March 2010

Uncategorized28 Mar 2010 08:58 am

Well Folks, Friday was my last class in Cork. I now have the month of April off before the exam month in May. With three finals in four weeks, I’m looking forward to some quality bloggin time to tell you all about the academic side of my travels here, which I will openly admit to have neglected. But that will all have to wait for May. Because tomorrow, I begin the big trip- the one to Europe! My parents flew in yesterday (due to time zone changes plus Irish daylight savings time, I think they are a bit exhausted- this is find it gives me the opportunity to be a bloggin’). Tomorrow afternoon we’re leaving for Dublin and we’re all flying to Germany, where I will get to meet my mom and dad’s German family and see all of the places the loved when they lived there. They leave us on April the 5th, then the backpacking adventure begins!


March 30: Depart from Dublin with Mom & Dad
March 31- April 4: Germany with the Cutler’s
April 5: Mom leaves; we leave for Heidelberg
April 6: Heidelberg
April 7: leave Heidelberg
April 8: Salzburg
April 9: Salzburg
April 10: leave Salzburg Arrive in Venice
April 10- 16: VENICE with Meghan!!!
April 16: Leave Venice, go to Florence
April 17: Florence
April 18: Florence, leave Florence, go to Rome
April 19: Rome
April 20: Rome
April 21: leave Rome, go to Naples and Pompeii
April 22: Naples
April 23: Naples, leave Naples, go to Pisa
April 24: Pisa, leave for Pisa (at end of the day) and go to Paris
April 25: Paris
April 26: Paris
April 27: leave Paris, go to Brussels
April 28: Brussels
April 29: Leave Brussels, head to London
April 30: London
May 1: Leave London, head back to Cork

I’m looking forward to the hotel in Venice with Meghan, and to- ok, basically I’m looking forward to EVERYTHING! It’ll be a busy, busy month, but I think it will fly by! I’ll leave it all there, I suppose and will say good bye for the next month. I’ll keep track of my travels for sure, though, and bore you with them when I return!

Slan Leat!

Uncategorized25 Mar 2010 12:51 am

            In an experience like no other I’ve had yet in Ireland, Maura and I went home with our Irish roommates this weekend. For the most part, I’ve written just about the out-trips we’ve taken from Cork on the weekends, but I’ve neglected to mention some of the most enjoyable times we’ve had, where all of these lovely trips have ended- in the kitchen of Apartment 19 with Emma, Fiona and Mairead. Accuse me of not taking full advantage of the night life and legal drinking age, not to mention the off-license (liquor store) down the street that delivers, but I have spent many a night sitting around drinking tea (eating chocolate), and just talking in the kitchen. And I swear I have learned more in my 3 months with them than in any classroom. Maura and I could not have been luckier than to end up with them. I’m not exaggerating, I’m just being cliché- the time spent with the five of us is what I think I will remember and miss the most when I leave in just two months.

            I got to see a different side of them this past weekend, though. The Irish girls took us home to meet their parents. Friday and Saturday we spent in Fermoy, in County Cork, with Fiona where both she and Mairead live. Sunday Fiona’s mum drove us to Waterford, where we spent the day with Emma (home of the crystal- or it was, but the worldwide economic slump has impacted the crystal industry and unfortunately the factory is closed until further notice, but that is another matter entirely and irrelevant to my weekend spent with the girls). All three girls live up to the Irish agricultural tradition and live on family farms. I don’t know what I expected, but their families were absolutely wonderful people- they welcomed us with open arms- literally, both Emma’s and Fiona’s mothers greeted us with hugs. (And although I will get to see my own mum in just a few days when she and my dad come to visit, it was really nice to have a bit of motherly love after 3 months!).

            Fiona took us all around her town and we got to hang out with all her friends, including Mairead, who she grew up with, in town. Friday night? Not that atypical- out to dinner, and then for a drink at the local pub before going home for a cup of tea. It wasn’t that different than what I would do in America, but I found it all really interesting, entertaining- I was just content to sit back and see what her everyday life was like. Saturday, we saw her farm and had dinner with her family (yes, yes there were indeed potatoes served 😉 and went to see one of her friends play the drums for a benefit at a pub in a nearby village. That was another experience altogether- we walked into the pub and instantly it was like everyone’s heads turned and they knew we were outsiders- and not just us, Fiona and her friends from Fermoy didn’t fit in either. I was used to standing out in a crowd here with my Northface jacket and lack of boots and jeggings (jean-leggings, the latest fashion trend), but this really opened my eyes to the regional differences and fierce local loyalty that characterizes Ireland. I live in Northern Virginia- an area where local regional distinctions have been blurred; I couldn’t tell Burke from Springfield from Fairfax- but in the pub in Araglin, just 20 km away, there was definitely a unique character, distinct and unique from that of Fermoy. In such a small country, there is still remarkable diversity. It would be more than a bit ignorant to complete write off Ireland as being uniform, but I still find the regional differences, from the accents to the houses and land

