Jennifer Jopson: Lessons From Travels Abroad

My guest blog for Jered on Live Declared.

Live Declared

Ever thought about traveling abroad after high school? Sometimes it’s nice to get a new and fresh perspective on life. I love to hear from my readers and to share their successes. Jennifer is one of them. I follow Jennifer’s blog Turning the Tide partly because I traveled abroad in Ireland myself when I was a freshman in college and love reading her stories and checking out the beautiful scenic pictures. I also read it because it’s exciting  seeing high school and college students finding their passions and doing something with them.  So without further ado…

Lessons from Travels Abroad

Author’s note: Last week fellow Blogger Jered Blanchard asked me over email if I would like to do a guest blog for him about my experiences traveling overseas during my post-secondary education. I was happy to hear from him and said yes right away. I enjoy seeing what Jered’s up to on…

View original post 1,068 more words

Escape to Skerries

Dear readers,

My apologies for it being a month since my last post. I appreciate your patience. Finals were stressful (the good kind of stress) and I wanted to prepare as much as I could. I survived my semester abroad in Dublin, Ireland, so now I just have to wait for my grades! I’ll elaborate on study abroad in a future post, I promise. I’d love to share a final set of experiences with you before I do.

Last Saturday was my first day of summer. I was so excited to go to Skerries in North Dublin I couldn’t sleep much the night before. Two months before I had read about Skerries in my guide-book, and while it didn’t go into detail about the town, it did mention Skerries Mills. Also around this time the international and Erasmus student society I was a part of on campus gave us the opportunity to do a clean up project in Skerries. I wasn’t able to participate, but once I started Googling Skerries I became more and more intrigued. I learned that they hold an annual Traditional Music Weekend there, for three days in May filled with dance and instrument workshops in the morning, street music in the afternoon and concerts at night. My host mom took one look at the lineup and said I had chosen well. Clearly, this was a cultural opportunity I wasn’t about to miss.

I decided to plan a trip out to Skerries once my finals were over, as a reward for finishing strong and as a chance to see another seaside town before I left for the States. (I leave this week. It’s bittersweet). My Irish friend Nwanne and I couldn’t have picked a better day to go. The journey was simple, as I took the DART (Irish Rail) towards Drogheda, and the route led me directly to Skerries. The weather was quite balmy, the sky a pretty blue mixed in with a few clouds. I talked with a very pleasant elderly gentleman on my walk into town. He seemed dedicated to the music festival, as he had been there before and knew which bands at the pubs I shouldn’t miss. He’d listened to all their music as well, which made him 100% more of an expert than I was.

I had to laugh at myself soon after when I went on a wild goose chase for a tourist office and a public restroom. Signs in the town pointed in the opposite direction of these facilities, which was at once very frustrating and humorous at the same time. After heading in the wrong direction for the monument (I was one street over), I finally met up with Nwanne. It was so good to see her, as she was also recovering from our chaotic finals schedule. When I asked her what she wanted to do, she let me decide what we’d do that day since this was the end of my study abroad experience. She was up for anything I wanted to do, which I really appreciated.

The first place we went to was Skerries Mills. There are three mills at Skerries; two windmills and a watermill. It is famous in part because it was one of the few mills with both wind and waterpower. I found them marvelous structures, and I desperately wanted to take pictures of them to seal it forever in my memory. We went on a nice tour of the Mills and really enjoyed it. In the huge watermill the guide demonstrated how workers would turn grain into flour, their pulley system to haul the bags of flour up to the next floor and then powered up the mill to show us how all the parts worked together. I thought it was pretty neat. Then we got to tour the inside of the Small Windmill. It was drafty inside, and we could hear the wind howling outside (it was not actually that windy outside, but inside the mill sound became more amplified). Anyway, it was my first time in a windmill!  I liked the Small Windmill better than the Great Windmill because it had a more rustic look and the red door with a fence surrounding it was a nice touch. When we got closer to the Great Windmill, however, I loved how it seemed to effortlessly work with the landscape. The thing that amazes me about these mills is the back-breaking work the men did everyday to earn a living. To think that they faced many trials in order to make the mill more efficient showed their dedication to work. Their jobs were very dangerous and the monotony, I assume, made it difficult to feel a sense of accomplishment.

