Noora, her mom, and I took a day trip through Wicklow county yesterday. We got to experience some beautiful Irish landscapes, see plenty of goats, visit the infamous bridge from P.S. I Love You, savor some Irish whiskey and get a tour of the renowned Avoca mill. Here is my proof that I did all of these cool things.
Last week, I took a solo trip to up Belfast for two days. After the very comfortable 2-hour train ride, I arrived in Belfast Central and as soon as I stepped foot into the city, I realized that I was going to like this place. Belfast only has about 300k residents but it feels much bigger than that. I liked the feeling of airiness and openness I got which is much different than the usual feeling of suffocation I feel between all of the tall Georgian houses throughout Dublin.
My first day was spent roaming around the city, taking pictures of all the murals, and trying to stay dry for the latter half of the day. After getting to my hostel, which I would highly recommend to anyone looking for a really good and inexpensive place to stay in Belfast(http://www.vagabondsbelfast.com), I went out to lunch at a local restaurant in the Queens Quarter called Maggie May’s which was very tasty. They offer full Irish, English, and Ulster breakfasts all day long as well as a very large menu and a separate milkshake menu. I opted for one of the alcoholic milkshakes since, a wee bit can never hurt. 🙂 After lunch, I met up with Bobby who was going to be my taxi driver and tour guide on the black taxi tour. The black taxi tour is something that is offered in Belfast that takes you throughout the Catholic as well as Protestant parts of the city and shows you the various murals as well as gives you a pretty concise history of the troubles that had separated the city for such a long time. If you are ever in Belfast, I highly recommend that you go on one of these and make sure that your tour guide is someone that is older and that has lived through the troubles as well. (http://cabtoursni.com)
My second day was not so much spent in Belfast but in Northern Ireland. Since the weather forecast gave me hopes of a sunny day on Friday(it turned to 100% chance of perciptiation), I booked a day long bus tour of Northern Ireland which featured the Giant’s Causeway. I went with a company called McCombs and our driver, Pat was not only extremely knowledgable about our entire trip, he was also very friendly and fun to talk to. (http://www.minicoachni.co.uk/giants-causeway.cfm) We started our trip at the most bombed hotel in the world, the Europa. The story as to why the hotel was bombed so much is when all of the media and political figures would come to Belfast, they were scared to go anywhere and actually see what was happening so the various fighting groups decided to bring the altercations to them and bomb the hotel to show the individuals what the residents of Belfast were living with day in and day out. Our first stop on the tour was Carrickfergus Castle which is a Norman castle built in 1177. Fun fact about the Carrickfergus. It is the hometown of Andrew Jackson’s family. He was born two years after his family left the town and emigrated to the United States. We hopped back on the bus and started our scenic drive down the Causeway Costal Route. This route is said to be one of the 10 most scenic drives in the world and I can definitely see how that is possible. Our two hour drive took us right along the water’s edge where we experienced deep valleys, snowcapped mountains, many glens, and beautiful littler hamlets and villages built directly into cliffs.
Our picturesque drive ended at the Cerrick-a-rede rope bridge. The bridge connects the mainland to a VERY tiny island. The original bridge is believed to have been built up to 350 years ago and spans about 60 feet at a height of 100 feet. I’m an adrenaline junkie and as long as I have something to hold onto, i’m not afraid of heights. With that being said, I couldn’t wait to cross the bridge but with winds at 30-40mph with gusts reaching 60mph, it added a whole extra factor which definitely had me gripping the wobbly rope that much tighter. As soon as my group finished on the bridge they had to close it down because the wind had picked up speed and it had become too dangerous to cross.
Another 15 minute drive led us to the Bushmills distillery where we had lunch and a chance to walk around the grounds. This particular distillery, established in 1608, is the oldest one in the world. Another quick 15-minute drive brought us to the Giant’s Causeway and to a wonderful [read: awful] weather situation. We were bombarded with rain, sleet, and then snow. To add insult to injury, this was pelting our bodies at speeds of 40-50mph from which there was no escaping. Although the weather was so atrocious, the entire bus decided to brave the elements and head down to the causeway and experience it as best as we could. After our short-lived visit to the causeway, we headed back up the road and all huddled into one of the local public houses where we got to know each other around a warm fire place and over some Irish coffee.
