The Pretty Town of Dalkey

If you are in the Dublin area for a few days or are staying for an extended period of time, do visit Dalkey Heritage Town. Hint: go on a sunny, non-blustery day to get the best impression. From the city centre simply take the DART (Irish Rail) towards Bray. It should take approximately 35 minutes. I went on Saturday after an attempt to go finally seemed possible. I couldn’t have picked a better time to go! The sun was out, people looked ridiculously happy and it was actually warm.  (For the first hour I was there, anyway).

I skipped the medieval tour at *Dalkey Castle and Heritage Centre and took off on one of the heritage trails listed on my map. I’ll admit, I overestimated just how far I’d walk in total: I think it was about 3.5 miles by the time I left at 6 pm. Still, I can’t complain; it was excellent exercise. I went on a scenic stroll to Coliemore Harbour and marveled at the variety of housing gates and styles. While some homes in Dalkey are quite modest in size with plain gates, most of them had this giant personality to call their own. Let’s just say it wasn’t condominium central, or dull looking.

At Coliemore Harbour I got an excellent view of Dalkey Island. There is a telescope that highlights the island–St. Begnet’s Church and Martello Tower. The seagulls seemed content to call it home. I continued south on Coliemore Road and a woman who saw me boring my eyes into the map smiled and said “How can I help?” The hospitality in Dalkey, and in Dublin, never ceases to amaze me. I told her I planned to see Vico Road. I didn’t even ask her for help, but I appreciated it all the same. Before I went to Vico Road, I realized I was at Sorrento Park. I climbed a few rocky stairs and stood amidst large brown shrubs. I’m guessing it’s nicer when it has actual color. I also got my first glimpse of Killiney Bay.

Next up was Vico Road in Killiney, the next town over from Dalkey. Impressive views of the bay, yes, and fancy estates for the rich and famous. You’ll see expensive sports cars and Mercedes and Audis zoom by you. U2 band members Bono and The Edge live here! It’s not hard to see why. The further you walk down the road, you catch glimpses of the inter-town liveliness. However, Vico Road stretches out way too far for the average person to walk. I almost had to huff and puff my way down that road, which was embarrassing. I made myself sit down on a bench once because my feet hurt.

Here were the two things I wanted to see in Killiney: Dolphins and Bono’s house.

Just guess what I didn’t see in Killiney.

That’s right, dolphins and Bono’s house! Both were nowhere in sight, though I suspect Bono’s house was half a mile to a mile further down from Killiney Hill or so, or I overlooked it on the part of the road I’d walked down.

It was not a wasted trip, but I did feel sad for a moment. I knew that if I wanted to see more of Dalkey and Killiney I’d have to keep trekking. Killiney Hill was neat, it felt like I was hiking in the woods almost. A long ivy-covered wall led me to a junction, where I took a left and climbed up to the summit and saw Killiney Obelisk and caught views of Dublin, Bray, Wicklow Mountains and Killiney Bay. Can’t beat it–urban Dublin with touches of countryside in the background (and this is not the city centre side).

I took a right down from the Obelisk and headed back into town via Killiney Hill Road and Dalkey Avenue. By the time I made it back to Dalkey I treated myself to something sweet and rested before I found the energy to go on another heritage trail. I went to Bulloch Castle, Bulloch Harbour and finished up with James Joyce Tower in a quiet residential part of town. The castle was neat, it’s now a private Nursing Home. The real treat was the harbour, though. I scrambled up and down magnificent rocks and made a few photographs of my view of Dublin Bay on the tallest, orange algae-covered rock. I sat and contemplated my day at the tower, chuckling to myself at the power a little town had to make me feel…so full.

*I’ve heard this tour is worth it so if you have the time, see it. Plus the people at the front desk are extremely friendly, and genuinely so.

Hope you like the photos and the tour of Dalkey and Killiney! Hover over the photos to view captions.

