Sunday, November 24, 2013

When the clan comes to town...

I think I blinked and suddenly we are nearing the 7th week of our trip, meaning we have a few short weeks left. I feel my mind begin to go into panic mode thinking about all that's left to do. And I'm not just talking papers, projects, my Independent study, postcards to send out, blogs to catch up on (oops). I feel as though my "To do" list is still so vast even though I've been blessed to have so many awesome opportunities and experiences! Take the last week alone...
I was in 3 different countries, ran my first ever 5k, and was able to check multiple things off my bucket list! Things that not everyone usually gets to do!

My parents came to visit the week before last (November 11th-17th) and let me just tell you, there is nothing more amazing than hearing your name on the streets of Dublin by a familiar voice from home! Just as it is in the movies, as soon as I heard my dad calling my name, I ran to give him and my mom a hug! What a great feeling! Didn't realized how much I truly missed them, and they me (Mom was practically tearing up although she doesn't like to admit it). We spent that first day catching up on news from home and chatting all while I was giving them their own personal tour of the city I had come to love. It was pretty neat being able to share all the facts and history I had been learning not just in the classroom, but outside of it too! This place has really become a home for me and it was great being able to share it with my family. It was also nice going out to eat and not paying for my meals and drinks for once (thanks, Mom and Dad! love, your budget-friendly college kid).

Tuesday we boarded a bus at 6:45am (yikes!) for a guided tour to the Rock of Cashel (old cathedral housing St. Patrick's cross), Blarney Castle (home of the infamous kissing stone), and Cork city! We were lucky enough to have the same tour guide as when Meg, Molly, and I ventured to the Cliffs of Moher one weekend! "Bud" (as in Budweiser like he likes to say to his tour groups) is funny and friendly and very passionate about his work. He says he loves his country and has a great passion for showing it off to people. And what a beautiful country it is! We were fortunate enough to have another sunny day (Thanks, God for holding the rain once again!) as we climbed the steps of Blarney castle and puckered up our lips to kiss the stone! Legend has it that whoever kisses the stone will have the "gift of gab." Personally, (and those of you who know me well enough know) I've never had the problem of not having anything to say so I don't think that applies to me. It was still pretty cool to be able to cross that one off the bucket list!
After a long day of bus rides and touring, we hit up a pub in the City Centre for some traditional Irish food and drinks. Great end to a great day!

Wednesday I met up with my parents and we took a tour of Christ Church Cathedral and its underground crypt before heading to the Jameson Distillery. Mom and Dad were asked to be apart of a Whiskey tasting that had them sample and compare Scotch (from Scotland), Jack Daniels (America), and Ireland's very own Jameson. I would've volunteered but had to go to class after and thought it would be a little on the unclassy side to show up tipsy. So I just stuck with my complimentary Jameson and Ginger ale that was a part of the tour. One of my new favorite drinks.

Business deals and treaties were often exchanged over the tomb of Strongbow, the Norman military leader, so naturally we decided to do our own as well.

That night I ran my first ever 5k (Run in the Dark, Dublin, supporting research for Spinal Cord Injuries). I know this may not seem like a big deal to a lot of you. Perhaps you have finished countless 5k's and have even moved onto half marathons and Tough Mudders and the like! But to me it was a pretty big accomplishment. I had always played sports in High school but was never the biggest runner. In fact, I hated running. My brother Matt used to drag me outside everyday after school to run with him. Although I hated it (and hated him for making me do it), I'm glad I did. He taught me a lot about perseverance and endurance. Regardless of how many times I said, "I can't," he'd come back with a "you can and you will."

 I am proud to say that over the years I have gone from barely huffing out a mile to finishing my first 5k with a time of 32:15. And as they often say, I think I caught the running bug. I loved the atmosphere at the race. The strangers on the sidelines cheering us on, the people running around you motivating you, Bremen and I sticking together through it all to push each other, seeing our Irish professors who had also participated in the run, my parents waiting at the finish line! It was all so awesome and I am definitely looking forward to my next one! (though not in Dublin, it will be with you, Sean!!) We hit up a pub after to celebrate with a Snake Bite (Bulmers cider mixed with a Smithwick's beer) then headed home to pack for Paris, as our flight was the next morning!

