Sunday, February 15, 2015

In the end, it was grand.

I’m in the Dublin airport right now after having gone through customs, looking like a mangy sheepdog from the rain, and basically feeling all of the things.
All of the things.
Mainly just because I didn’t expect for the end to come this quickly.  I remember the feeling of leaving JFK without anyone familiar sitting beside me on the plane.  I remember touching down in Ireland and not being able to stop my hands from shaking; I was so nervous.  I remember wandering around the airport, missing America and everything familiar in my life.
It’s just funny how fast that feeling subsided.  It was probably the group of people I was surrounded with during this trip– the Colorado folks, who discovered the city with me and became my little family, and the Ireland folks who showed me how to properly enjoy the simple things in Dublin and not take anything too seriously.  Had I been by myself, I would have been an awkward, bumbling wreck, but because of the people around me, I just felt taken care of.
I have several friends who have passed up the opportunity to study abroad because of things like money or fear.  Both of these are legitimate reasons not to do something, but it’s so clear to me now that after college I would never be able to do something like this.  Now is the only time in my life I would be able to drain my bank account and not feel like a total failure; to run around London at all hours of the night or hike the thousands of steps leading up to the peak of the Wicklow Mountains without…well, dying (obviously, I’m never planning on getting any fitter than I am now).
I’ve told this story already, but I’ll tell it again; the story of how I almost didn’t apply to come to Ireland.  I was scared that I would be wasting my summer spending money on a pointless program rather than traveling on my own terms (which ideally would have been a backpack and a bicycle, and probably would have been a terrible idea had someone allowed me to see that through).  Not only did I travel, though, I worked, and I learned about an industry, and I met people that I never would have met had I just been bobbing around the country.  So thanks to the rational side of my brain but mostly just my parents, who convinced me to apply considering that it was Ireland and if I passed up a trip like this, I would basically beMickey Rourke levels of insane.  It’s always good to get a little perspective.

I’m trying to think about the things I’ll miss most about Ireland.  The lack of any lilting Irish accents in Colorado will most likely drive me out of my mind.  I’ll miss chips with every meal, and the vinegar and mayonnaise that always accompany it (at this point, my reputation with those I’ve met in Ireland is essentially based around my knowledge of where to get the best chips).  I’ll miss the sun waiting to set until 10:00 pm, so that you can enjoy the park for as long as possible after work.  I’ll miss the double-decker bus, which most likely causes 90% of all ankle-related injuries in Dublin.  I’ll miss day tours that led us to amazing places but always required a sleep-inducing bus ride.  Oh, and beer.  The Irish sure know how to brew it.
Enough with all the sentimentality, though…if I keep writing about how much I love and miss Ireland, I’m pretty sure I’m going to start getting hate mail.  Also, I might cry in front of people I’m about to share a 6-hour flight with.  I will end with this, though: I loved Ireland.  This was the best summer of my life.  I’m glad I took the leap, and I encourage any of you out there who are considering it too to travel as much as you can at this point in your life.
Thanks for following this blog! Cheers to a new semester and to the end of one journey– it always means the beginning of another.
I’m going off to write Hallmark cards now.

