing) we immediately discovered that their computers don't have Microsoft Office 2007, only 2003, which is a problem. So we went to the Boole library computer labs, and then the website for the tests wouldn't work. So, stressed and frustrated, I e-mailed the company's IT, who amazingly got back to me in less than 24 hours with a solution. So I went back to the international ed office on Friday and took the first 3 tests, but my instructor hasn't emailed me the fourth exam yet, so that's postponed to... whenever.

Yeah. Very exciting, right? The only reason I'm having to deal with this is because I was a dummy who forgot to take one of the prerequisites for my application to the Health Sciences Center, and after much hassle and to-do, landed myself in this computer class. SO much more trouble than I was expecting.

Anyway, what else went on this week? I'm currently writing a philosophy essay on the relationship between mind, body, and environment. Essays always take an excruciatingly long time for me, so I'm about 70% of the way done and am dedicating most of tomorrow to it too. I guess I shouldn't worry TOO much, since all I have to do is pass, but still.

Yesterday, after the computer tests, I spent a few hours shoving leaflets into people's letterboxes in a few neighborhoods in Cork. I was doing this with Kristina and a Pakistani man who works at Sania's restaurant, to help promote said restaurant. It was kind of cold and drizzly weather, and I got attacked by a small dog at one point, but overall it was good work. Last night, Erica, Susan, Kristina and I had a pizza party. We rented a chick flick, got some Indian food, some pizza, and watched the movie on Kristina's laptop.

So, overall, I've been doing pretty well. And if you feel the slightest urge to leave me a comment, I love comments, so please do. :D

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Bending over backwards to kiss a rock

Yesterday marks the first successful trip outside of Cork I've yet been on! For any of us, actually (Kristina, Susan, or me). And, of course, we chose to visit one of Ireland's single biggest tourist attractions: the Blarney Stone.

For some reason, I had it in my head that the Blarney Stone and Blarney Castle were two distinct entities. I imagined a big rock sitting in an enclosure, blackened on all sides by hundreds of years' worth of kisses from myth-loving Irish and dubious tourists, all hoping to be endowed with the gift of eloquence by a simple piece of granite. I'm not sure why I didn't know where the Blarney Stone was, or what you have to do to kiss the dern thing. If you're in this boat, read on and be entertained.

So, my day began with meeting Kristina and Susan in front of the Student Center on campus. We walked the twenty-five minutes into the City Center, to the bus station, to learn, to our pleasure, that buses left for Blarney at least once an hour, and returned just as frequently. Nevertheless, we still had a good half-hour to wait for the next bus, and we entertained ourselves with Kristina's iPod (Susan got one earbud, I got the other, and we sang along to Matchbox 20's "How Far We've Come" in harmony, earning a few odd glances from the other Blarney-goers nearby. It was good times.) We packed ourselves onto the bus, which was crammed with people. I've never seen so many Americans in one place in Ireland. After the short ride into town, the three of us got lunch at a cute cafe, then set off for the castle.

Entering the grounds cost 8 euro, but fortunately that covered kissing the Stone, climbing the castle, and... entering dank little caves, apparently. Part of the grounds are narrow, wet, muddy caves, which of course we had to explore to our satisfaction. Kristina's satisfaction is to do a lot more exploring than either me or Susan, so we often allowed her to forge ahead and tell us whether the hole in question was worth seeing. Once, we discovered a cave full of people's names who'd visited there over the years. We left our names for posterity and took some pictures (not with my camera. I forgot it in my apartment. Argh.)

Finally, we ran out of caves and entered the castle itself. After a certain point, this was rather nerve-wracking, as we entered a tightly-wound spiral staircase where the steps only seemed to get narrower and narrower. Every so often, a room appeared off the side of the staircase - no landing, just a room cut into the stone walls. Each room had a plaque explaining what it used to be used for (Young Lady's Bedroom. Kitchen. Earl's Bedroom.) Finally we emerged at the top of the winding staircase, onto the roof of the castle.

Up until that point, I had been rather losing faith in the reputation Ireland has for being beautiful. I mean, Cork is not a pretty city. It's not even a particularly clean city. And, aside from the singular failed jaunt into Dunmanway, I hadn't seen much of Ireland at all except for the ins and outs of Cork. But, coming out to the view that Blarney Castle afforded, my faith in a beautiful Ireland was completely restored. The greenness stretched on forever. Vast tracts of farmland and woods, interrupted only by one little town in the distance, were laid out for miles around the castle. Like I said, I didn't have my camera, but Kristina and Susan were each as entranced as I was, and snapped photos every few feet along the wall.

On the opposite side of the battlements from where we emerged, two older men sat around... nothing, as far as I could see. Where on earth was the Blarney Stone? So we walked over there, and on the floor were several mats. Behind the man on the right, there were vertical metal bars protruding from the unremarkable looking wall. But that section of the wall was further out, and there was a hole in the floor behind the mats. If I haven't made this clear up until now, we were high up. We were VERY high up - about 10 stories, I'd say. And the wall, down below the floor level, was darker, smudged with years and years of kisses. But you couldn't lay on your stomach and get your mouth to the wall that way - you'd fall. And so now I understood why kissing the Blarney Stone was such a big deal. You had to lie on the mats, belly-up, your head towards the Stone. You had to grab the metal bars, scoot yourself out and out and out until you could finally kiss the low-down Stone, fighting the fear of falling through that hole, and then make it back. And... I was the first to go. The man on the right's responsibility was holding onto your legs so you didn't fall, and the man on the left's job was to take a picture.

I'd be lying if I didn't say that seeing the countryside, stretched out below my hardly-supported upper body didn't make me want to panic. But, somehow, we all three managed to kiss that piece of wall... Kristina almost didn't. I told her it wasn't scary, it was fine (liar, liar) and we all walked away from that wall victorious.

So now you know why it's a big deal to kiss the Blarney Stone. Not because you now have the gift of eloquence, but because it requires NERVES!

Anyway, the rest of the day was also enjoyable. We walked around the grounds for several hours, seeing horses, flowers, lakes, and fields. All of it was lovely, but we were glad when we returned to our rooms for a rest. The two of them actually went out again that evening, but I was really tired and opted to stay in instead. It's just as well - I heard that the people they were supposed to meet at the pub never even showed up.

And today my job is schoolwork. Talk to ye later!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Classes are halfway over!

As time goes on, I find that more and more activities get planned every night of the week. I haven't just "stayed home" at all this week. On Monday, Kristina and I made burgers at her new apartment after my classes were over. Neither of her two roommates were in yet, so we had the place to ourselves. She had spent the day canvassing a part of Cork we hadn't seen yet, as well as checking out all the details of her new place. She seems really happy and excited to have a different place to live in now.