At the Small Windmill--built in 1500
At the Small Windmill–built in 1500
Hands down the most warm and beautiful day in Dublin!
Hands down the most warm and beautiful day in Dublin!
The Great Windmill of Skerries
The Great Windmill of Skerries–built in 1700

After we’d snapped several selfies and soaked up the sun, Nwanne and I headed back into town. We went to South Beach and sat down in the sand. We looked out to the islands there and had fun watching children chase their parents around in circles until we were nearly dizzy ourselves. We wanted to make it to Keane’s Bus Bar by 5 PM for live music, so we skipped the harbor and went to get dinner and wait.

Nwanne and I at South Beach
Nwanne and I at South Beach

Keane’s Bus Bar has the kind of ambiance that makes you feel like you’ve stepped into the early 20th century. The seats were cushy, the tables tiny and several paintings of the Dublin area hung on the walls. We ate our meal with gusto and settled in for some good music. While the band that played was fine, the guitarist was the only one who sang for us. Still, the harp, the fiddle and the Uilleann pipes made the music legitimate and quite colorful. The gentleman I had talked to earlier sat at the table closest to the band, and when he saw me he explained that we had missed a fantastic traditional music session at 3 PM–apparently the whole town went to that one! While I was a little sad, I did not regret any moment spent in Skerries and I happily listened to the music playing. The three small children trying to out-dance each other at the pub stole the show! The band enthusiastically invited them to “play” the Uilleann pipes. Spending time with my friend and with the kind people of Dublin made my day. On my next trip to Ireland, I’ll make a point to return to the quiet and peaceful town of Skerries.

The band at Keane's Bus Bar
The band at Keane’s Bus Bar

 

A Folk Rock Kind of Night

I stumbled across Limerick-based Hermitage Green on Spotify a little over a month ago, and I am so glad I did! Had this not happened, I wouldn’t have been at The Academy in Dublin at their gig on April 17th. The guys are brilliant musicians and have a great sense of humor (they were all for going to the pub with audience members before Good Friday started!) They’ve performed in Australia and recently did a tour in North America and Canada. What I appreciate about this band is their distinct sound: it’s not just guitars. They also pay banjo, djembe, dobro, harmonica, bodhrán and keyboard. Besides the plethora of musical instruments, their voices blend together in an a cappella style that really brings out the harmonies. So in other words, their music is complex and exotic. If you think about the popular Avett Brothers or Mumford and Sons, you can think again when you listen to Hermitage Green. I’m not saying the Avett Brothers and Mumford and Sons aren’t good, but I am saying that Hermitage Green offer top-notch quality music, and they don’t sound like the typical folk rock bands out there. Give them a listen (I’ve included videos below) and see what you think. Then spread the word if you like what you hear!

Hermitage Green has great potential for major success.
Hermitage Green has the potential to make a name for themselves.
Cillian King killed it as one of the opening acts for Hermitage Green.
Cillian King and his band killed it as one of the opening acts for Hermitage Green.

Got fish? Visit Howth!

With its history dating back to a viking invasion in 819, Howth is one of Dublin’s main out-of-city attractions. Howth sits north of Dublin Bay, and the views from Dalkey and Dún Laoghaire harbors in South Dublin are particularly neat. You can reach Howth by DART (Irish Rail) from the city centre in about 30 minutes.

My friend Anika and I got a great first impression of the village as soon as we stepped off the train. We went into Howth Market, a farmer’s market with mouth-watering bread, sweets and other goods. Anika’s delicious bread had cheese, tomato sauce and jalapeño in it. We really liked seeing the array of shops and restaurants near the habour. Howth Harbour was wonderful! We walked along the west and east piers and saw a seal pop his head out of the water for a minute. It was so refreshing to feel the wind blow into our faces and to breathe in the salty, slightly fishy air. We watched kayakers paddle out to Ireland’s Eye and white sailboats floating far off at the edge of Dublin City. There are few things that are more relaxing than sitting pier side and watching the waves.