Dub-Mex, One Direction's favorite, and more Irish food

It’s my last week in Dublin and I realized that there is a certain facet of Dublin life I have yet to cover in depth.
That facet is food. Glorious, glorious food.
I love food.  I eat it on a regular basis. If I had a travel memoir, it wouldn’t be Eat, Pray, Loveit would probably just be Eat. 
I hadn’t heard good things about Dublin’s cuisine before hopping on the plane; in fact, a lot of people had advised me not to expect much.  Here are the things I did know: the island is famous for their potatoes, the lamb is supposed to be divine, and the cheese (and dairy in general: 4% milk!) is to die for.
I remember the first week of being here and how a lot of my fellow Americans were stricken with the notion that anything seemingly exotic or niche-y in Dublin (and by that, I mean barbeque, sushi, indian food, etc.) was going to be made a mess of and was generally to be avoided.  Therefore, those first few days– mainly because of how gullible I am– were spent eating nothing but pub food.  Not that I was necessarily complaining.  I’ve written previously about my love for vinegar-and-mayo fries (whoops– I mean chips) so my cravings for carbs and starches were supremely satisfied. Nothing can keep me from missing Thai food, though, no matter where I go, and it only took a few weeks for me to seriously start having noodle withdrawals.  Takeout was approached, inspected, ingested, appreciated…and from that moment on, coveted.
Since that fish-and-chips laden first week, my group of friends and I have begun to branch out more.  It took me a while to realize it, but you really shouldn’t generalize when it comes to food: there are good places and there are bad places whether or not the food is ‘traditional’.  It’s the same as in America– some might call McDonald’s typical American cuisine but you don’t see me recommending that over Cafe Mexicali, now do you?
Anyway, in my last week, I’ve definitely decided on my favorite places to head to after work, on weekends, and on-the-go, and I’m listing them below:
1. Red Torch Ginger
Recently, two friends and I decided to have a rare “treat yo-self” night and splurge on a nice meal.  We waited a long time for a table– nearly 45 minutes– but the staff was incredibly friendly and even gave us a free appetizer to pass the time (prawn crackers: yum).  Two bottles of wine later, we were seated and eating what is probably some of the best Pad Thai I’ve ever had and in a fairly large portion, too, so that I could take some home and eat it at work the following day.  Needless to say, I finally got my Thai fix.
This is not a local Dublin spot by any means, but a chain specializing in South African casual dining.  To put it into perspective, it’s really similar to the ordering layout of Fuzzy’s, where you approach the counter, order, and then sit down to enjoy your food.  At Nando’s you basically order a hunk of chicken and douse it with a sauce of your choosing (garlic and herb, lemon, extra hot, etc.), and then order a couple of sides.  We originally ate here because a friend of mine loves One Direction and heard that Nando’s was a favorite spot of Niall’s (oh, you know you’d be curious, too), and he’s definitely got a point.  Anywhere that offers me ¼ of a chicken is a place where I’m going to feel like my appetite is respected.  Also, I’m now realizing how stupid it was for me to allow myself to be so obsessed considering there are no Nando’s chains in Colorado…..
3.  Pablo Picante
I think this burrito joint was love at first sight rather than first bite, just because of the neon rendering of a Mexican luchador hanging outside of the burrito joint’s front entrance.  The whole restaurant has a luchador theme– well, all of the Pablo Picantes, considering how they’ve expanded over the past few years– and a simple, amazing menu.  Oh, and there’s a student discount.  I do love me a student discount.   Then it was love again, this time at first bite.  Love at first sight and then at first bite.  I think it’s the sauce that makes it so spectacular; I had the creamy salsa and I could probably eat that by the spoonful.  A friend of mine loves spicy food and was definitely not disappointed: I could see his cheeks flushing and his eyes watering with every bite.  Who knew there was such a thing as Dub-Mex?
4.  Lemon
Salmon crepes.  Waffles with Grand Marnier drizzled on top of them.  Nutella oneverything.  Do I really need to go on?  We went here for a quick brunch break one morning before a sightseeing trip and I swear, the crepes here are absolutely heavenly.  I had one with bananas and dark chocolate and I devoured the whole thing in less than fifteen minutes…but I guess you didn’t really need to know the details.  I can’t wait to go back and try something new and daintily eat it like the lady I am.
5. The Liquor Rooms
Okay, so this isn’t technically food (though I’m pretty positive you can order food here), but I was in hipster heaven when I walked through the doors.  There’s cool craft cocktails with crazy names and vintage decor, like dim neon lighting and striped wallpaper.  I hit hipster paradise overload when I heard their live performers, who reminded me of the Andrews Sisters.  It’s a good after dinner spot, or at least a good place to come in, dance a little, and generally unwind.  It made me feel a lot classier than I really am, I’ll tell you that much.  
I’m satisfied– I finally got to talk about food for an entire post.  Get ready for a supremely sentimental one coming up next.  I mean, can you blame me?  It’s only two more days until I hop on a plane home and I can’t help feeling a little emotional about it.
Until next time!