What a weekend! Thanks to my parents who decided to spend a week in Ireland for me! (or for their 25th Wedding Anniversary, however you wanna look at it!). You both are so amazing and show me what it means to truly and selflessly love another person and have that permeate not only your marriage to each other but to our whole family! I can only hope that one day I can have a marriage as beautiful as yours! Love to you and thanks again! (Especially for all the food and stuff they brought me! Good work!)


Monday, November 18, 2013

Scotland: Land of Kilts, Scotch,& Gingers

This past week has been quite a whirlwind! I am trying to catch up on my blog posts and work for my classes, let alone the ever important sleep! Last weekend (Nov. 7th to the 10th), Bremen, Alana, Molly, and I took our very first out-of-the-country trip to Edinburgh, Scotland (pronounced like Edin-borrow). It was my first ever trip to another country virtually on my own. Everything we did was decided amongst ourselves and we had to rely on each other for plans, meals, transportation, our daily itinerary, etc. Pretty thrilling actually. 
Especially how it started off.  The trip began with every traveler’s nightmare, especially when flying Ryanair. I was going into the City Centre (with my bag all packed for the trip) to meet our class for a tour of the Little Dublin Museum when I realized I had forgotten my boarding pass. So I had to run back to the house while practically having a heart attack. Thus, I was late for the tour but at least I could still actually board the plane when the time came. The museum turned out to be awesome too! A quick word about Ryanair for all you future travelers: It is the cheapest way to travel around Europe. As such, they tend to have a reputation for being very strict about things, such as printing off your boarding pass ahead of time (hence my minor freak-out previously) and you are allowed one small bag, no bag and personal item like normal flights. One bag. People tend to complain about this a lot, as well as their unfriendliness, however, our flight to and from Edinburgh proved no difficulty for us and the infamous airline. It was actually quite pleasant. The girl sitting next to me was friendly and studying in Galway and visiting a friend in Edinburgh.

The flight was super quick and before we knew it we were setting foot in yet another amazing country. This one much colder. After taking out some pounds (the exchange rate is killer), we boarded a bus into the city. How beautiful! Such a blend of old and new, historical and modern. The buildings and architecture, the streets, the shops, the pubs, etc. Everything. I had never been in a place quite like this. It was all so exciting. As was finding our way to the hostel. My first experience at a hostel was actually really awesome and pretty much what I expected it to be. The lobby was filled with a lot of the typical backpacking-type people (young, adventurous, in their 20s, pretty much all hipsters or hippies so naturally I fit in quite well). It had a full kitchen that served breakfast in the morning for £1.90 (way awesome for us budget-travelers) and staff were super helpful with directions and ideas for stuff to do in the city. We ended up going to a pub right across the road for a quick drink before heading off to bed. 

Friday was a day devoted to exploring the city of Edinburgh. However, being the adventurous, free-spirited people we are (some of us anyway…), we decided to just go explore the city without really a plan in mind! It proved out to be a great decision! We started walking around and came across a cemetery that had a beautiful view of the city (along with a statue of Lincoln and a mini Washington Monument, hello, America). We then wandered over to the Scott Monument and found our first kilted man playing the bag pipes so naturally we got a picture with him. We then ventured around a park and into the free Scottish National Art Gallery with some of the most beautiful (and biggest) paintings I’ve ever seen! 
It was a really beautiful day outside so we then continued to walk around and eventually found our way to the Edinburgh castle, which we did not actually take a tour of because we thought £16 was a bit pricey for that. Instead, we found our way to a Tartan Woollen Mill where we toured for free and learned all about the process of wool and cashmere making. Lunch came next at this really nice place called Maxie’s Bistro and Bar where I got everyone to try Haggis, Neeps, & Tatties! (Translation: Sheep heart, lung, and liver, Turnips, & Mashed potatoes) I thought it was really cool, not so much for some of the others. But hey, when in Edinburgh, do as the Edinburghers do. We then continued to wander around, eventually coming upon the famous Royal Mile with its old buildings and outdoor market. Edinburgh is such a neat city, especially the terrain which is pretty much all cobblestone streets and hills and bridges connecting the different parts of the city.