–Jennifer

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An Evening With St. Vincent

Silver hair. Black boots. Miniskirt. Mile-long legs. She is fashion herself. Elegant. Graceful. Shoulders back, head up, she faces the Dubliners in front of her. She is ready to do more than an album or an MP3 can do. Create, visualize, dance, deliver a performance that sways the audience into the inner workings of her mind. This is St. Vincent.

From the moment St. Vincent strides onto the Olympia Theatre stage, the energy changes in the room. It is February 21st, Saturday night. The audience is a combination of younger and middle-aged people sipping their beer. They fall under her spell. They’ve waited so long to go to one of her shows, this feels a bit unreal.

“I bet I have something in common with you,” she confides. “When you were young you built a fort out of tin foil…it was perfect. When you were a child you walked down the street and wondered what people looked like as babies.” And one of her best lines goes like this: “When you walk down the street without your contacts or glasses on, sometimes you superimpose people’s heads with the heads of Irish rock stars!” She plays the role of artist and comedian, with unhurried, articulate speech.

Annie Clark, the face of St. Vincent, incorporates a series of gestures and dance moves while she plays. It looks so effortless as she moves around the stage and on her giant pink staircase in her heeled boots. She packs in several guitar solos  with her slender hands as well, which proves she is not as dainty as she looks. At one point she positively slithers from the top step of the staircase down to the floor, the strobe lights flashing wildly.

The repertoire covers her new self-titled album, which will be out February 24th in the UK and in the US a day later, along with the old hits from Strange Mercy (2011) and Actor (2009). Her audience loves ‘Cheerleader’, ‘Surgeon’, ‘Birth In Reverse’ and ‘Prince Johnny’. She addresses love, sex, conformity and belonging in her music.

Right when it seems that the show is over at 10:33, St. Vincent comes back onstage after the crowd gives her a standing ovation; she proceeds to play three more songs to wrap up the night.

By the time the audience trickles out of the theatre, they learn something else about her: St. Vincent is fearless, and this girl can rock.

*TOM WOLFE, a literary journalist, inspired the style of this review. I’ve waited to try my hand at something like this. One article I love of his is “Girl of the Year”. As always, thanks for reading.

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Slow Skies, based in Dublin, opens for St. Vincent
The rocker in performance mode
The rocker in performance mode

Just Another Day in Dublin

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Did school really start last Monday?

University College Dublin is foreign to me. There are a few things I’m still adjusting to–the campus layout, getting comfortable with the library, finding the best places to eat. I find that most days I feel lonely because I don’t have my friends from back home to hang out with. I wouldn’t mind even sitting in the library and not talking; just being with friends is what counts. I also feel continuously aware of my international student status–look, newbie alert! So far my classes seem stimulating and challenging. The scariest part of school is that I am attempting to pass six upper division classes and get credit on my home campus. This requires a new sort of studying: going through a reading list and selecting what I think is the most beneficial. The “research focus” is such a wonderful idea, in my mind, as it encourages self-initiative. In the U.S., professors guide their students through the course every step of the way in terms of exactly what they’ll teach (the good ones, anyway). Lecturers and professors abroad give suggested further reading lists to their students and expect that the students will prepare themselves. I guess it’s sort of a mixed bag; you get more independence in Ireland but that means that you have to come up with a study strategy, and fast.

It’s OK. Besides the Newman Building, where I have all my classes, I spend the rest of my time in the library. T_T

I signed up for the Belfast Trip today with an international society so that’s making progress, I guess. Time to make friends and put myself out there.

TODAY’S LOWLIGHTS:

-Missed UC Irvine. No microwaves in the common dining areas? Come on.

-The bitter cold almost strangled me when I cycled home.

-Felt some anxiety and frustration about school and living away from the States.

TODAY’S HIGHLIGHTS:

-Sat in between two friendly Irish girls in my Millennium Development Goals class.

-Visa Debit Card came in the mail.