Tuesday evening, I attended UCC's choir rehearsal for the first time. I went with Susan, and it was a lot of fun, if somewhat unlike any other choir rehearsal I'd ever attended. The laidback Irish attitude extends to their musicmaking, it seems, and between that and the fact that our director (Tom) is only a student himself, the rehearsal was a bit scattered and informal. I enjoy Tom's directing, though. He's a nerd, but very outgoing and loud; it's clear all the choir members love him. We had a big discussion midway through the evening about the proper way to pronounce the word Renaissance. Europeans tend to put the accent on the second syllable (Ren-NAY-saunce), but the way the music was written forced an American pronunciation (REN-na-saunce), much to the indignation of the many native Irish in the room. Overall, it was a lot of fun - and I was pleased to see everyone again the next night...

...because on Wednesday, the choir hosted a showing and sing-along of Mamma Mia! in the basement of the library. (The basement of the library isn't really a basement. And it doesn't strictly attach to the library. I mean, there are about 6 classrooms, bathrooms, and 2 computer labs down there, and you can't access it from the library. At all. Needless to say, this confused me a lot the first week I was here, and I was told to go to Boole Basement, and going downstairs in the library didn't get me there.) Anyway, the sing-along was an absolute blast. There must have been 60 or 70 of us in the room, and every girl was singing at the top of her voice with the helpful follow-the-bouncing-ball-type captioning. Tom even joined in, loudly, a time or two. It was brilliant. Afterwards, Susan, Chris, Franzi, and I went to the Thirsty, a local pub. Chris is an Asian kid from New Jersey, who is somewhat socially oblivious but a great guy nonetheless; and Franzi is an exchange student from Germany who speaks excellent English and is very nice. Susan struck up a conversation with one of the musicians there, as well, so a good time was had by all.

Tonight, Kristina and I went to another Comedy Club show, this time at the Old College Bar. It was quite a small crowd; there were only perhaps twenty of us in the audience. The main comedian was great - he also spotted Kristina and me right away, and proceeded to make as much of his routine about America as he could! He was excellent and had us laughing the whole time. We enjoyed ourselves. :)

My computer course is finally underway. It's online, and the program is neat and organized. Despite the fact that it could safely be used to instruct someone who's been living in the Stone Age and has an IQ of 72, I'm actually enjoying going through the neat little lesson plans - which, due to the test date being next Wednesday, I will spend much of my weekend doing.

Hope all is well with ye - tog bog e!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A very long week, not so briefly summarized

Seeing as I was reprimanded by not just one, but two people, on my neglect of my blog, I apologize for the error, and hope to make amends by explaining just what has kept me so busy lately.

I spent last Saturday with Susan. We wandered around, went shopping around town (Susan got a blanket from the same store where I got my purple dress), and got her groceries from the Tesco in City Center (or City Centre, if I really want to be Irish). Then we came back, did a little homework, and met back up at dinnertime in my kitchen. We made pancakes! They were delicious. ☺ One of the things about Ireland is that there is very, very little brand diversity, no matter where you shop. It takes a bit of getting used to, after the United States’ practice of selling three or six different brands of any given product. We Americans must like our choices or something, haha. Anyway, there are 2 different kinds of pancake mix you can buy, and only 1 kind of pancake syrup – which honestly isn’t pancake syrup in our conception of the term. It tastes like maple syrup and honey mixed together, maybe with a little extra sugariness thrown in for good measure. (The same people who make this stuff, make the one and only kind of chocolate syrup you can find, and oh MAN is that stuff good).

The next day, Sunday, I went to St. Francis for church and met Kristina there. We went to Burger King for lunch in town, and met Kristina’s house-mate Paloma there. They were planning a surprise birthday party for Kristina’s host mother, so I tagged along as they bought streamers, balloons, and banners. We parted ways pretty soon after that; the buses to Carrigaline, where Kristina’s host-family is, are pretty few and far between on Sundays especially.

Monday is a fairly busy class day for me. The professor seems to have changed midway in my Human Sexuality class, and apparently the same thing’s about to happen in my Celtic Religion and Mythology class. I can’t figure why that is. Anyway, regardless of teacher, the psychology class is very interesting, and I met a few nice people there this past week.

On Tuesday evening, I went out to a pub with Susan and Kristina. The pub is called Costigan’s, and it’s pretty cool. It’s right on Washington Street, about 25 minutes of walking away, and we all bought ourselves drinks and laughed and chatted and had a good time. I only had one drink - which will probably be the extent of my drinking at any one time while I’m here, don’t worry.

On Wednesday evening, Susan and I went back to the same pub to listen to the live music there. There were 2 guys; one played guitar and the other sang. They were excellent musicians, and we enjoyed listening to them – as well as critiquing the clothing of the young men and women congregated around the table in front of the two of us. Actually, overall, people seem to be rather well-dressed around here – especially if they’re going out to the pubs. You catch people in slouchy dress only if they’re headed to class; otherwise, they seem to prefer heels, dresses, button-up shirts, and well-fitted jeans (American boys who can’t keep their pants up, take note!)

On Thursday, everything started to come to a head. Kristina’s host-mother had not been treating her very nicely, and Kristina was tired of the treatment she was getting there, so we started poking around other places for her to live. Needing to take care of some things, she skipped our third class of the day (I now love that class. It's the tutorial for Celtic Religion and I think the instructor is fantastic) and stopped in a little place near my apartment building, called Fusion Cuisine, where we frequently buy food for its cheapness and quality. She vented her accommodation problems to a friendly waitress (Erica), and lo and behold, her boss, Sania, has empty apartments she needs to rent! Well, if that isn't a sign from God I don't know what is, so even though we checked out another house that night - which was actually adorable, I loved it - Kristina immediately decided on the apartment which Sania is renting out. Without getting into the messier details of the issues with her host mother and family, suffice it to say that both parties were reasonably pleased with Kristina leaving that house in Carrigaline on Friday morning for the very last time.

So then, Friday morning, Kristina came over to my apartment with her backpack and suitcase hastily filled with all her belongings. We did a ton of laundry (twelve euro), got lunch at my apartment, and proceeded to spend a lot of time going to different stores, trying to get Kristina wireless internet. Of course that was way more complicated than it needed to be. (In short: The company, O2, wants proof of address. A form with her address, stamped and notorized by the school, is apparently not good enough. Go figure, right? Sometimes I wonder whether these companies actually want business, or just want to frustrate people.) Anyway, we went out to dinner that night at a really nice Chinese restaurant, then went to the same pub as usual again (Costigan's, remember? Are you keeping up with all this okay?) Also, we originally thought to move Kristina into her new apartment that day, but Sania needed to take care of some things, so she spent that night on my floor.