The scientific explanation to these mysterious, octagonal=shaped rocks forming at the coast is due to an ancient volcano, elements, and various pressure that forced these basalt rocks up through the earth and in these specific patterns. The legend of the Giant’s Causeway is the one I will choose to believe because it is much more interesting that the scientific one. According to legend, the columns are the remains of a causeway built by an Irish giant named Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCool). The story goes that Finn was challenged to a fight by the Scottish giant Benandonner. To get to Scotland, built the causeway across the channel separating the two lands so that the two giants could meet. When Finn had reach the other side, he saw the massive size of the Scottish giant and how much bigger he was than Finn. Scared by the intimidating size of his foe, Finn ran back to his house on the Irish side and told his wife how scared his was. Finn’s wife, Oonagh, disguised Finn as a baby and tucked him in a cradle. When Benandonner reached Finn’s house and saw the size of the ‘baby’, he was afraid to see the size of its father and fled back to Scotland destroying the causeway behind him. Across the sea in Scotland, the same basalt columns can be found as well.
After the causeway, our tour headed back to Belfast with a short photo stop at the ruins of the Dunluce Castle which had the entire kitchen along with all of its staff collapse into the sea which forced its residents out, never to return. After our return to the city, I headed to the train station and back to the comfortable and dry confines of my bedroom.
Katrina, Noora, and I decided to take out first out of Dublin trip this past weekend which involved a cross-country bus ride to the very beautiful and majestic Cliffs of Moher. After very little sleep the night prior, we got up at 6am and trudged the 20 minutes to the city center to catch our bus. We had bought day trip tour tickets form a local touring company so our whole day was planned out from the time we set off at 7:30 until we arrived back in dublin 12 hours later. We headed west and our bus driver filled us in on random tidbits of information as we drove through the scenic countryside of Ireland. Our first pitstop was supposed to be in Limrick but due to ridiculous amounts of flooding that have occurred throughout the country recently, we were not able to stop there and instead stopped shortly after Limerick in the quaint area of Bunratty Castle.
Half an hour later we were back on the road headed towards the cliffs. We spent about two hours at the cliffs, roaming around the trails and just taking in the beautiful views of the Atlantic Ocean in all of it’s salty glory. We were lucky enough to pick the one day in the past 10 which has not involved rain so we ended up getting in some spectacular views despite some of the fog off enveloping the nearby Aran Islands.
After the cliffs, we drove about half an hour farther and stopped at the Doolin Cliffs which are much smaller but just as majestic. We followed up this second set of cliffs with a lunch at Fitzpatrick’s Pub which served an amazing seafood chowder.
The next stop on our tour was the Corcomroe Abbey which is a 12th century not too far from the coast. Shortly following the abbey, we stopped in the village of Kinvara for some Irish coffee [read: coffee with baileys and whiskey]. It was so amusing to me to be in an Irish village since the villages that I am used to from Romania are much more rural than what the western world considers a village. Around 4:30 pm we headed back on our way to Dublin to complete the journey. Paying 40 Euro for an almost 12 hour tour that included a lot of interesting information, various stops along the way, and a very friendly and knowledgable guide was a great deal in my book. Hopefully this rain subsides in the near future so more random day trips can be planned.
On Monday, October 28th, we here in Ireland celebrated a bank holiday which meant no school for me on Monday OR Tuesday. Taking advantage of a solid week of no classes I hopped on a plane last Thursday night and headed to Romania. Lore and Teo had invited me a little while ago to be their son Andrei’s god mother and I initially thought I wasn’t going to be able to find a free time in my schedule that would be able to work for all of us until I found out about this holiday. I skyped with Lore and they were okay with the idea of having the christening on the 27th of October so I could attend as well.
After spending the night in London by Denisa’s I arrived to Cluj around 1:30pm local time where I found Teo waiting for me. We headed straight for Singeorz-Bai and after a quick pitstop in Bistrita, arrived to Lore and Teo’s apartment around 4pm. After hanging out for a little bit, catching up, and snuggling the baby, Lore and I got read to head to the Freshman Ball that was taking place that night. We arrived shortly after the competition had started and after being greeted and hugged by every former student and friend that we passed while walking in, we finally made it to our seats. We spent the rest of the night hanging out with the professors and students and catching up with friends that I hadn’t seen in several months.
Most of my day Saturday was spent at the some sort of cafe drinking tea, coffee, lemonade, you name it. I spent the greater part of the day hanging out and catching up with friends and even got to see some of them that came home from college for the weekend. Sunday morning we all woke up and imediately started getting ready for the christening. At about 11am, all of Lore and Teo’s family started arriving into the small apartment. A little after noon we all headed towards the church for the wonderful event of turning little Andrei into an Orthodox Christian. The christening in and of itself was fairly short, about half an hour and was very similar to what a Serbian Orthodox christening is like. Following the church we all headed across the street to the restaurant where we had our meal ready and waiting for us.