-Did a decent amount of studying and sat with my friend Sangeeta for a few minutes.

-Made Angie’s Clam Chowder recipe! (Minus the clams, but now I know where to buy them). Shrimp made a perfect substitute–I chopped the ingredients, put them into the soup pot and prayed that it would turn out. Fifteen minutes later the soup was thicker, the potatoes cooked well and the cream I put in made it look delicious! Simple, filling soup, and the smell was fantastic. Trying new recipes is so fun. Cooking is art, and when you make something new it is rewarding. Do browse Angie’s WordPress Blog! She writes memoirs from her life and the recipes she creates from her own garden tie in well. Seems effortless, but I know she takes time to work on her Blog. 🙂 Also, her food photography is better than mine!

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Goodnight! As always, thanks for reading.

10 Observations on the Irish Culture

Ireland uncovered!

  1. The Irish people are friendly. Yes, the stereotype is true. If you’re trying to find your way, Dubliners are more than happy to help you. Most of the people I’ve talked to give excellent directions and they take the time to listen to you. If you greet a complete stranger, you’re likely to get insights into their personal lives before you part ways with them. Also, public service workers and shopkeepers will chat with you and offer their honest opinion on a product if you ask for it. Though they like customer assertiveness, if they don’t have it they won’t guilt you into buying something else.
  2. The Irish people are laid back. They just don’t rush. I notice that the average Irish person will enjoy life’s pleasant moments, whether it’s laughing, dancing, eating or drinking. If they complain, they don’t generally do it in public.
  3. That said, the Irish drive insanely fast. Sounds like a contradiction to number 2, doesn’t it? People are certainly in a hurry to get places in this country. Drivers tend to speed up when they see the red stop lights. Pedestrians beware: jaywalk with caution! When in doubt stay at the curb, even if you miss your bus across the street. Once I saw a woman and a child casually skip halfway across the street two seconds before a car whooshed by them.
  4. They don’t refrigerate their chicken eggs at SuperValu. Apparently it doesn’t matter whether you choose to refrigerate or leave them sitting out.
  5. You will hear Bruce Springsteen and U2 nearly every time you go to the city centre. I love it. It’s not “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus, that’s for sure.
  6. Irish pubs are some of the best places to meet with friends and enjoy delicious food on the cheap. Many of them offer live, traditional music. Since living here, being at the pub is teaching me to sit and relax and not worry about things. Eating a meal with deliberation is a lost art in America, but here you can take a bite of hearty food and get lost in the pub environment. The older pubs have a cheeriness and an atmosphere that makes you think about the lively conversations that took place there, and the gleaming beers on tap and the whiskey bottles give it a rustic feel.
  7. Travel within Ireland is relatively easy. Car, bus, train, rail and plane–plenty of options. You can hit the coast in all directions in 3-4 hours from Dublin. Belfast in Northern Ireland (UK) is only a two-hour train trip away.
  8. The rain is bearable. I was very surprised that for it being winter and rainy almost every day, it’s not bad. Since precipitation actually warms the ground, it’s better than it being bitterly cold outside. If it rains early in the day it usually clears up and sometimes you can see the sun.
  9. They have an odd sense of humor in TV ads. While they portray the fresh and happy lifestyles of the Irish, they will say something humorous and go on like it is the natural thing to do. For an American abroad, it’s comical.
  10. Getting away from the city centre is good for you. Being away from the frantic shoppers, traffic congestion and touristy places allows for a well-rounded experience of Ireland. Go outside, ride a bike and explore the little towns.
The music is fantastic at The Porter House.
The music is fantastic at The Porter House.

An Open Letter to Big Agnes

Note: This is the first time I’ve written a letter to an inanimate object. Let me surprise you. As a reader, I trust the writer in most cases and as I write this I trust you to make of it what you will. Thanks for stopping by.

bigagnes_logoPhoto credit

Dear Big Agnes,

I find myself writing to you on a warm Friday night, reminiscing on the day we met. There you were, your maroon colored shell protecting your Insulated Air Core. There I was, a sad backpacker without a comfy bed on which to lay.