And we've made it all the way to yesterday! Okay, so, yesterday, we woke up fairly leisurely, but then the rest of the day was more walking than I have ever done in a single day in my life. We got lunch at Centra and spent more time dealing with the wireless internet problem, to no real avail. She can have her proof of address by sometime next week when the bank gets around to sending her a bank statement. Because the branch of the bank that's inside the school evidently doesn't have the authority to print bank statements. I'm pretty sure that's the dumbest thing I've ever heard, but whatever. After that, we went by Penney's and bought her some new bedding, pillows, and towels for her room. Then we came back and packed up Kristina's stuff. Then we went back to Fusion Cuisine to wait for Sania, who was still running errands and came by an hour later. We had amazing chocolate cake while we were waiting, and then Sania made us both free chicken sandwiches for the road! :) We picked up Kristina's luggage, loaded it into Sania's car, and went to the new apartment. Sania took us to a couple of places where she had errands to run before dropping us back at the apartment again. We made the bed, then walked to a nearby grocery store called Lidl (pronounced "little"), then walked the long way round to Tesco, where we got a few things. Then we got very, very lost trying to get back to the apartment. This place is in a nearly completely unfamiliar part of town to the both of us, and in an effort to not take the long way back, we wasted even more time trying to find the shortcut that we knew existed somewhere or other. The sun had set; in the dark, we tramped down the side of a road, which turned into a highway, and suddenly we were so far off anyplace we wanted to be, that we had to turn around completely and go back. We tried another road, and thankfully that one led to a landmark that Kristina recognized. We got lost again, but fortunately were headed in the right direction and made it back to the apartment... thirty minutes after the Skype date I was supposed to have with Jason. Keep in mind that we both had full backpacks of heavy groceries during all of this. We were so tired and frustrated (after this 3-hour grocery run!) that we just sat in that internet-less apartment for another half hour, grumpily eating cookies and putting away groceries. We took the bus out to City Center, walked ANOTHER thirty minutes back to my apartment, and briefly both got a chance to talk to our respective boyfriends for about 10 minutes before having to turn around and go back to Fusion Cuisine. Sania's husband took us back to Kristina's apartment, and I spent the night at her place.

So today, Kristina and I woke up, made breakfast, and walked to City Center (we finally figured out where we were going, Buichas le Dia!) where we met the aforementioned waitress, Erica. She took us back to her place, where she made us sandwiches and soup for lunch, and we chatted a while. As it turns out, her husband works for the company that makes World of Warcraft! Bwahahaha, I can't wait to tell Jason that. Then we went to church (St. Mary's), and came back to my place. On the way, we met Ronan - remember him? I met him very early on. He walked back with us, and we chatted with him on the way. Kristina and I picked up popcorn and Coke, and once we got back to the apartment, the two of us watched part of The Tale of Despereaux.

And now I'm here, writing all this up.
And I need my groceries for the week, so I'm about to leave.
And now you know why it took me so long to write.
Have a good day, everyone!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Churches and a purple dress

Yesterday was wonderful. I woke up late (because my Fridays are sans classes) and met Kristina on campus at noon. I splurged a little on food, buying not just my typical personal pizza but also a box of chips (potato wedges, actually). Quizno's, where Kristina got her lunch, had a free-refill offer (this is not the norm here at ALL), so I got some Coke for the first time in weeks.

It was a beautiful day, so after we dropped off our stuff at my apartment, we decided to just go out and walk around Cork. We stopped in the English Food Market and bought a small cake of chocolate mousse and an eclair, then went back outside to eat them. They were absolutely heavenly, and the two put together were only 5 euro (about $6.50). Trust me when I say this is a good deal.

I had my sights set on seeing two Catholic churches that are a bit further out of the way, but before we got there we got sidetracked by a display in a small dress shop. The mannequin in the window was wearing a beautiful, V-necked, deep purple dress, and I immediately wanted to try it on. It was a little complicated to put on, being a wrap-around dress, but it looked gorgeous on me. Kristina tried it on too, and despite the fact that we are two very different body types, it suited her quite well too. I glanced at the price tag. It was on sale, but I didn't have the heart to spend money on a frivolous purchase for myself, so I begrudgingly hung the dress back up, thanked the shopkeeper, and we left emptyhanded.

We went on and crossed the river to see St. Mary's, which from the outside looks almost identical to the Cork Courthouse, except for the tall, white soapstone statue of Mary on the roof. (Why didn't I bring my camera? She's beautiful.) Kristina told me she needed to use the bathroom and that she'd meet me inside, so I went first to the front, then to one side, then to the other before finally finding a door that would open, and I went in by myself. It was styled similarly to St. Francis, with the main altar in the center, but smaller statues in the front corners. Mary was on the left-hand side, and a beautiful statue depicting the Holy Family was on the right. Further to the right was a statue of Jesus, in front of Whom was a set of votive candles. Kristina and I lit one to pray for our trip. There were also doors on the right wall of the church leading into a separate chapel dedicated to St. Martin, one of the first black saints I have seen.

After leaving the church, we went up the hill to find the other one I'd seen on some maps. This was totally unexplored territory for the two of us, and I was charmed by the quaint, quiet, narrow roadways and the typical mushed-together styling of the buildings surrounding. Kristina was carrying a pretty satin bag which she mentioned she'd seen for a couple euro and wanted. As we walked, she asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday, which is in a couple months. I told her she didn't need to get me anything, and that the fact that we'll be in Munich on my birthday is good enough for me. Then she handed me the bag, and said, "Happy birthday! Open it!" Inside was.... the beautiful purple dress from the shop display. :D I was so thrilled, I hugged her and thanked her again and again. I'm really going to have to do something awesome for her one of these days... :) :)

On our way, a man standing in the doorway to a pub stopped us and chatted with us for a few minutes ("Where are ye from?" "America." "I know that, where in the States??" Apparently our accents give us away even from a distance, haha.) He talked to us about Obama, seemed dubious that he'll make any real change to the current state of affairs, and asked us if the First Lady was pregnant. Which she isn't, according to Google News, but he seemed convinced by some paper he'd read. Tabloids are popular here - surely the man isn't silly enough to believe what he reads in the tabloids?

Anyway, we didn't find St. Anne's, but we found the North Cathedral, which has to be within 3 blocks of the former. I have never seen so many churches crammed so closely together in my life. At any rate, the North Cathedral is the most modern of any of the churches I've seen yet. They also have a relic - a bone of a man who lived and died in the 15th century, and who isn't a saint but has the title of Blessed. I thought that was pretty cool, but it freaked Kristina out that they keep some guy's bone in a case in a church.