            We got even more of a taste of the diversity of Ireland when we met Emma. We drank tea with her mum and dad and drove all around the county- to Waterford city; to Dunmore, a beachy town; to meet her sister; to a trail in the woods and an old stone tower that offered an amazing view of the five counties that connect to Waterford. I think I’ve seen a lot of Ireland on all the bus trips, but it was really cool to be with Fiona and Emma in a car (oh, how I miss my Ford Taurus!) – I think you see things in a different way when you are whipping along down those narrow country roads- you are just closer to it all. We ended our day back at Emma’s farm (Emma has a dairy farm, with cows for milking, while Fiona’s dad raises cattle to be eaten) and her mum cooked us dinner as well (again, potatoes were served- I told you I had an authentic Irish weekend, didn’t I?). We drove back to Cork with Emma Sunday night and headed right to bed, visions of cattle and Irish countryside dancing through our heads.

(Lack of photos=  Maura took ‘em all, I kept forgetting my camera!)

Uncategorized22 Mar 2010 03:59 pm

Doubling up on the school sponsored trips last weekend, I went on UCC’s “Ring of Kerry Heritage Weekend” this past Friday through Sunday. Biggest highlight? Two delicious 3 course meals. And we stayed in a hotel! With a pillow top mattress, hot shower, and 2 pillows!

            But really, besides the accommodation, the trip was wonderful. The Ring of Kerry, in case you don’t feel  like Wikipedia-ing it, is a world-famous 100+ mile driving route in south-western Ireland. Full of fantastic scenery, gorgeous lakes and ocean, and breath taking views, it was a definite must-see in the Study Abroad Ireland Experience. The woman leading the trip, Marian, is a spoken Irish- teacher at UCC, and was from the Kerry area. She seemed to know everyone that we came across and really tried to give us an authentic Irish cultural experience.

Skellig Islands. Isolated ancient Christian heritage sites- pretty cool!

Night #1, for instance, began with the aforementioned delectable dining experience, followed by a talk by Maurice Fitzgerald, a famous Kerry Gaelic footballer, who explained the game and brought along his nine year old son to help teach us some drills. After Maurice, we hs a group of musicians that played while we had a Ceili (pronounced Kaley) Irish dancing class. After working off the dinner, we went to bed to be up early the next morning for the Skellig Ring Tour. The first stop on this more off-the-beaten path area of Kerry was Valentia island, where we stopped at the world-known Valentia slate quarry and took a walk up a mountain with a farmer’s family. Valentia Island looks out on the Skellig Islands and is home to the Skellig Experience, a World Heritage Site. The Skelligs, which were too much of a journey out to see for our group tto go on in our limited time table, were inhabited in the 8th century by Monks looking for complete solitude, which they found (their only company were the massive bird colonies), at least for a while, until the Vikings invaded in the 13th century. We hopped back on the bus (we were on a rather tight schedule) to see Ballinskelligs, where Marian grew up and where her mother (who we got to wave to) still lives. To say it was a lonely area isn’t quite right, because, although the area is very rural, the sense of community that I felt was remarkable- there were so many locals that we got to interact with and that were willing to come meet us as a favor to Marian, one of their own. It was eye opening to see such a different way of life.

The Ballin'-Skelligs. Waterfront view AND a castle? I'll take it!

After an afternoon free to ourselves, another speaker was on Saturday evening- a woman who told us about her life growing up in South Kerry, a large part of which she grew up without electricity, speaking Irish, and attending all of her school years in a one-room school house which required each student to bring in daily a piece of peat for the school fire. After listening to her speak, we were offered a Q and A. Reluctantly, I raised my hand and asked how old she was (in hopefully the politest way possible-  I think that even in Ireland it is a social norm violation to inquire as to a woman’s age). She was 60. Just miles from where our Ring of Kerry Hotel sat, she had lived without electricity for the first 9 years of her life. Do the math- Southern Ireland didn’t have electricity until nearly 1960. And some regions went without until even the 70’s. It’s not a backward area, either. It’s just a different way of life- a simpler way, more personal way of life. Sure they exist in the Internet Age, yes, they have cell phones, but, unlike me, they just don’t spend hours social networking. Their Facebook is the local pub. I can’t really compare it to my way of life- neither better nor worse- just different. Hearing and seeing all that firsthand was probably my favorite (although I remain ever reluctant to use superlatives here) part of the Ring of Kerry weekend.