With night descending on our camp, all eight of us pulled out our Big Agnes’; we felt pure joy as we discovered a different way to sleep in the woods.

I have my uncle to thank for instigating the Big Agnes tradition, and my dad for buying you off Campmor.com last year. And what a tradition it is now! Eight of us Jopsons stretched out on a tarp, nestled inside our down sleeping bags, on top of your two-inch inflatable goodness. (We snored away–we didn’t even have to count sheep). The sleep was that good. Your air pad qualities astounded us, and we vowed to never buy a Therm-a-Rest again.

We look like we don't know how to relax!
We look like we don’t know how to relax!  Photo: Jim Jopson
Like tattoos, you can't have just one.
Like tattoos, you can’t have just one.

Each morning of last year’s backpacking trip you stayed by my side as I popped my head out of my sleeping bag and ventured out into the cold air. You were my companion.

This year’s trip was fantastic, until I caught a cold and found it difficult to sleep on my back. In the few moments where I could actually breathe and lie down at the same time, it was bliss.

Even though I am not entirely sure where I’m going to sleep through half of September back at school, at least I’ll have a high chance of getting my beauty sleep.

Your loyal friend,

Jennifer

Daily Prompt: Can’t Drive 55| They Got Nothin’ On You, Baby

Secret’s out: I am secretly admiring somebody. I think it is working out so far, as he hasn’t called me on it yet. He’s tall, dark and handsome and charismatic. Not only is he employed, but he makes physical fitness and personal hygiene a priority, which is something I can appreciate. I’ve seen the way he talks and acts around his friends (mostly guys), and the friends I’ve confided in say he’s a stellar guy. The thing is, I don’t know him well enough to ask him out on a date point-blank. I wish we could actually sit down and have a longer conversation than “Hi!” “How are you?” I have talked with him briefly before on multiple occasions and have reason to believe he is intelligent and worth getting to know. But apparently I will need to put in more legwork myself or reevaluate my feelings for him in six months. I guess this is another one of life’s challenges–not getting what you want right away.

This is one of the cooler prompts I’ve chosen to take a stab at. Take the third line of the last song you heard, make it your post title, and write for a maximum of 15 minutes. GO!

Never mind my lack-of-relationship woes. Sit down, press play and enjoy this pop song with truly inspiring (and original) lyrics by B.o.B and Bruno Mars!

Why Frozen Food is Such a Waste

I’m a college student, which means two things when I think about food: 1) I want it cheap and 2) I want it convenient. (Even better is free food). Last year I bought frozen food at the grocery store, like many college students do. Along with the fruits and veggies I picked up, I’d spend a ridiculous amount of time searching for frozen food that I thought would be edible and quite delicious. Going into it I knew there were plenty of preservatives and ingredient lists that barely fit on the box. But I kept buying it and making a sad face when the food disappeared from my freezer. Then, at the end of the school year I realized I had to start cooking on my own, as my roommate would not be around to cook dinners for me anymore. * It wasn’t like I had never cooked before–I could follow recipes and I usually didn’t burn food. My parents had me make dinner at home many times. I felt fairly confident in my abilities. All I needed was a cookbook.

Back in my pathetic frozen food days, I was a snob for sure. But I paid for my snobbery, and here’s why.

Pros:

Home cooked food is generally healthier for you than frozen food.

This one is just common sense. There is usually a lot of salt packed into the food and enough preservatives to kill a small animal. When you cook at home, you control the ingredients that go into a recipe–you can modify a recipe to fit your lifestyle and the nutritional value is higher.

It brings out your creativity.