We went back after that, and Kristina caught the bus back to her host-home. And I hung out with Susan, who is now here again, and we're going to go shopping. So I need to leave.

Write later!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Libraries and a hoodie

It's been a little while since I've posted. I haven't noticed the time go by, really - one sign that I'm getting used to it here. The classes aren't exactly rhythmic - Monday is different from Tuesday is different from Wednesday, etc. etc. - but I'm falling into a quiet routine, which I find comforting.

I bought a bright pink UCC hoodie today! This week is something called Rag Week, and to be honest, I don't really know what that means. There was a notice in our apartment last weekend telling us the fines we would receive if caught egging buildings or vandalizing property, which is apparently part of the tradition of Rag Week... but I don't know what the actual point is. Anyway, my hoodie has the UCC crest on it ("Where Finbarr taught, let Munster learn"), the word "Rag," and a little logo on the sleeve reading "UCC Students' Union." Also, despite it being an extra small, it pretty much swallows me whole. Warm, though. And quite pink.

I had the misfortune of checking a book out of the library last week with a yellow sticker on the side. The book, entitled The Magic Flute, followed the lives of four Scottish boys growing up in the fifties, through their lives. Best friends in primary school (elementary school, to us Americans) their lives still went in four completely different directions into their twenties and thirties. It had no real conclusion to it, or moral lesson, or epiphany, or anything resembling a satisfying ending, but it was still a decent book. At any rate, the fact that it had a yellow sticker on the side meant that when I checked it out, it was due back a week later, and when I tried to renew it on its due date, I was curtly informed that I couldn't do that and either had to finish it that day, not turn it in and start incurring fines, or turn it in and wait for it to reappear on the shelf, at which time I could check it out again. Figure THAT one out. At any rate, I decided to spend a lot of time in the library that day, and ended up speed-reading half the book in about 3 hours. It was a little frustrating. I would have much preferred to take my time with the thing, but that yellow sticker must have meant it was very special. (Today, my library no-sticker pick was Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen.)

Gaelic is starting to get more complicated. We're starting to conjugate verbs and count items. Irish has got to be the only language in which counting objects requires a lot of thought and memory. Really, the rule actually changes depending on what number you're on. You spell the noun differently depending on whether you're on 1, 2-6, or 7-10, bizarrely enough. But the class is a lot of fun, and I'm enjoying the learning experience. My teacher, Claire, is great, too.

That's all for now. Write later! :)

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Adventures in Corcaigh County

On Friday morning, Kristina and I finally took care of our immigration cards. This was my third visit to the Garda station; the first two times, the place had been too full and the workers too inefficient to see me before the office closed. This time, though, I arrived a full half hour before the place even opened, and I was first in line. I had all my paperwork, and the only problem the lady had was that my insurance didn't indicate how long it would be effective for - it only said when it would take effect. She actually told me to come back when I had proof that it would cover me the duration of my stay, but had a change of heart after the next girl in line had the same issue. I don't quite understand it myself - why would insurance documents indicate an expiration? Isn't the whole idea of insurance that it's there until some nebulous future time at which you need it? At any rate, she did let me have my card, and I'm now legally a resident of Ireland until far beyond my departure at the end of May.

After we left the Garda station, Kristina and I bought bus tickets to Ballineen, where we planned to visit a castle called Ballycarigga (or something like that). The thing about the bus system in Ireland is that it's not marked; there are no announcements or displays on the bus that tell you where you are when the bus stops. So we accidentally overshot Ballineen by one stop and ended up being dropped off in a tiny town called Dunmanway. We had lunch, and briefly entertained the idea of walking back the way we came to Ballineen. However, it would have been an 11-kilometer hike, and neither of us knew how far that was in miles. So, afraid of missing all buses back to Cork, we opted to wait around in rainy Dunmanway until the next bus headed to Cork arrived. We saw two swans in a lake across the way, and wandered up a tiny paved road near the bus stop, until it turned out that it was someone's driveway and all that was at the end was someone's home. All in all, it wasn't too eventful; the bus driver grudgingly took us back to Cork without charging us again ("It's a round-trip ticket to Ballineen." "But this isn't Ballineen, this is Dunmanway! ...Oh, fine, get on.") and we walked back to my apartment, still in the rain.

Today, my new friend Susan and I went out to Cork City Center (a place I've now been often enough to know better than Norman). We went inside a department store, which was connected to a mall by, of all things, a tiny grocery store. We bought lunch at the tiny grocery store, then got some grocery shopping done at Tesco before heading back home. The weather, for once, was beautiful. Susan also came back down to my apartment later that evening (we live in the same building) to have some company during dinner. I like spending time with her. :) She's a very nice person.

I've been spending a lot of my free time watching episodes of House online. It's a very good show.

That's about all that's new around here. Write later!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Planning, comedians, and drizzly days

This week, so far, has been fairly quiet. Kristina and I have begun to reserve our flights around Europe, as well as book the hostels we want to stay in. In Paris, we're staying in the '3 Ducks Hostel,' which aside from having a very cute name, has good reviews and is quite close to the metro. :) We're working it out so that we are paying equivalent amounts for the trip without making it unduly complicated, which so far seems to be a good principle to work from.

Last night, the two of us went to Club Aras on the second floor of the Student Center on campus for a comedy night. It's a weekly event, and we had fun. There were six acts, five of whom were students of the school. The sixth one was a professional comedian from Dublin. I'd like to say that all of them were just fantastic, and that was *mostly* the case. Unfortunately, the fifth guy was quite preoccupied with the fact that he was dropping out of school the next day, was extremely bitter about it, and proceeded to take it out on us, by swearing at the students of UCC in general. He almost got himself into a fistfight with people in the club! I didn't see what happened - my cell phone rang during his 'performance' and I had to leave the room to try to hear the person on the other end - but I think the MC might have gestured him off stage before things got completely out of hand. O_O

The professional comedian, on the other hand, was pretty cool and funny, and I enjoyed his act the most, together with a nerdy guy whose routine involved an impression of Gollum from Lord of the Rings. :D Hilarious. Also, I had my first-ever drink - a Smirnoff Ice whose total alcohol content was only 4.5%. It actually tasted pretty good, and I barely felt the alcohol. It's a little odd to be legal here, and be able to buy such things in a public bar.

