Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Finals Countdown

Well, folks, it's been a while since I've blogged. The recent lack of posts cannot be entirely attributed to my general laziness; I've been carpe-ing the diem quite a bit lately, actually. Of course, all that living can wear anybody out and thus, the lack of posts. Now that we're all on the same webpage, I'll let you in on a few of the horribly exciting events in my life.

Within the past two weeks, I've come to the sudden realization that the left side of my body is almost entirely useless. I'm completely baffled by the fact that I got through nearly 21 years of life without noticing that half of my body might as well not even be there. In any case, here's a list of things that I now know make me physically uncomfortable: 
  • putting my left shoe on before my right shoe
  • putting my left arm into a shirt or coat before my right arm
  • putting my backpack on the left side first 
  • crossing my left leg over my right leg
  • chewing gum on the left side of my mouth
  • generally attempting to hold or move anything with my left arm (or leg, really)
This is kind of a serious problem for me. Whenever I try to do any of the above-listed activities, I actually have to stop and re-start with my right side first because a) it's a huge struggle and b) I legitimately feel really, really uncomfortable. As inconvenient as this newfound truth is, I've decided that it means I'm twice (instead of half) as useful as most people. If I can function as a relatively normal human being with essentially only half of a body, what can't I do? (Clearly, the answer is anything involving my left side.) More on that later.

In other news, I have been on several thoroughly enjoyable trips since I last posted. About three weeks ago, IFSA-Butler took us on a weekend trip to Belfast in Northern Ireland. We took a long bus tour around the area to see things like a super awesome rope bridge, the ruins of Dunluce Castle, and the Giant's Causeway.

a typically beautiful teeny Irish town

coastline around the rope bridge

aerial view of the rope bridge, severely zoomed in

Dunluce Castle ruins

Giant's Causeway

more Giant's Causeway...we climbed a lot of rocks

The next day we took a black taxi tour around Belfast led by taxi drivers who were around during the beginning of the 'Troubles' between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland. They drove us into areas of town that still aren't safe for outsiders and talked to us about the historical events that happened there as well as their own personal experiences working as taxi drivers during the period. It was a thoroughly interesting and sobering experience. My history classes hadn't covered the later parts of Irish history yet so a lot of what the drivers said was completely new to me. It was really hard to comprehend such recent and ongoing violence in a country I've come to love so much, but it was a necessary experience and it put a lot of things in perspective. It wasn't 'fun' in the conventional sense of the word, but in hindsight I think it was the most memorable part of the trip for me. We made one long stop at the Peace Wall, which was initially built to calm some of the violence by dividing the Catholic and Protestant parts of town for six months but has now been standing for forty-one years. Apparently most residents of the area want the Peace Wall to stay up, but it's become something of a tourist attraction as well. Everyone who's anyone has signed the Peace Wall, including Justin Bieber and me. 

monument on one side of the Peace Wall

I hadn't kissed the Blarney Stone yet, so that 
'yeah' is my eloquent contribution to the Peace Wall. 
To be fair, it is really big.

Carly immortalized me on the Peace Wall. 
It reads, 'I was in the Hannah Montana movie.' 
Ladies and gentlemen, my finest achievement. 

After the black taxi tour, we went to the Belfast Christmas market for a nice reminder that happy things like Christmas exist. I had my first ever churro experience and I didn't hate it. I also got some delicious fudge from one stall because, hey, when in Belfast. The next morning we loaded up on the bus back to Cork, which was slightly sad because the weekend was over but also nice because I really like Cork. 

The next weekend I had a good friend from Vanderbilt come to visit me. James graduated last year and is now working in Copenhagen, so he just hopped on over for a weekend of Irish fun. We basically walked all over Cork for the entire weekend, which was something I've been wanting to do for a while now. We also discovered a traditional Irish restaurant which I really want to re-visit at some point. It was nice to see some new places and get to show off my favorite spots in Cork to an outsider. I'm quite proud of this little town. 

Last weekend I traveled with three friends to a little city called Milan. We planned this trip a while ago because we found tickets online for exactly 50 euro roundtrip. Please just take a minute to appreciate the insanity of that last sentence. I flew to Italy and back for 50 euro. That is ridiculous. Anyway, initially we planned to just fly into Milan and travel to Florence or Venice for several days since none of us really knew much about Milan. Train tickets to Florence got really, really expensive in a short amount of time so we decided to just book a day trip to Venice instead. As usual, the universe had other plans for us. The Trenitalia website is the worst thing I've ever encountered and gave us tickets for an overnight trip instead of a day trip, which would completely complicate things in terms of carrying luggage all over Italy to different hostels every night. We thought about trying to change our tickets, but then Venice flooded quite badly about two weeks before our trip. We took this as a sign that maybe we should just not go to Venice, so we booked a hostel in Milan for three nights and decided to check with Trenitalia in person (since they are the worst and you can't contact them by phone outside of Italy or by email anywhere in the whole world) about getting a refund. Well, it turns out that the Trenitalia workers were on strike (because their employers are the worst) while we were there so we couldn't go to Venice or get a refund anyway. It was quite a frustrating experience. 