Frozen food is lame because all you have to do is tear open the box and heat up your food in the microwave. You’re not doing anything cognitive. However, cooking is awesome because you can substitute ingredients and learn how to make complicated meals. You can garnish your food and plate with sauces, herbs and fruit for special occasions or otherwise. If you want to learn to make a certain style of food, you can. Yesterday I noticed I had a bunch of chicken broth to use up, so I glanced at the recipe on the back of the container and saw that I had most of the ingredients already. To make new yummy food, think about what’s in your refrigerator now.

You end up saving money.

I used to think paying $5-8 for two meals in the frozen food section was a real deal. But it’s really only two meals. When you cook a meal that serves four people and you’re feeding only yourself, you might spend $15-20 depending on the recipe. The payoff comes when you store the leftovers and realize you have enough for six meals and not four.

You save time.

Think about the time you spend selecting frozen food items. Then think about the time you could spend checking ingredients off your list as you walk through the grocery store. if you know what you need already, chances are you can find it quickly. Also, when you make a bunch of meals in advance at home, that’s time you don’t have to spend shopping or cooking.

You can store your homemade food in the freezer, and it will last for months.

This is a great advantage! As long as you place your food in freezer-safe containers or Ziploc bags and store it properly, you can enjoy a meal you made several weeks later.

You can impress people with your skills.

Invite people over when you hone a recipe. Eating is a very social activity, and not many people will turn you down if the food is hot and mouth-watering. They will probably ask you how to make it or what your secret is.

Home cooked food tastes so much better!

Of course it does. After the first time you try a frozen entrée, it loses its magic. The food you make yourself, though, doesn’t get old as easily.

Cons:

You may get tired of lunch.

This is true. I need to get more creative at lunchtime, because I either eat leftovers from dinner or make a sandwich. It’s all for the sake of saving money. The goal is not to starve yourself, so try light entrées.

You may have to make two trips to the store in a week.

The grocery store depresses me because it is expensive. But hey, you might get some good exercise in.

You will learn something new whether you like it or not.

Patience is one thing I have learned from cooking on my own. The dish might not taste fantastic the first time you make it, and the time you need to cook something will vary. Also, learning to prep food in a quick and efficient way is beneficial.

Ultimately, frozen food can’t win over home cooked goodness. You will be healthier and a lot less dissatisfied with your food if you take the time to cook. Two cookbooks I recommend for college students (and anyone!) are How To Cook Everything-The Basics by Mark Bittman and the Taste of Home Cookbook 3rd Edition.

*This is VERY rare for a roommate to do. I fully appreciated every meal Vanessa cooked for my roommates and me. The thing is, she liked to cook for us!

Daily Post: Five a Day| Exile Never Tasted This Good

You’ve being exiled to a private island, and your captors will only supply you with five foods. What do you pick?

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1) Beef jerky. It’s portable, so I can go walk around the island barefoot and put it in my pocket for a snack later. Plus it will keep up my energy so when I’m confronted by my merciless captors, I’ll be able to think on my feet.

2) Pork buns! I prefer ones from a tiny bakery in San Francisco. They come in a big pink box and they have a large meat to bread ratio. They’re perfect anytime of the day.

3) Fettuccine Alfredo. My favorite noodle dish. Please let there be cheese sprinkled on top…

4) Lava cake. It’s time for a little indulgence here on the island. Calories do not count when you’re being sent away…for good. I might never come back to civilization; one has to plan these things out for herself.

5) Kettle chips. You can’t eat just one. That crunchy, satisfying feeling is too difficult to forget!

Photo Credit

Daily Prompt: Local Flavor| The Etnian Way

Write a piece about a typically “local” experience from where you come from as though it’s an entry in a travel guide.

Hold onto your maps and hats, folks, and make sure that you are indeed in the middle of nowhere. If you’re driving and have passed the Callahan area on N. Highway 3 Road and slow down and see an “Etna city limit population 759” (or, if you drive past Yreka, to Fort Jones and continue on 6 miles), you’ve made it. If you continue a short distance down N. Highway 3, make a right and pass Dotty’s Korner Kitchen, you’ve gone too far.