The endless list of things to do in Dublin

There’s a list, and there are so many pubs on it.
The list includes all of the places we want to go and things we want to do in Ireland before we leave. My roommate and I made it during our first week in Ireland, when we were fresh-faced and naïve and oh, so, young (because, obviously, I feel like an old woman now, six weeks later).
Though it’s funny how a list like that can sort of become insignificant after a while. Living in Ireland hasn’t at all been like checking things off a piece of paper, it’s been popping into random shops and bars and clubs and trying strange foods and places and laughing with the locals and generally, just trying not to be obnoxious Americans.
It’s two weeks now until I return to America. The group and I are attempting to avoid thoughts like that, though, especially as we meander through our weekends trying to casually pack in all of the things we want to do and see. This weekend it was kayaking, which was something I’ve wanted to check off of the list for a long time now. It was one of the best experiences of the trip, bobbing around on theIrish Sea.  The ocean was rough and a storm was rolling in, but paddling past pods of seals and watching them follow our boats made me forget all about how sore my arms were getting. Afterwards we ate at a Thai place that has been a casual member of the list as well, and turned out to have the best Pad Thai in the world (the universe, even).
I definitely had kayaking withdrawals—I’m pretty sure I was moving an invisible paddle back and forth in my sleep and my Google history is now filled up with the phrase ‘used kayaks for sale’—so it was definitely something that I’m glad I did. I also felt quite proud of myself, since being out on the open ocean with wild animals swimming beneath me was something that required a little bit of courage.
Conquering a fear is important for everyone, though. It always means that once it’s done, you’ll be ten times prouder of yourself for plucking up the nerve (is that inspirational enough for you?).  I mean, yes, it’s embarrassing crashing your kayak into a rock or singing Teenage Dirtbag off-key in front of a bunch of Irish teenagers…..
….but it’s also the best feeling in the world when you’re pushing yourself over the choppy waves or bowing to kind strangers who sang along with you the whole time.
So many items have not only been checked off the list, but have been added and changed and erased and highlighted (because we loved it so much we did it twice).  Next week, we head off to Galway to see the Cliffs of Moher and to spend time in the town.  As for this week, I’m going to focus on the local haunts I’ve always wanted to check out but haven’t had the time to and just try as hard as I can to soak up the city like the sponge I am.
Check, check, check.

A little bit of London

I was not about to call this post “London Calling”.  That’s way too cliche, despite the fact that I did every single cliched London activity last weekend.Oh, yeah.  Did I mention I went to London?10513396_10204425749507871_8407434861159147008_nIt’s funny how easy it is to travel internationally from a European country.  Well, I say easy— I basically hopped from one city to another city and I’m sure there are so many other places where it would be far more difficult— but getting to London on Friday morning was a breeze of a flight.  It was absolutely unreal to be there, in a city I’d dreamed about visiting since I was a kid.  

Red phone booths actually are everywhere and the Tower Bridge was not a heat-induced mirage, it was real life and right in front of me (unfortunately though, Harry Styles was on tour.  Boo hoo).It took a few days for me to actually register that I had made it to a place that I thought it would take me years to see.  I remember the moment I walked out of Westminster Station and saw Big Ben right smack in front of me.  I think my jaw might have dropped to the ground because there it was, something native Londoners see every single day but something I’d only seen in movies.

From then on out, we were real, proper tourists: we saw the Millennium Bridge (which, thankfully, has NOT been destroyed by dementors), Tower Bridge, the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park, the Globe Theatre, and more.  Needless to say, our feet hurt quite a lot by the end of the weekend.10346601_10204425744667750_8976427399745011852_nIt was hot, too– whoever heard of London being anything but gloomy?  It further proves my theory that Colorado weather is sticking to my heels like glue.  We trekked around in our boots (normally necessary for Dublin) and welcomed the sun on our cheeks.  It was delightful.