After checking into our hostel for the second night, we came across an international market with food and desserts from all around the world! Bremen and Alana, who tend to be obsessed with all things Italian, naturally could not pass up buying some cannoli’s and other Italian cookies. We got a pretty good deal on some paella from the Spanish tent for our dinner and again walked around the city streets. We even found and took our “Christmas pictures” by this beautifully decorated restaurant! What a way to begin to get into the holiday season! I always like to wait until after Thanksgiving to start celebrating Christmas, but seeing as Europe doesn’t celebrate that...I think it’s safe to give the Christmas celebrations a green light for now.

Tried Scotch for the first time. The four of us split one of the samplers and boy did we struggle finishing it all. Never has something burnt more going down. The bartender said it was an acquired taste and it would take many drinks to truly appreciate the taste. Guess it’s just not my thing. After a long day of exploring and walking (did I mention we walked a lot?), we picked up some pastries from a bakery and headed back to get ready for bed. Our dorm mates for the night were some college girls from the States who were studying in London and a girl from Slovakia who offered me lodging if I ever wanted to visit and hike their highest mountain (she said I seemed like the type of person who would enjoy that. Day was made by that comment!) 

Saturday was another long day, this one spent exploring the Highlands through a bus tour! Scotland is made up of the Highlands and Lowlands, appropriately named for the mountainous regions (Highlands) and those in the valley (Lowlands). Throughout these experiences I am made more and more aware of the beauty of God’s creation all around me! How blessed I am to experience all of this! It was absolutely breathtaking to be surrounded by such vastness and breathtaking beauty. At one point we drove through an area where it was snowing! It looked like straight-up Narnia. Loch Ness was even more magical. I stood at the pier and stared out at the water for a good 5 minutes just thinking about the beauty that was before me and thanking God for His awesome artwork! Even though we did not see the monster, it was still really awesome. How cool to be able to check that one off the bucket list, especially being a place that not many can say they have visited! Made it home safely after a long day and were ready for a much needed rest. 

 However, everything did not go exactly as planned, unfortunately. We got back a little late for the tour and after a quick dinner, didn’t realize that the next hostel we were staying in wasn’t a 24 hour one. It was one of the ones where you have to check in at a certain time. And we missed that certain time. Now before you gasp and think, “oh crap,” read on. We tried literally everything, calling the number they gave us, finding wifi at nearby restaurants, throwing a rock at the window to break in, everything! (okay, maybe not the last one…) but we did try like everything! Eventually we decided to make our way back to our other hostel in order to try and get wifi and figure out what to do. We stopped at a convenience store to buy more postcards (definitely important at a time like this….) and something (or someone, namely, God) told me that we should try calling one more time before leaving the area. Sure enough we did, and someone answered! We wasted no time in running back to the hostel to be let in by a slightly annoyed Australian. All was well in the end though and we made our way to our coed dorm for the night (yikes). We were praying it wouldn’t be too sketchy and uncomfortable but were really just tired and needed a good shower and sleep before getting up at 5am to head back to the airport. Thankfully, our bunkmate turned out to be a very kind and respectful and funny man from Spain who happened to be studying English in Dublin and was visiting Scotland for the weekend like we were! Crisis averted. (No, mom, I will not be risking it again in a coed dorm…). Needless to say we experienced the backpackers’ life this weekend and loved it! 

Such an amazing weekend! Hopefully more to come soon! Cheers!