While we each had a map of Howth with us, we weren’t sure how close the sites in town actually were, and nothing sounded that intriguing. Anika suggested that we walk for a bit past the harbour, which I thought was an excellent idea. As we started our climb we passed beautiful homes and looked back to see views of the village now and then. We hiked up Howth Head, which is a sprawling peninsula that you could only dream of covering completely if you had the proper footwear, food and water to keep you going. Our boots got muddy but we didn’t mind–running shoes just didn’t seem ideal. I got tired early on mostly because of lack of food and hydration, but Anika seemed to have an endless supply of energy! I liked hiking with her and I’m glad that she motivated me to press on. Plus, the *views only continued to improve the higher we climbed. We figured that we were close to the turn that would lead us to a car park and back down to the village about an hour and a half in. We were right, and we didn’t have to walk far past Howth Summit to find a warm pub to refuel in.

We headed back into town and sat down on a bench to contemplate our trip and rest our feet. We drank some warm cocoa at the first cafe we had seen outside the train station to end the day. We both agreed that while the harbour area and the coastal views from Howth Head were amazing, the village itself wasn’t as beautiful and special as we thought it would be. My advice is to visit Dalkey over Howth, as there is much more to see and it is far nicer as a town. Still, Howth is worth seeing.

One of the things I learned about myself from my trip to Howth was that I don’t have to always travel alone. Here in Ireland I’ve planned most of my sightseeing and so far I haven’t minded doing my own thing.  My hope in this is that I get to develop an awareness of Dublin without limitation. Sounds lonely, doesn’t it? Sometimes it feels that way, but I like to meet people outside of my friend circle and learn about the things that I find interesting here. Having a friend to share yesterday with meant a lot to me. It’s hard to make friends when you’re at a new school and have deadlines to meet, but it is great to have a friend who takes the time to get to know you. Hopefully I can see Anika a few more times before the term ends!

Note: Hover over the photos to view captions, click to view larger

*The view changed rapidly. One moment there was mist over the next 100 meters ahead of us, and then it was clear. No time to take off your jacket!

Scotland’s Gems

Last Thursday my friends and I landed in Edinburgh a day before our UC Education Abroad Program trip started, so we had time to explore the city on our own. The first morning I went to the National Museum of Scotland, a friendly, hands-on place that is perfect for kids. It had a lot to offer, with a total of seven floors–I only had time for two. I particularly liked the space exhibit and Dolly, the first cloned mammal. I caught up with my friends soon after and went on a free tour of The Royal Mile, Grassmarket and many of the closes (neighborhoods) hiding just behind the main streets. I had a nice time talking to people on the tour and listening to our cheerful tour guide. I could tell he loved his job and that he was passionate about Scottish history. After the tour I headed to Edinburgh Castle, which is by far the most impressive castle I’ve seen on my study abroad adventures.  For starters, it’s huge! There are about 20 museums within the castle you can explore, and most of the rooms are open. You can catch sweeping views of the city here as well. It’s worth paying the admission price if you get excited anytime you hear the word “castle” or want to see the Honours of Scotland and some cool dungeons.

Edinburgh by night
Edinburgh by night
Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh as seen from the castle
Edinburgh as seen from the castle
The Royal Mile
The Royal Mile: architecture you can fall in love with

Our first day as a group we went to see the Railway Bridge, Blair Castle and Culloden Battlefield. The Railway Bridge in South Queensferry is massive, but I liked the bridge next to it because it reminded me of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, CA. At Blair Castle I lingered at the back of the group so I could read most of the signs and look at the detail in the rooms. While the castle was nice, my favorite part was its grounds. We followed a trail that led into the woods and took a ride on the swings at the playground. At Culloden Battlefield we learned about the Jacobite defeat by the British–they fought a losing battle and roughly 2,000 men died. The exhibit took forever to explore, but once we stepped on the battlefield itself it became entirely worth it. We saw the blue and red flags of the Jacobites and the Brits swaying in the tall grass and imagined what it must have been like to do battle on April 16, 1745. I liked the lone cottage with peat moss on it standing in the field. I thought I would see something picturesque like this in Ireland first, so it made me laugh.

Grounds at Blair Castle
Grounds at Blair Castle
The cottage at Culloden
The cottage at Culloden
Culloden Battlefield--poor Jacobites!
Culloden Battlefield–poor Jacobites!

That night we ate a traditional Scottish dinner of haggis, meeps and tatties. The haggis surprised me, as it wasn’t firm and looked like finely ground beef. While I thought it tasted OK, I couldn’t finish it, as I’d had a filling meal of fish and chips in Aviemore for lunch. I wasn’t a huge fan of the meeps (turnips), but I was game to at least try it. The tatties were simply potatoes, and I found that the haggis tasted better when I mixed them together. The raspberry dessert ended the meal on a refreshing note.