Had I been in London for a week or a month, I probably would have been able to see as much as was necessary to see.  It’s just a huge, overwhelming city, but in absolutely the best way.  Every time you turn a corner, there’s another historical landmark or cute British accent to latch onto (oh, yeah…it’s that good).  The tube is a lot easier to navigate than the Dublin bus system, and that’s saying something.

Yet, I’d definitely be lying if I said I wasn’t happy when the plane touched back down in Ireland.  The familiarity of the Spire (which is a phrase I never thought I’d type) was comforting coming back from a three-day stay in London town.  I do miss how exciting everything was, but Dublin is starting to feel like home (and it’s also nice to have my own room compared to sharing a hostel with nine other people).  London was such an incredible experience and I’m excited to go back and do all the things I missed.  For now, though, I’m going to enjoy the rest of my time in Dublin, which is coming to an end a lot more quickly than I expected it would (only two more weeks?  You must be joking).

This weekend promises a lot more time for relaxation, which the 80-year-old woman in me appreciates.  I’m going to sleep in, eat, watch movies…and did I say sleep in?

Until next time!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Adventures in Ireland: The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful

The fourth week of my Dublin internship is officially over, and it's hard for me to believe that I have been here for one full month.  That's crazy!  I've actually been living in a foreign country for one whole month without injuring myself or accidentally burning any companies to the ground.  Not that that's happened before, or anything.
An IHOP restaurant in Poughkeepsie, New York
Oh, IHOP, how I miss you... (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I make it sound like I'm the kind of person who can't function on her own, which is wholly untrue.  
I lived alone my sophomore year of college so I knew that I would be okay being by myself for quite some time.  I was an out-of-state student from Texas my freshman year, so I knew that I'd be able to function well in a new environment.  It's just the fact that this is Ireland-- this is a different currency and fast buses and directions I can't understand and 3,000 miles away from anything even resembling an IHOP-- so it actually feels like an accomplishment that I haven't stepped in front of a bus or insulted any locals.  I feel pretty great about that.

With any place and with any trip, there are good and bad parts of it all.  There have been times when my friends and I have been taken advantage of because we're obviously tourists (for example, friends of mine were unknowingly charged extra for a cab).  The fact that a lot of us are women in a city means that we've been catcalled and harassed by people of all ages, though I guess (unfortunately) that happens in America, too.  I've also worn out a few pairs of shoes just because of how lost I've managed to get myself over these past few days, too.  Adios, knockoff Toms, you bowed out with dignity.

Adriana and Spencer leading the pack while I catch my breath behind them in the Wicklow Mountains.
But then there are the good parts, too.  There's the unimaginable beauty of some of the places we've visited: Blarney Castle, for instance, was one of my favorite trips two weekends ago.    The Wicklow Mountains, which I mentioned last week, was one of the best hiking trails I've ever been on (if not the most difficult).   And then there's the people I'm hanging around-- I know, I know, this is really cheesy, but if you aren't surrounded by good people, then it isn't likely you'll have a good trip.  The friends I've made so far are silly, ridiculous, and endlessly entertaining, always up to try something new or go somewhere at the drop of a hat.  It's also funny how being in a different country can bring people so close together so quickly; there are people here I've known for a month who I feel more comfortable around than people I've known for  years.

Being an American here is hard, just because I can't decide what the public opinion is on foreigners yet.  Last time, I mentioned that my coworker said the U.S. accent is "musical", but I'm wondering if not everyone thinks that considering how loud my friends and I are every time we board a public bus.  I'm wondering if locals bristle against me rather than welcome me each time I stop them on the street to ask for directions.  I think so far I've discovered that it's not necessarily the American accent that people reject, it's the tourist attitude.  You know the one-- I'm American and I'm going somewhere/hungry/tired and I will bother anyone or do anything to get what I want in this moment.  This is where it helps to take a step back and relax.  Annoying things happen to everyone: missing the bus, waiters messing up your order, people moving slowly on the street.  My advice to everyone experiencing the American Tourist Attitude no matter where you are: CHILL OUT.  