Kristina and I have plans to get our immigration cards early tomorrow morning (I've been in the Garda station twice already to try to do this, but they are so inefficient that the line barely moved either time. Hopefully, arriving before they open will do the trick. We're running out of time!). After we finally get that done, we're going on an adventure to Ballineen, 15 miles outside of Cork, to see a castle.

For today, we're just braving the constant light drizzle between classes. Our tutorial for Celtic Religion and Mythology was cancelled, so we're hanging around in the computer lab until 4:00, when our Irish Language class starts. Hope all is well with all of you!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

If I think my head hurts from reading too much philosophy, does it really?

That's what appears to be the main point of my Philosophy of Mind reading assignment, which I am taking a break from in order to update my blog. Each of these readings is impossibly dense, and only slightly improved by having a lecture on the same subject. I'm pretty sure I have to write a 1500-word essay for this class - which hopefully can be on a topic that doesn't break my brain to think about.

All in all, though, this semester shouldn't be too taxing. I believe my total assignment count, for all my classes put together, is 3 essays, a detailed project, and 4 exams. Really. I think I've had that much work crammed into a space of about three weeks. Granted, those weren't easy three weeks, but I still emerged victorious - and all I have to do here is pass.

I am also concerned about a particular requirement that I was an idiot enough to forget about for my application to the speech-language pathology program in Oklahoma City. There seem to be a few ways for me to complete the requirement, though, and I have been assured that I can still apply without having finished it, so long as it's done to their satisfaction by the time the program begins in August. I would REALLY like to hear back from the woman I e-mailed about it, though.

Ireland continues to be soaking wet - and a cold snap has come through as well. Brrr. Fortunately, though, it was neither wet nor cold when I walked the 30 minutes to church this morning. This week's choice was St. Francis, and though it is grand and beautiful, it doesn't seem particularly popular with the local population. It didn't even get to half-capacity. Which is probably the result of the fact that a very popular church, St. Augustine, is about 5 minutes away.

Kristina and I watched part of a movie called Idiocracy this afternoon. It's a comedy, but I honestly find it rather concerning and a little horrifying. It's about 2 average people who get "put on ice" for 500 years (accidentally), and wake up in 2505 to discover that the average IQ has plummeted to levels of near-retardation, so that they are easily the smartest people on earth with their average levels of intelligence. I don't know how it turns out, though, because the download rate almost stopped once all the Irish kids got back to school this afternoon.

Anyway, I should get back to my philosophy reading. Write later!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Gold mosaics and ugly dresses

I slept late this morning, and woke to more blue (ish) skies. Even though there were clouds, they didn't seem imminently threatening, and the ground, for once, was dry. I walked all the way to the bus station in City Center, this time without getting lost once. Now, I'm not sure how I ever got lost in the first place. It's a straight shot to the school, down Washington Street, across the big walking area, then down a busy street until you hit a bridge, hang a left and you're there. I guess I'm learning my way around. It seems much less complicated now than it used to.

It says something about Ireland that most of my major landmarks in Cork are churches. St. Mary's, St. Augustine, St. Francis, Church of the Holy Spirit, Honan Chapel, two big ones I've never been inside... then you've got the two Tesco's (Wal-Marts, essentially), St. Patrick's Quay (a great big shopping area), the police station, the bus station, and that one little indoor mall with the Quizno's and coffee shop upstairs... Sorry, now I'm rambling. Suffice it to say that I can generally find my way home, at the very least.

Anyway, after meeting Kristina today, we were stopped by an Amnesty International guy who wanted us to sign petitions relating to the breaking of the Geneva Convention in Gaza, which we did. We got cheap food at Burger King, using a couple of coupons (provided by Kristina's host mom, for which I am grateful.) Then we spent like 2 hours in TK Maxx (not a misspelling. The logo looks exactly like TJ Maxx's, except with a K) trying on ugly dresses for the fun of it, which was very entertaining. There was one that we dubbed the Rose Horror, which was nigh impossible to put on for some reason, and had the amazing ability to reduce any existing cleavage to nothing. The price had been reduced about 130 euros from its original... and I can see why no one has yet bought the thing. It was pretty awful. But very amusing. :D

Kristina showed me St. Francis Church, which is absolutely gorgeous. Like St. Mark's in Venice, it had a great deal of gold mosaic, but somehow also simple and restrained. It was breathtaking.

After we left, it started pouring down rain, and Kristina went one way to go back to her host family in Carrigaline, and I set out another to head back to Farranlea Hall. I was positively drenched by the time I got in. But now, all is well and dry, and I need to go make myself some dinner. Cheers!

Friday, January 23, 2009

A good day

The sun came out this morning. Even though it simultaneously rained while the sun shined, it was really nice to see a blue sky for once. The weather is slowly getting warmer, too. Every day, I need fewer layers of clothing to stay warm. The only constant issue is staying dry! I haven't been here a single day when it didn't rain at all.

I walked up to the school to meet Kristina. She had a rough morning. Immigration here requires either a letter from your home university saying that they assist you in paying for your tuition and housing, or an Irish bank statement proving that you have at least 1500 euros to your name. The financial aid office at Kristina's school is being very slow about sending a letter, so today she tried to set up an Irish bank account to which she can transfer some money. After much rigmarole, the bank finally told her it would take 10 days to do it - five to set up the account, and five to transfer the money! That's pretty ridiculously slow, and it wouldn't be a problem except for the fact that we only have until February 4 to present to immigration, and ten days from now puts her at February 2, a little close for comfort. Argh. A lot of things here seem to be unnecessarily complicated like that. Or maybe it's only that this is my first taste of really being on my own, where no adults handle the details, and it's up to us to make sure everything works the way it should.

We ate lunch and studied for a while in the library, trading phrases in Gaelic we need to remember, then walked down to the Garda (police) station so that I could take care of my immigration card - OU, thankfully, didn't waste any time in sending me the letter I needed. As it turned out, though, the immigration office has very limited opening hours - only four and a half hours a day, not continuous, and closed on the weekends. They are also quite slow, and even though I got in line at 3:15, I didn't make it to the front of the line before their closing at 4, and they shooed the last five of us in line away. Kristina left before then so she could go home and take a nap. I'll have to warn her of the strict hours they keep, and try again on Wednesday.

I really didn't have anything to do for the rest of the day, so I walked slowly back towards my apartment, taking pictures, drinking in the rare sunlight. There's a spot on one walkway, alongside the river, where to your left, there's a gray stone spire - a church - and to your right, there's a similar spire - probably another church. I took pictures of both. As I continued on, I for whatever reason felt compelled to cross the (busy) street to get to a third church that I'd seen before, but had never gone into. It turns out that it's called St. Augustine's. I almost didn't go inside, because a daily Mass was in progress, but decided to venture in anyway. For a daily service, the place was just about full. There were people, mostly older, throughout this huge place.