Welcome to the small and beautiful town of Etna, CA. For our purposes, let’s say that it’s in “extreme Southern Oregon,” or just 90 miles south of the border and in the true, splendid wilderness area in Northern California. From any direction on the outskirts of town you will see fields, ranches and farming animals, hills, trees and absolutely no malls. This landscape makes up the gentle Scott Valley that its citizens call home.

What will you spend the day doing here? Well, first of all, take the time to breath in a little fresh air. Get out of your car and go for a walk around town. It’s hot and fairly sunny with a slight hint of wind at your back, which is the ideal walking temperature. Go up the main drag and wave to everyone you meet. (They’ll wave back, we promise). As you continue up Main St., stop by the fruit and vegetable stand and then cross the street and stop at the Scott Valley Drug & Soda Fountain, where you’ll be treated to the very best Dreyer’s hand-scooped ice cream.

From there, take a right down Diggles Street past the post office and the health clinic and continue until you are intersecting Howell Ave. Etna High School will be to your right, but your destination is to the left, at the Etna City Park. Work your way over to the entrance. Wow, what a crowd! There certainly are a lot of cars and people out today. You know, because today is the start of the Scott Valley Bluegrass Festival. The annual event is quite popular and that’s the main attraction for you today–you heard about it from a friend of a friend, and realize you want to be here to see it all for yourself. In fact, this cultural identity is oftentimes a draw for out-of-townees.

Sure enough, the banjos and harmonicas are working up a frenzy and there you are standing in the midst of a huge crowd that cannot get enough of the band on the stage. Take a front row seat, and then later get up and dance to the music. When it starts to hit late afternoon-early evening, ditch the party a little early and do some scenic driving up to Etna Summit. There are at least six lakes past the summit, and you decide to go to Taylor Lake, the spot a dancer with a tambourine told you about at the bluegrass festival. Look out at the lake and watch the sunset. No cars, no hum of the city life…it’s just you and nature now.

Come back down off the mountain when you’ve seen enough. Drive back into town and go to the Etna Brewing Company to finish up the night. Do enjoy a bowl of robust Porter chili (it’s the best) and wash it down with a recommended specialty beer. Take the locals up on the offer to buy their company T-shirt.

This is the real Etna. Thanks for visiting, hope you come again soon!

Photo Credit

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San Diego Zoo Photo Gallery

Having only been to two zoos in my life (the Boise Zoo and a zoo in China), yesterday I went and saw what could only be called the “zoo of the zoos” in San Diego. My roommates and friends from Southern California helped me get psyched up to go. So, I left school for the weekend and spent the day seeing cuddly and not-so-cuddly animals with Keith and his family. Here are some pictures from the trip.

IMG_2520My favorite green snake.IMG_2524He looked just like the display picture! IMG_2528 Hogging the lunch plate. IMG_2529The start of the digestion process.

IMG_2533Getting ready for a face off. IMG_2534Collision! IMG_2535 I quit.IMG_2537Another one of the Galapagos Tortoises getting ready for a bath.

IMG_2542Stinky flamingos…they can’t help it, I guess. IMG_2544I liked him. IMG_2550 Thanks, Keith, for taking this one!IMG_2555This one too. I think it pays to be tall. IMG_2561His name is 高高,or “High High” in Chinese. IMG_2562He looks so peaceful! IMG_2567The lynx was very active, compared to the other big cats. IMG_2572Before his feathers puffed up. IMG_2579Meercat, contemplating. IMG_2584In sync. IMG_2585 That elephant had a knack for walking away from me right when I wanted to get a shot–but I put this picture in the gallery because I like the balance of the landscape.IMG_2612The spoonbill spent so much of his concentrated energy on dead fishies! It was exhausting watching him play with his food and not eat a bite.