I can hear my parents and my sister laughing at this right now, considering the fact that I am usually the most anxious and stressed out person in my entire family.  I'm the one pushing people off of the bus because we aren't early enough to an event or having my money tucked into my palm three blocks before I get to the coffee shop to spend it just because I want to be prepared.  As far as Ireland goes, again, it helps to just chill and accept everything that comes your way with a sense of dignity and acceptance.

So I know the "good" of Ireland was basically just how beautiful it is, but I'm sorry, I have to return to that point.  Ireland's beauty deserves more than one paragraph, and a lot more than one picture.  The group and I just got back from Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland.  DSC03194It's not a part of the Republic of Ireland, so they use sterling pounds instead of our beloved, familiar Euro...and to put it in perspective, the value of pounds to dollars is 1.72 dollars=1 pound. YIKES.

It's worth it, though, to see some of the natural beauty that Belfast boasts (say that five times fast).  A day tour away from the city took us to some of the most breathtaking landscapes I've ever seen, one of which was the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge.  It's located insanely high up above the ocean, but it was amazingly fun to pay five pounds just to be terrified out of your mind when you cross it.  

That's right.  I crossed it.

After that, we headed up to the tips of the cliff and stared out over the ocean, taking in the sights of that coastal wonder.  I hope you're imagining the smell of salty sea air and seagull poop, 'cause I can't really get it out of my nose.

Then, it was over to the Giant's Causeway, which is a cluster of honeycomb-shaped rocks that jut out into the ocean.  The area isn't man-made, and it's incredible to see what nature can create.  See some of the photos below:
Overall, the trip was amazing.  It's great to be back in busy Dublin, but the country girl in me still misses the rolling hills of Ireland's coastal countryside.  I'll see it again this week, though, since a company trip is taking me and my coworkers down to Galway for the annual Galway Film Fleadh-- a festival showcasing the best of new Irish indie cinema.  After that, I'm headed to London for the weekend, and I couldn't be more excited.  I feel like I'm just checking things off of my bucket list with each week that passes, and that's an incredible thing to be able to do (but I still haven't seen Fungi the Dolphin in Dingle-- that's next on my list, I swear).
Until next time!!

When in Ireland, Make the Leap

I think the moment I saw a Ferris wheel in Ireland was the first time I’ve truly ever felt happiness.

I’m joking, of course. If you know me, you know that I’m a sucker for carnivals: the creepy music, the kids nearly killing each other in bumper cars, the middle-aged operators who wink when you board a ride meant for small children. Pretty magical, right?

There’s a carnival in Dun Laoghaire (pronounced “Done Leery”) and it’s so reminiscent of America that I forgot for a moment that I was 3,000 miles away. I even saw a Texas flag hanging in someone’s backyard, which made me miss the overbearing southern pride I used to come across back in the states. Dun Laoghaire is such a wonderful place, and we had a grand old time wandering down the pier and eating frozen yogurt on the rocky beach.
There’s also an area called “The Forty Foot” in the town, which is basically this giant rock that people jump off of into the freezing waters of the Irish Sea. It’s not really forty feet high, but it’s still not the safest thing in the world considering the rock is slippery and there’s always a nagging thought in my head that tells me there are sharp, pointy rocks hiding underneath the water.   At the same time, cliff jumping has always been something that I’ve wanted to do, and I leapt at the chance to cross something off of my bucket list.

Jumping off of the 40 Foot.
So leap, I did. 3 times, actually (see terrifying photo to the right).

That night, we returned home on the train with our bellies full of some of the best bar food we’ve ever had (salmon and mashed potatoes—yummm) and headed over to a local jaunt to watch the World Cup.
The next day provided even more strenuous physical activity: hiking in Glendalough (I pronounced it “Glen-duh-loo to my coworkers this morning and they laughed at me).   It’s a 2-hour bus ride up to the Wicklow Mountains, and my bad planning included me not applying sunscreen before I left.  As we hiked up the thousands of steps to the peak, my skin baked red as a lobster around the distinct outline of my tank top.  Now, I look like a broiled zebra. That’s an image.