The most striking thing about St. Augustine's is the number of small devotional areas around the walls and pillars. In just a small area, I saw prayers, statues, and candles dedicated to Mary (Our Lady of Childbirth)... St. Jude (patron of lost causes)... St. Anthony (patron of lost items)... St. Anne (patron of special requests). Each prayer was framed, and both the prose and the script of the prayer were elegant, lovely to behold and read. The front of the church was simply decorated, but beautiful. High up, above the altar in red and gold, it read "Holy... Holy... Holy." Although I could have been considered a disruption, opening the side door in the middle of a mass, not a single person looked at me askance. The air of peace was almost tangible.

The priest I talked to during confession told me something I hope I never forget; he said, "When you are looking for peace, put God at the center of the effort. That guarantees its success. It guarantees it. I don't say that lightly, you know." There was no way he could have known how badly homesick I had been over the past few days, or how much I had been looking for a way to find peace. I feel like God has been looking for ways to assure me that everything will be all right... that it will all be okay. More people have talked to me about God today, have said they'd be praying for me, have assured me of His nearness, than have spoken to me on the subject in several months combined.

Today has been a good Friday. :)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Gaelic is fun!

As time goes on, my schedule gets more and more complicated. Two of my classes have weekly tutorials, which I feel compelled to attend, despite the fact that they don't seem to factor into my grade in any meaningful sense. I still have Fridays off - yay! - but I'm now attending classes a total of 13 hours a week. Pretty full schedule.

By far, my favorite class is Gaelic. (It's actually called Intro to Modern Irish, but most of my classes have the word "Irish" or "Celtic" in the title somewhere, so "Gaelic" is easier.) I'm learning all kinds of handy phrases. The main difficulty with Gaelic is that the pronunciation of a word or phrase frequently has nothing to do at all with the way it looks. A few samples:

Nil fhios agam, which means "I don't know," is pronounced "neel iss-agum."
Leabhur, which means "book," is pronounced like "flower" without the f.
Go raibh maith agat, which means "thank you," is pronounced "gurra maha gut."
And to say "please" in Irish, you have to say, mas e do thoil e, (mahsh-ay-do-holay) which literally means "If it be your will" or "If it pleases you."

In addition, there's no "yes" or "no" in Irish. They couldn't make even that simple, apparently. To affirm something, you have to repeat the verb in some form, so that you end up with exchanges like this:
"Are you going to dinner with us?" "That I will." or
"Is it raining outside?" "By God, it's raining."
In fact, the Irish language is full of references to God and Mary. To say hello, you say, Dia dhuit, which literally means, "God be with you." To which the proper response is Dia's Muire dhuit, meaning, "God and Mary be with you!" (That "dh" combination in dhuit is a throaty "h," similar to the throat-clearing sound you come across in German.)

Sorry if you're not finding the Gaelic lessons fascinating, I'm kind of starting to love it. It's totally unlike anything I've ever learned, which really irked me the first couple of classes, but I'm finding it pretty awesome now. The whole language has got this character and lilt to it that you know couldn't belong to anybody but those strange Irish. :)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Cheap food does exist in Eireann

Because, until my trip in April, most of my expenses are in the eating department, a lot of my time outside the apartment lately has been checking the price tags on food around town. A full meal for five euros ($6.50 at the moment) is pretty reasonable, and anything less than that is something to jump on. And, as it turns out, there are such places around Cork - you just have to hunt for them. But they're not common, and I usually have to pay more than that for lunch or a snack or whatever. -.-

Anyway, not a lot has been going on the past few days. I went to a different church for Mass on Sunday than last week. It's just up the road and it's called the Church of the Holy Spirit - will definitely have to post pictures of that on facebook. It's absolutely gorgeous both inside and out.

My Irish language class finally started on Monday, and it's looking to be pretty interesting, if challenging. Gaelic isn't exactly a familiar language to anyone outside of the UK, and the pronunciations and spelling in particular will be difficult to master.

My plans tonight are to head to a pub-like place on UCC's campus to watch Obama's inauguration. Kristina's excited about this for the sake of it, but I'm more interested in just meeting other international students. There should be plenty of American students in the pub tonight, so I'm excited to meet them. :)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Rain, rain, everywhere

Last night, my roommate Danny invited me out to hang out with him, Sinead, and some of their theater buddies. We left around 7:30 to meet up with Sinead and Anthony, then went to the Granary (the theater) where a performance was just finishing up. We had to be quiet in the entrance room, obviously, because of the play, but Anthony and Danny managed to play card games on the floor without making too much noise. In a little while, a guy named Steven showed up, and we went to Tesco in order to buy the alcohol and mixers for the after-play theater party. Quite a number of us weren't even planning on drinking (Danny, Sinead, and I), but we were apparently anticipating a crowd, so we ended up having to haul all kinds of drinks from Tesco back to a girl named Emma's apartment. It rained on and off all evening, so we were pretty wet by the time we made it to our destination. We dropped the drinks off and went back to the Granary; by that time the play was over, but we didn't go back to the apartment... we went to a pub instead. The pub was very quaint and Irish-looking, but I was informed that it was the exception to the rule and that "most pubs didn't look like that." One of the guys spent most of the time fairly interrogating me about what I knew of Ireland and America and how big is Gulfport and what's the tallest mountain in the US and what do you know about such-and-such Irish sport... It was pretty exhausting. Everyone else was very eager to tell me what they knew and explain how things worked in Ireland, but for some reason that guy had it in his head to question me to death. *shrugs*

Anyway, by the time we left the pub, Danny, Sinead, Anthony, and I were tired enough to opt out of the party and head home. Sinead and Anthony stayed up with Danny for the night, but once we got back, I just crashed.

Today I met Kristina at the bus station in Cork City Center. Another way to phrase that: Today I got drenched and lost on my way to the bus station to meet Kristina. In fact, it rained almost nonstop between the time I left the house at 11:15 and 3pm when we finally gave up and headed back to the apartment. Of course, as soon as we got on the bus home, it stopped raining. ><

We have adjusted our trip so that it now does not include London, England or Dusseldorf, Germany. London wasn't worth the amount of money it would take to get from there to Paris and back via high-speed non-Eurail train, so we just cut it out of the trip and are planning on flying straight to Paris to begin and flying home from Brussels at the end of that first week.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Trip!!!