After dinner we listened to a Scottish folklore storyteller for about two hours. He was entertaining and I stayed awake for most of it. The food coma left me slumped over the back of one of the chairs for some minutes!

The next day we went on a Loch Ness boat cruise with Jacobite Cruises. We started at Clansman Harbour and braved the cold in the top deck for half of it, and then sat in comfort in the enclosed lower deck to watch the scenery. In the afternoon we stopped at Glencoe to take pictures. Personally, it was the best 10 minutes I spent in the Highlands. The views of the mountains were stunning and I loved the colors. I highly recommend seeing Glencoe (and spend more time there than I did!)

I have to say that I’m sad time is passing by so quickly. Still, I’m really glad I got to go because it was such a good experience to meet people from other UC schools and appreciate another culture’s history, architecture and natural beauty.

Spotted this photo opportunity at Glencoe.
Splendid photo opportunity at Glencoe.
Glencoe!
Glencoe!

Thanks for reading. If my post triggered any memories of Scotland for you, please share!

Parisian Getaway

As I sit here listening to jazz, I’m content to reminisce on my two-day trip to Paris this week. It all went by so fast, but my friend Sangeeta and I made the most of it. Our goal was to see the main sights, try a few pastries and get an introduction to one of the most famous cities in the world all within our budget. Did we succeed? I think we did.

While Paris is a lively hub and has beautiful architecture, to me it is too large to love it all. The Louvre and the occasional street corner are special, but in general there are too many tourists and shopping districts. Also, it seems like most of the large buildings (hotels and apartments) try to outdo each other and don’t succeed, as they look similar and thus lose their magnificence. Since spring has just begun, the flowers are sparse and the trees are still dead. If I came later in the year, my impression of Paris would probably be different.

The Louvre, Musée de l’Orangerie, Eiffel Tower and the many delicious desserts were my favorites. Each site has a unique feel to it: the Louvre is stately and very well composed; I loved the endless rooms and its warmth, Monet’s waterlilies in the Musée de l’Orangerie mesmerized me and I noted the individual, muted brushstrokes and how they contributed to the vitality of the entire composition. The Eiffel Tower was grand and close to what I expected–the walk from the Metro to the tower itself was suspenseful, because it took five minutes to get there and it seemed like we should have been there already. Though we caught glimpses of the tower during the day, seeing it at night and going all the way to the top was a treat. It was worth the wait. Finally, the food: I tried the chocolate-filled beignet, glacé and the Nutella and banana-filled crepe. If I could study gastronomy in Paris, I would!

As for the French, I was continually surprised by their hospitality and kindness. We talked to two nice people who helped us navigate the Metro and around the Palais du Luxembourg. Out of the four restaurants we went to, only one owner was truly nasty to us. (We sat down for a moment to consult our Metro map and the owner kicked us out of our outdoor table when all the other tables were empty).  Overall, though, I found myself saying more “mercis” and “bonjours” than I thought I would.

The next time I visit Paris I plan to sit in one of the many gardens for a few hours and enjoy the sun. I will spend time walking around St-Germain and the Latin Quarter, two places I’d want to see more in-depth. I’d want to do day trips out of Paris, and have a picnic (maybe do a hike?) I also wouldn’t mind buying inexpensive gifts for friends, drinking chocolate, eating pain au chocolat and a huge baguette, and window shopping for fancy clothes and shoes. I’d like to make the effort to learn a few French phrases and pronounce the words right, too. Someday I’ll make it happen.

I won't forget the smell of those crepes.
I won’t forget the smell of those crepes.
The difference between reading about one of the greatest pieces of architecture in history and actually being there is incredible. No picture can replace the experience. — in Paris, France.
Eiffel Tower. The difference between reading about one of the greatest pieces of architecture in history and actually being there is incredible. No picture can replace the experience.
Louvre Pyramid and fountain
Louvre Pyramid and fountain
Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel looking out at the Louvre pyramid — in Paris, France.
Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel looking out at the Louvre pyramid.
Cellist playing sweeping crescendos in his song, before we hit the Jardin des Tuileries — in Paris, France.
Cellist playing sweeping crescendos in his song, before we hit the Jardin des Tuileries.
The Louvre
The Louvre
Notre Dame Cathedral
Notre Dame Cathedral

I’ll leave you with some other photos of the trip. There are so many things to see in Paris, and if you go I recommend staying for more than two days. Take time to enjoy the city and indulge your senses.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

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.