Monday I spent the greater part of the morning and early afternoon at school disrupting classes and substituting for a sick teacher. I visited every class that I taught last year and made it a point to hang out a little more with the 12th graders. After school, I headed out to lunch with my friend Paul where we finally got to have a nice conversation and catch up in private and not be bothered by random loud music like we were at the ball. Monday night Vasi and Dana invited us over to their house for dinner where we spent most of the evening eating, drinking, and just having a great time. These random little get togethers that I had throughout my visit only amplified the amount I miss Romania and Singeorz-Bai.
Tuesday was my last day in Romania as well as my travel day in Cluj. Lore insisted that they would drive me to Cluj we so bundled up the little one and headed out on Andrei’s first road trip. They dropped me off in Cluj around 4pm where I headed off to my hostel to settle in. Shortly after I called up Ioana and headed over to her apartment to meet up with her and her roommates (all my former students). That night I took Ioana, Popishor, and Tudor out to dinner at none other than Klausen Burger. It was what I consider the best restaurant in Romania with the best beer as well.
This trip could not have come at a better time. Before Romania I was beyond stressed out with school work and there didn’t seem to be an end in sight. As soon as I landed, all my problems faded and I barely thought about school during the week I was there. I enjoyed chatting and catching up with everyone even though there are still many people that I wish I could have seen. I’m back in Ireland ready to face the second half of the semester. I just turned in one major paper and have 5 more to write by the time the semester is over. Hopefully I can manage my time well enough to get it all done and leave for my Christmas vacation back home in 6 weeks.
This past weekend was filled with somewhat random outings and lots of fun.
A PC friend of mine’s cousin is moving to Dublin at the end of the month and was in town this past weekend to look at housing options and just get an overall feel for the city. Saturday, after walking aimlessly around town in the cold rain that initially started out as a school supplies search, I headed over to the Brooks Hotel to meet up with Emily. We then walked over to the Old Storehouse for some traditional Irish food, beer, and music which we then followed by making our way through the rain and cold to the Royal Dublin Society where we spent the rest of our night sampling some great drinks at the Dublin Craft Beer Festival.
Sunday, Emily and I met up around noon and took the DART train down to the sleepy town of Bray which is about a 25 minute ride south of Dublin. We stumbled upon the Harbour Bar which, coincidentally, was named one of the best bars in the world by Lonely Planet. Since we were there around 1pm on a Sunday, we didn’t get to experience much of the awesomeness. The bar, however, did have a very cool, rustic, atmosphere with lots of random rooms and sitting areas as well as a large lounge with a stage in the back where there is live music every Thursday-Sunday night.
After our short visit to Bray, following the advice of the very knowledgeable Rick Steves, we got back on the train and took it all the way in the opposite direction to the other end of the line in Howth. Howth is a very cute fishing town which we unfortunately did not get to see enough of during our visit there. We did stop into a random restaurant where we had some amazing seafood including steamed mussels, salmon, and fisherman’s pie while watching the local hurling championship.
Today marked the first day of classes and they honestly could not have gone better if I had dreamt them up. My first class that I had was from 11-1 and is about the Theory of Human Rights. The second class I had, from 4-6, is one of my core classes, Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict, which is taught by my program coordinator who is this fabulously passionate woman that seems extremely knowledgable within her area. After the syllabus breakdowns in both classes, I am more at peace with the workload even though I have a 150 page book that needs to be read by Monday.
On that note I can say that I’m finally okay with the fact that I am here and have faith that I’ll do well.
So I landed in Dublin Thursday early afternoon and got to my hostel around 2pm where I checked into my private room and then just passed out for a few hours. At around 6pm I went to view a room that was up for rent which I later found out I didn’t get. Friday, I viewed two more rooms that I also didn’t get. Why, you ask? Because it has become dog eat dog in the renter’s game. Apparently there is a shortage of housing this year, prices have gone up, and UCD, along with many of the other colleges in the area have done little to assist students in finding housing. I have been watching the Dublin rental websites like a hawk and as soon as a new listing goes up that might work for me, I immediately contact the owner.
Saturday I met up with Saveta, a former student of Vasi’s from Singeorz-Bai. She is a few years older than me and has been living in Dublin with her husband for about 6 or 7 years now. She helped me get a phone and SIM card, a bus pass, and said she would try to help me find a place to stay. We hung out Saturday morning and it was just so nice talking to someone that understood where I was coming from that was willing to help me unconditionally.
After our meeting on Saturday, I had two more viewings and then curled myself up in my bed for a few hours before I was to head out to dinner with Matt, who was randomly in Dublin the same time I am, and his friends. I ended up going to bed fairly early on Saturday since I wasn’t feeling too well only to wake up to a cold this Sunday morning.