Planning.  It’s something I’m usually very good about, considering the anxiety I feel when something isn’t ready or complete, but ever since I’ve been in Ireland all I want to do is relax and be spontaneous. It’s probably a good change in me, despite the fact that plane tickets do tend to rise in price when you wait until the last minute to book them…yeah, they don’t care so much about spontaneity. They just love money.

On that note, I’ll pass on a lesson that I learned this weekend: book plane tickets months in advance, bring water everywhere you go, and don’t be afraid to spend money on things you really want to do. I’m going to attempt to be prepared this week and try to book tickets to Scotland as well as a music festival in July, and we’ll see if I have enough determination to get those things squared away. Or maybe I’ll just relax some more.

Until next time!

Enjoying Good Craic.

Yesterday, someone told me they thought an American accent was "musical".  I was, in a word, appalled.

Maybe you think I'm being too harsh on Americans, but I tend to always think that our voices are plain or rough-sounding.  I think Irish accents are wonderful, and they've been lovely to listen to the whole time I've been here, but perhaps Dubliners don't register them as such.  Perhaps it depends on the person or how well you listen, or maybe it's just in the eye of the beholder.  Or, well, the ear.

I know that's a strange thing to notice-- accents-- but for me, everything that's different is a novelty.  I think that's the stage of culture shock right before the actual oh my god what I am doing here I must go home immediately shock, so I'm looking forward to that coming up next (not).
Frites (Belgian Fries) in Bruges
Fries (chips) and mayo (Photo credit: SheepGuardingLlama)

I also know that Dublin is probably very similar to most bustling American cities, but for now, it doesn't feel that way.  At this point, everything seems like such a drastic change. For example, mayo is milder, and you eat it with french fries covered in vinegar (which is an actual yum, but I think I've mentioned that already.  Have I?  It's just so good.  Get ready for me to mention it 1,000 more times)  People say "plait" instead of "braid", "cheers" instead of "thanks", and "grand" instead of "great", and they curse like sailors even in the workplace. Wild-berry Skittles unfortunately are not as good, and I think it's because they're made with less sugar (which is a TRAVESTY).  The sun doesn't set until 10:00 pm.  Dogs are tiny and NEVER leashed, and pigeons share their territory with annoying squawking seagulls.

I keep making jokes about my American-ness to anyone who will listen, like how I always want large portions of things and am loud on the bus.  What I didn't really realize, though, is that stereotypes are stereotypes no matter where you go, and just like rational minds in the US, people try to avoid believing everything they hear here.  In fact, a lot of Dubliners love Americans, and I've noticed so much how people on the street, coworkers, and shop workers all want to help me on my journey here.

562922_700358276660237_801562053_nAnd speaking of coworkers, I'm also finished with my first week of work at The Writer's Guild of Ireland (and don't worry, I'm writing this on my lunch break).  It's been an interesting experience thus far, mostly because I'm learning all about the Irish film industry and it's a side of writing I've never really explored before.  It's all independent work so far as well, but then again, I tend to prefer that sort of thing.

Yesterday, the sun came out, and I guess that doesn't happen very often since everyone in town flipped out and ran away from work.  My boss took the day off and advised everyone to do the same just so that we didn't waste a rare day of sun in Dublin.  Of course, used to the beauty of Colorado, I stayed and worked like the diligent intern I am (har de har).  I did think it was funny, though, considering we'd never leave work for the 300 sunny days of the year we get back home.  It just shows how much the Irish value craic (that just means fun- nothing fishy).

After work, a couple of friends and I did find some time to enjoy the sun as well.  We met up at a grocery store after work and grabbed some hot sandwiches, and then went down to a park called St. Stephen's Green where all the students hang out. We sat on the grass, took off our shoes, and threw sandwich crumbs at fat birds.
A group nearby played guitar and the sun was streaming through the trees, and it was just one of those perfect evenings where you thank yourself for having the guts to try something new and to go somewhere that might be scary or far away.

So thanks, past self.  You're a gem.
Until next time!