Table Quiz- still "studying" abroad, even at a pub. It's dedication.

Cahersiveen harbor view from the stone forts

But there was still Sunday. After a table quiz, in which I unfortunately did not succeed in winning the Skellig chocolate prize with my fellow teammates on Saturday night, most of us (those who had not had one too many table quiz pub beverages) left early Sunday morning for a walk around Cahersiveen and up to an ancient Stone fort. We took the rest of the trip in a rather speedy fashion- we met up with students from Galway on the trip and were tightly pressed for time to get them back to the bus station in Kilarney. But we made a few photographing bus stops with commentary provided by the knowledgeable Marian, and visited Daniel O’Connell’s- who is famous for winning Catholic Emancipation for Ireland house in Derrynane. We returned to Cork 5:30 on Sunday, and collapsed in the kitchen of The Spires Apartment 19 with a cup of tea- satisfied and sleepy.

County Kerry

Uncategorized11 Mar 2010 11:14 pm

The most recent expedition in the adventure of Irelandia was to the west of the country on a school-organized trip to Galway! We left on Saturday on a bus with the International Student Society and our first stop was Bunratty Castle and folk village. People joke about there being a ton of castles in Ireland, but really, where in America we see trees or more lanes on the side of the highway, in Ireland you see castles- there really are loads of  ‘em! Bunratty, was admittedly, a particularly cool one- I largely accredited the bouncy little Irish tour guide who was absolutely ecstatic about the wonders of the 15th century castle!!


Bouncy Little Irish Tour Guide!

We hoped back on the bus after Bunratty (try saying that three times fast!) and headed towards destination Numero Dos- The Cliffs of Moher, the Irish tourist destination short listed for the 7 New Natural Wonders of the world. It might sound rather anticlimactic to describe it but imagine standing on the edge of a 700 foot drop straight into the Atlantic. They were pretty awesome- and allowed plenty of opportunities for Titanic-esque moments, in which many of our American travel partners partook in.

The Windy, the Cold, the Epic- The Cliffs of Moher!

We spent both Saturday and Sunday night in these little white cottages with red trim and red barn doors. There picturesque-ness made up for the fact that the heating in them ran on 2 Euro coins that you had to put in every hour and a half for heating. We were miraculously gifted with a clear weekend in Ireland, which, combined with the rural Connemara locale made for the brightest stars that I think I have ever seen. Other than the light from our cottages, the whole area was pitch dark. I also had to get up at 6:30 to take a shower (6 girls all showering in the morning = limited supply of hot water), so I got to see a heck of a sunrise. The cottages were surrounded by water on both sides, so it really was beautiful.


Sunday was Aran Island day. Armed with my antimotion sickness bracelets, we boarded a ferry to Inishmore, the largest of the three islands and took a bus tour with our group around the island. The region is primarily native-Irish speaking and the islands are thought to be very “authentically Irish”- our guide pointed out several famous thatched roof cabins and a woman we met in a wool shop told Maura and I how Amy McAdams had been there a few months back to film “Leap Year.’ Inishmore is topped by a nice 2,500 year old fort-Dún Aonghasa , which sits on the edge of cliff and basically feels like the end of the world. The Aran Islands are also home to the authentic Irish Aran wool sweaters, which I found rather exciting… and did a large bit of souvenir shopping! The last place we stopped on the bus tour was at a lighthouse- the Western most point in Ireland- possibly- (apparently our tour guide was out of practice- Irish tourism season just began in March, but he claimed it was the last stop before New York City!)



After the tour, we rode the ferry back (with some dolphins and seals alongside) to the mainland and back to the Connemara cottages. Monday, I enjoyed sleeping in through the Irish step dance class I should have been in back in Cork, and spent a few hours in Galway city before heading back home. To say any one place is my “favorite” in Ireland feels like a little smallminded- like I’m trivializing everywhere else, but suffice to say the Aran Islands  were most certainly beyond breath taking!

From the top of Dún Aonghasa