IMG_3971
Slow Skies, based in Dublin, opens for St. Vincent
The rocker in performance mode
The rocker in performance mode

Belfast: A Divided City

What one can appreciate about Belfast is that it doesn’t lay claim to any one thing. It has a walkable city centre and all the modern conveniences a tourist could want. Impressive architecture pops up in the least likely of places–the Titanic exhibition near the port (next to the cranes and the storage sites), the huge mall called Victoria Square which is lovely lit up at night and too posh during the day. There is a deep, reverberating sadness about the place because of its violent history, particularly the Troubles. In short, Belfast is not a cookie cutter of a city.

I spent two days in Belfast and while I didn’t love the city I was certainly curious about it. I had heard that the Black Taxi Tour was a must, and so I made sure to go. For two hours my small group and I experienced the rougher parts of town in the safety of the British black cab. Highlights of the tour include Shankhill Road, Falls Road and the Peace Wall. The Shankhill and Falls Roads are Protestant (Loyalist) and Catholic (Unionist) areas, respectively. Large murals and small communities make up these areas, and the Peace Wall separates the opposing sides. Now, I am no expert at all with Northern Ireland’s history, but I do gather from what I’ve read on the subject and from the conversations with Irish people and on the Black Taxi Tour that the Protestant and Catholic conflict is not merely religious. It’s political by nature and though the violence is not what it once was 30 years ago, there are still tensions and riots. Our cabbie and tour guide was excellent and gave a pretty even view of both sides of the conflict.

After the tour, some of us decided to get lunch at the Crown Bar in the city centre. The Crown Bar is Northern Ireland’s most famous pub, and one of my goals was to get inside and eat a delicious meal there. Unfortunately we didn’t anticipate a 40-min wait to sit down at an upstairs table so we left and went to Brennan’s Bar across the street. It worked out perfectly! Not only did we have a huge, cushy table to sit at and interesting conversation about the rules of rugby, but just before we got our food we saw four Scottish men come in wearing kilts. Priceless moment. Brennan’s wasn’t the first pub we went to that weekend; the night before we did a pub crawl with the whole student group on the trip–so around 100 other people. I’ll never forget my conversations with my new friends, the locals and the dancing they convinced us to do!

To make the trip even sweeter, we went to Carrick-A-Reed Rope Bridge, Dunluce Castle and Giants Causeway, all in North County Antrim. Fantastic weather, too. I wasn’t so sure the rope bridge would even be open, since the wind was blowing hard earlier in the morning. After bouncing around on a wobbly bus for over an hour, I was grateful to stretch my legs and walk on the windy trail up to the rope bridge. As far as rope bridges go, this one takes the prize! It’s one thing to see pictures of something but quite another to experience it for yourself…there was no way I was going to miss it. The Irish Sea bashes against the rocks here, and it can unnerve some people who look down and see the action. But I was ready and pleasantly surprised to find that the bridge was quite sturdy and that the view didn’t scare me. I marveled at the bridge’s simplicity, the oddly shaped grass on the side of the cliffs and the threat of the elements. A person standing on that bridge is vulnerable whether they are comfortable standing or not. It’s a thrill, really. Dunluce Castle stood in ruins, and the most interesting thing about it was the number of people who fell down on the slippery grass on the way to snap a picture. Thought for sure I would fall, but I didn’t. Giants Causeway was incredible! I liked the hike–a series of hills, stairs and then the paved road that led to the Causeway itself. Sea foam sprayed up in big clumps in the first few minutes while we stood and watched at the shoreline. The waves rushed in, powerful and white. We got to climb all over the famous hexagonal, basalt rocks and wonder how they got there in the first place.

All in all, it was a special weekend here on my trip abroad. If you decide to go to Belfast and see North County Antrim, you will learn about an important influence in Irish Republic history and explore the rural beauty of part of the United Kingdom.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Just Another Day in Dublin

IMG_3769

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!

IMG_3775

Goodnight! As always, thanks for reading.