All right, so Kristina and I spent most of today mapping out our trip! Even though we went over it with train schedules, hostel locations, and plane fares, this still might end up being tweaked a bit. Our destinations! (drum-roll, please)

London, England
Paris, France
Bern, Switzerland
Zurich, Switzerland
Munich, Germany
Dusseldorf, Germany
Brussels, Belgium
--week interlude with Mom and David in Ireland--
Rome, Italy
Venice, Italy
Vienna, Austria
Prague, Czech Republic
Katowice, Poland

...and back home! The week before Mom and David get here is obviously going to be rather more frenetic than the two weeks following; we gave ourselves more time in each city for those two weeks. We'll probably end up having to cut up that first week so that we don't kill ourselves traveling.

(It was really funny - we spent forever trying to figure out if we could stay in, and find things to do in "Wien, Austria" - before stumbling upon the fact that Wien and Vienna are the same place!)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Lesson 1: The Irish are NOT Organized

I finally have all my classes mapped out on my schedule; for the curious, I'm taking:

Introduction to Modern Irish (this looks like it might be difficult, but fun)
Philosophy of Mind (a kind of blend between psychology and philosophy)
Human Sexuality (hooray! my last upper division psych credit to earn my minor!)
Aspects of Irish Folklore (taught by the world's cutest Irish-grandmother-type)
Celtic Religion and Mythology (my only class taught by an American man)

I've been to all of these classes... except for Introduction to Modern Irish. In an effort to accommodate everyone who wanted to take it, they had us settle on the rest of our schedule first, then turn in an application showing when we were available. It's my only class to meet 3 times a week - 3 very variable times a week. I have it early Monday morning, and a little bit later on Wednesday, and then way into the evening on Thursday.

I didn't find out when - or even IF - I would be taking it until today. Furthermore, I have a class which has - apparently optional - things called tutorials, which seem to be UCC's version of discussion sections. Anyway, we're not getting assigned to those until next Wednesday. So there's still an hour a week I'm going to be busy this semester that I don't know about yet.

It's enough to make me miss the US school system. At OU, before you set foot in a classroom, you know where you're supposed to be, when. Discussion sections and language classes included. What a concept! I don't know who's the exception - the Irish or the Americans. Does most of the world leave students hanging to figure out their full schedule until 3 or 4 weeks into the semester? I have the sinking suspicion that the majority of the world behaves more like the Irish than the US. I guess Irish students are just used to it by now, but honestly it drives me a little bit crazy. Especially given the fact that I'm in a totally foreign situation and it would make me feel better if I could nail down my schedule.

Sorry about the rant. I'm done now. -.-

Monday, January 12, 2009

Getting Settled In...

This past weekend was pretty quiet. Kristina and I spent a good part of Saturday just wandering around Cork. We had bagel sandwiches for lunch at a cute little restaurant, which were delicious. We also found a very beautiful cathedral, which might have been St. Finnbarr's, but I'm not sure of the name. There are actually several cathedrals around Cork, but this was the first one we had been inside. It was mostly wooden, with carvings of angels along the sides. There was a lot of stained glass, and some old-fashioned confessionals. At the back, there was a statue of Mary, Mary Magdalene, and St. John at the foot of Jesus' cross. It had been roped off and put rather high up, out of reach, but the feet of Jesus were dark, as if at one time, people kissed His feet the way we sometimes do at home with our crucifix. I really loved the whole church. I hope I can find it again one of these days.

Sunday was church at the small chapel on campus. It was nice; the problem was that the acoustics of the stone building produced nothing but echoes if anyone spoke quietly - and both lectors and both deacons had soft voices - even using the microphone. Kristina and I are planning on scouting out a different church every week for a while. There really are a ton of Catholic churches around. Anyway, it proceeded to rain for the rest of the day. I helped Kristina in the apartment's kitchen, and she made teriyaki chicken and fried rice for lunch. Unfortunately the chicken was extremely fatty - but the rice was really good!

Today I was on my own. I had 2 classes, each one 2 hours long. The first one, Philosophy of Mind, promises to be very interesting and spark a great deal of class debate. The second, Human Sexuality, is kind of awkward to sit through, given the subject matter, but it's still quite interesting, and it's the highest-level class I'm taking this semester.

Now I've been to all my classes at least once, except for my Irish Language class, which won't begin for another week. It's looking like a promising semester!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Some Tastes of Ireland

Yesterday began pretty quietly. Kristina's host family insisted that she skip school that day so that they could show her around, so I was left to my own devices. I got breakfast in the school cafeteria (toast and orange juice) and went to my classes. One was in the basement of the library, and the other attempted to cram a good 60 to 80 students in a classroom designed for more like 30 or 40 kids. (I don't know whose brilliant idea that one was, but they're trying to put us in a roomier facility in future.) Actually, the arrangement did have one benefit: The rooms in the West Wing, where we were, have no heating or air conditioning, but the enormous number of people in the room produced enough heat to make it comfortable.

After classes, I hung out in my room for a while until Kristina came over, bearing spaghetti from her host-mom and an invitation for dinner that night. This resulted in my first experience with the bus system in Cork, as Carrigaline is a pretty fair distance from Cork itself. I met the mother and father and their three school-age children. The father basically introduced himself to me by way of criticizing the poor response to Hurricane Katrina from the federal government, and of course pinning the blame on Bush. I was rather surprised by this outburst, as I was nearly an utter stranger to the man, and in the US, such comments in those circumstances would be considered quite rude. Kristina later explained to me that she had gotten similar treatment from them upon her arrival, and that I shouldn't take offense to it; it's just the way the Irish are.

At any rate, they fed me well. Dinner was lasagna, green beans, broccoli, and mashed potatoes. Afraid of offending the very direct lady of the house, I cleaned my plate as best I could, and after dinner, Kristina and I went upstairs so I could see her room. We talked about wolves and moose with the ten-year-old Eric, who firmly believed that wolves ate people and didn't understand a word of it when Kristina made casual reference to Darwinism. (Kristina is an ecology major and absolutely loves this stuff. She stops on the street all the time to examine leaves and ivy and stuff like that.) I was pleased when, later that night, I braved the bus system and the streets of Cork by myself, to find my way home without much hesitation or difficulty.

Today, I didn't have any classes. (With any luck, it'll stay that way. Three-day weekends for the win!) So Kristina and I grabbed lunch, came back to the apartment to start planning for our month off in April. We're going to spend a week split between Britain and France, come back for the week my parents are in town, then leave again to spend the next three weeks traveling around Europe. We definitely have Italy on the agenda, and are thinking about Munich in Germany, and some of the northern countries like Denmark, Sweden, and Norway.

Earlier this evening, we wandered around Cork City Centre for a while. We checked out a fish and meat market, as well as some clothing stores and a couple different chocolate shops. We ended up eating dinner at McDonald's - which, it turns out, is not universally cheap. For one quarter-pounder-with-cheese meal, it cost 6.60 euro ($9!!), so we split it. We left pretty soon after that.