I didn’t have any viewings today and just kind of bummed around the hostel which proved to be quite beneficial. As I was checking into my new room (goodbye private room, hello 12 person dorm!) I mentioned how I am looking for a place to live and the girl and the registration desk told me that the hostel actually houses a lot of students and that I could get a private single room for about 160euros a month which is a little bit out of my budget but it does include all of the bills, high-speed internet, housekeeping, and it is in an awesome central location.
Depending on how the viewings go tomorrow, I will make my decision if I want to just remain at the hostel or keep looking for a room in a house for the upcoming year.
Things are looking much brighter and I can finally stop worrying so much and go out and enjoy myself in Dublin before school starts.
Wish me luck in finding a place!
Sydney posted this link http://www.buzzfeed.com/lucyh3/35-things-you-appreciate-about-america-after-livin-147h on my facebook wall today and I have decided to dedicate a blog post to answer each one of these things.
1. Convenience Stores
-Actually, most of the little markets in small towns work as convenience stores. These small stores are the only places that exist so I buy my meat, milk, and superglue all in one place.
2. Diet Soda
-My favorite soft drink is Diet Coke. I want my Diet Coke back. None of this “light” stuff.
-It’s not so much the ice but the quantity. People usually have ice but if they give you some it’s a cube or two. That just isn’t enough.
4. Ice Coffee
-I don’t like coffee.
5. Online Streaming
-You obviously don’t know how technologically savvy Romania is. This has not been a problem. I can list you 4 sites that rival hulu off the top of my head.
6. Driving a car
-OMG I CAN’T FREAKING WAIT TO BE ABLE TO GO PLACES WHEN I WANT WITHOUT HAVING TO TAKE PUBLIC TRANSPORT OR HITCH!
-I’ve had it twice here. Not nearly as good and really expensive.
8. Electrical Outlets
-I’m happy that i won’t have to use adapters for 2 whole months and constantly have to switch adapters to various electronics.
9. Outlet Shopping.
-Ugh. I don’t want to think of how much of a headache that will be.
10. 24 hour drive-thru
-White Castle. That is all I have to say about that.
-Has not been a problem. I have faster inet here than I had in the states. I’ll miss it.
12. Free bathrooms
-I don’t mind paying 1 leu for the bathroom if it is kept up but when I have to pay 1leu to piss in a hole in the ground with a door that smells like the inside of a sewage plant, I get annoyed.
13. Peanut butter
-I’m not a huge PB fan but not being able to have something makes you want it therefore I liked PB here. It was rarely available in the big supermarkets and really expensive. Like 5 dollars for a small jar.
14. Solo Cups
-The plastic cups here are the tiny little ones that are the size of the bathroom cups you use to rinse.
15. Personal Space
-I was huge on personal space before I left. This has probably changed the most about me. I love to hug and just have physical contact with people when I talk to them. Be it a hand on an arm, a handshake, whatever. I enjoy the lack of personal space more than I don’t.
16. Law&Order Marathons
-It’ll be nice to watch tv on a TV and not on a laptop.
17. No Smoking Zones
-OMFG I CAN’T WAIT TO GO OUT AND BE ABLE TO BREATH!
-nom, nom, nom. For one person it’s about 60 lei which is hella expensive on an 800 lei salary.
-I’ll miss most of football season 😦
20. American Brand Candy
-The only one i miss is reeses.
21. State to State cellphone coverage.
-I’m in the middle of the mountains and have awesome coverage and internet all for about 10 dollars a month. Romania wins.
22. Swim Trunks
-It’s mainly the older generations that wear speedos.
23. Free refills
-I have paid so much for water at restaurants these past two years it’s ridiculous.
24. American Holidays
-I’ll be home for 4th of July. That’s it. 😦
-I love ketchup. Heinz Ketchup. I don’t like European ketchup and I can only get Heinz in the big cities.
26. Household appliances
-One word. DRYER!
27. Separate Checks
-It hasn’t been too bad. My budgeting/accountancy skills shave sharpened these past two years.
-These aren’t the issue. Maple Syrup is the issue. 33 lei ($10) for 300ml is highway robbery.
29. Air Conditioning
-My apartment is on the cold side. I have gotten used to the heat and sweating. It’s just a part of life. I’m interested to see how my lungs will react to A/C.
30. Drinking fountains
-We have one at school. It is used frequently but it scares me.
31. Food Delivery.
-Available in the big cities. Here you have to call the restaurant then call a cab to go pick it up for you if you really want it.
32. Screened Windows
-I have one screened window in my apartment that I made myself using my mosquito net. It hasn’t been fun.
33. Store hours
– I actually like this. You see more people enjoying themselves and having more time to relax.
-I found one once, in a train station in Switzerland.