Write later!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The First Few Days

Picking up where I left off: After posting the last entry, I followed the sound of voices into my apartment's kitchen and common room. It's always cold in there, because the heater is broken, but it has a couch, coffee table, and television set, and the kitchen is fully furnished - albeit with appliances I only have the vaguest idea how to use. Anyway, there were three girls and three guys in the room when I walked in. The three boys were Danny, Ronan, and David, and the three girls were Martha, Seanaid (spelling? It's pronounced Shih-nade), and Jenny. Of them, only Danny is actually my roommate; the rest were just visiting. Later, there were Molly and Connor, my two other roommates. For whatever reason, I always see Molly, Connor, and Ronan around the apartment, and Danny has not reappeared since that first night.

The group had clearly known each other for a long time, laughing and joking and telling stories and talking about every possible subject. They welcomed me enthusiastically, talking 90 miles a minute, and using all kinds of slang I'd never heard before. Once I made sure they didn't mind, I stopped them every few seconds to ask what something they said meant. Danny and Seanaid were the most outspoken, and Ronan was the nicest to me - frequently I would glance over when I had no idea what the others were talking about, and he'd say, "Don't worry, I don't know what they're talking about either!" They were effusive with their advice, telling me never to approve of the British out loud, not to take anyone's ribbing (or slagging, as they called it) too seriously, and not to expect compliments from any Irish. It was a lot of fun to hang out with them; they were unendingly friendly. Also, they took me with them to Tesco's (Irish version of Wal-Mart), and I got some extra supplies and some food.

The next day, my alarm didn't go off, because my phone still believed I was in Central Time and would therefore go off six hours later than I wanted it to. Molly woke me up, fortunately. I showered quickly, got dressed, and promptly got lost on UCC's campus trying to find the international student orientation. Because I had no idea what building it was in, I didn't know how to ask for help, though heaven knows people tried to help out. (Those helpful Irish.) Finally someone knew it to be in the student center, and I showed up 10 minutes late. We listened to some speakers, did our preliminary registration, and were released for a couple hours to get some lunch. I met back up with Kristina, and we went back to my apartment to charge her laptop (she doesn't have a converter). It's a pretty long walk from Farranlea Hall to UCC, though, so we barely made it back in time to buy a sandwich and go back to the orientation. We went back to Farranlea again, Kristina got her laptop, and took the bus home; I ate Spaghetti-O's at home and hung out with some of the others in my apartment.

Yesterday morning, I attempted to take a shower and took the world's quickest one, because the water was stubbornly freezing cold. It's like there's only one water heater for the whole place. >< Anyway, I went to the school and got my UCC ID card, then met Kristina as I was leaving the West Wing. I waited for her while her ID card was printed, and we grabbed lunch in the school cafeteria/restaurant. It was actually pretty tasty. Much better than the non-brand cafeteria food in any school I've ever been to. Then the two of us audited four classes, the second of which (Aspects of Irish Folklore) I'm definitely taking. Between classes, we went off campus and split a panini from a coffee shop down the street. I swear it was the best panini I've ever eaten. :)

Today we audited one class I want to take (Celtic Religion and Mythology), came back to the apartment, and started trying to plan our three-week travels. (We'll come back for the second week while Mom and David are here). We're planning on getting Eurail passes, staying in hostels, and hitting as many countries and sites that we're interested in as possible. Britain, France, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Italy, Switzerland... anything we can manage.

After we got off the computer, we left for the coffee shop to get paninis for dinner, and I walked with Kristina all the way to the bus station. Which took forever. It took me a full 45 minutes to walk back to Farranlea from the Eireann Bus Station!

And now I'm here. Post later!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Travel Days

I woke up early Saturday morning, got in the car with my mom and sister, and drove to New Orleans for the first leg of my trip. The New Orleans airport was quiet, and the flight left without delay. Unfortunately, we met some turbulence shortly after reaching cruising altitude (captain over intercom: "Breathe deep, folks. Breathe deep.") I'd been on too many flights to be afraid for the plane, but I was a bit concerned I might lose my breakfast in all the bumping and sharp, brief falls that the plane went through. Fortunately, though, the plane eventually resumed a straight path to Chicago, and we all arrived intact.

The Chicago airport is, in a word, complicated. I had to ask for help just to find the right terminal - and once I got there, I had to go through security again. I'd already bought my lunch in a different terminal, so they threw out my water bottle, even though it was unopened. Not long after sitting down at the correct gate - I say not long, it was probably around two and a half hours later - a girl named Kristina sat down near me, and we struck up a conversation. She was also headed to UCC (University College Cork, for the uninformed) and we hit it off right away. We talked until we boarded the plane, but were unable to sit together. This turned out to be just fine, though; I ended up sitting next to a girl named Ashley for the seven-and-a-half-hour flight. A year older than me, she was also studying abroad, but at Dublin Business College. We chatted and ate dinner and tried to sleep. This last endeavor was largely unsuccessful for all three of us, and so it was sleepily that we landed in Dublin this morning. Customs was a breeze, and Kristina, Ashley, and I hunted down our luggage in the crowded terminal. Afterwards, Ashley went with a couple of other DBC students, and Kristina and I were left to our own devices to figure out how on earth we'd get to Cork.

Dublin was clearly designed by a mad cartographer. It's a bit as if someone rolled up New York City with New Orleans, made sure no street followed a straight line, and then proceeded to name every section of street differently without actually labeling them. Moreover, the bus map we had on hand seemed to indicate bus stops as more of a suggestion than a fact. We finally asked a kind Dublin Bus driver how we could find our particular bus, and he was right on the money. It was cold and drizzling, and we had four pieces of luggage plus our backpacks to drag around, so you can imagine the relief when we finally climbed on our bus to Cork.

The view from the bus windows was lovely. It looked just like every picture of Ireland you've ever seen. Green and lush, by turns flat farmland and mountainous, it was beautiful. After a few stops and four hours, the bus finally dropped us off at Cork. Kristina needed to find a pay phone to contact her host family, and I needed a taxi cab to bring me to Farranlea Hall. After two pay phones and some walking, we finally both got what we needed and parted ways.

I checked in at my dormitory. My room is on the first floor and is easy to access. It's spacious, with a twin bed, desk, lamp, small closet, and extra shelving space. My bathroom is enormous as well. Everything seems to be in good condition; I just wish the heater worked more quickly. I've been here almost an hour, and it's still freezing cold in my room.

I should go find something to eat. Write later!