I'm getting worked up again so that's enough of what I didn't do in Italy. Let's talk about what I actually did. Okay, well, mainly I ate a lot lot lot of delicious Italian food. As you may know, I don't speak any Italian and am generally lazy and enjoy food immensely so I was completely fine with the hours-long meals that kept happening. Also I was doing a whole 'living in the moment' thing and I didn't take any pictures in Milan, so everything below is from my friend Evie. She's an Instagrammer, so that explains all the pictures of food. 

caffe Viennese, the most delicious espresso ever made
(there was lots of chocolate involved)

Waffles, like all other food items, are better in Italy.

ham, arugula, brie, and olive tapenade crepe...drooling at the memory

We went bananas over this Nutella crepe.

Castello Sforzesco, one of our few non-food activities

the Duomo, also not food

maccheroni, or fancy macaroni

pizza unlike any other pizza

I want to go to there

vanilla gelato and fruitstuffs oh man

Well, that pretty much sums up our Milan experience. This past week was filled with harsh reality checks since finals began and we all realized that it was our second-to-last weekend in Cork (I don't wanna talk about it). I still have a lot of work ahead of me, including two tests and a paper on Tuesday and Wednesday. After that, I have some smaller assignments and then four papers due by mid-January, which really I have to get done before I leave. There is not a ton of fun in my immediate future, but I will make it work. By the way, if you've been longing to send me a package full of food and money, it's not too late if you mail it quickly. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Busy B

This past week has actually been surprisingly busy, especially since up until now schoolwork has not been a huge part of my life. Last weekend, schoolwork took a backseat again even though my midterms were in a matter of days because I just had to go on a delightful day trip with some friends to Liss Ard, a really cool estate/garden/nature place about a two hour bus ride from Cork. We knew that it was in the general vicinity of a town called Skibbereen (!!!), but other than that we were not too concerned with how we were going to get to the gardens after getting off the bus. In fact, we didn't know which stop was ours, so we kind of guessed by following this girl who looked like she was going to Skibbereen, and shockingly we were actually right. We wandered into the world's coolest secondhand bookstore (well, I haven't seen them all yet, so that is a tentative statement), called the Time Traveller's Bookshop, and browsed there for a good long while before we remembered that we had come to this town with a purpose. Kiah took one for the team and asked the German shop owner for directions and he was actually really helpful and specific, so we found our way there within about half an hour (after stopping for snacks, of course). We spent a good hour and a half-ish exploring the gardens, which were beautiful and nature-y and stuff. After we'd seen about all there was to see, we climbed a wall (wow so dangerous) and headed back to town to a) figure out when the last bus was leaving for Cork, b) re-visit the Time Traveller's Bookshop to make purchases, and c) scavenge for food. Yes, I did buy another old book, and this one is maybe the coolest of all the old books I've purchased so far. I acquired a 1914 edition of Through the Looking-Glass, which has a note on the front page saying, 'To Doris with fond love from Grannie, Xmas 1914'. There is no possible way that I would have NOT made that purchase, especially since it was inexpensive and almost a hundred years old and, well, a book. After we finished up at the bookstore, we wandered across the street to a bar/grill place where I had my first fish and chips experience and then waited for the bus in the comfort of the great indoors. Here, have some pictures of the gardens.

Look at all that nature.

Ooooh, water.

steppin' stones

Feel free to pay me for allowing you to view 
these lovely professional-quality photographs.

happy clouds

crazy tree and bird

clouds turning sinister

oh hey, cows

uh, the clouds are actually becoming a problem

Unfortunately, the weekend ended (as most weekends do) and I had to endure the misery that the academic world calls midterm week. The Irish school system is completely different from everything I'm used to at home and my midterms were all worth 50% of my grade, so it was not a great time in my life. I didn't sleep a ton and I was probably a lot more concerned than necessary about failing by not meeting the different Irish expectations, but the good news is that midterms ended and I am still alive and I actually might have done respectably well. I would add some pictures of my midterms here, but photographing your tests is highly discouraged in Ireland. I am deeply sorry. 

The horror of midterms also brought me to the sudden realization that my time in Ireland is slightly more than halfway done. As unbelievable and annoying as that fact is, it has motivated me to pack the remainder of my time--which is about six weeks, if anyone was wondering--with a ton of Irish experiences. Thus, today I went to the Cork City Gaol with my friend Michelle and it was SO COOL. I'd seen signs for it and really wanted to go, but whenever I mentioned the prospect of going to a historical jail several times before people shot me down for some reason. Anyway, it was used as a jail from 1824 to 1923, but now it's one of Cork's biggest tourist attractions because it's a super awesome historical site. I completely understand why it's so popular because it was probably one of the most unique things I've done here. The original cells and beds and everything are intact, but they added wax figures in absolutely hilarious poses to represent actual prisoners. A lot of people were in for a month or so for public intoxication (ah, Ireland) but there were some sadder cases, like a 9-year-old boy who was in for the seventh time in his life for stealing some bread. Especially during the Famine (around 1845-1852), a lot of people were so desperate for consistent food and a roof over their heads that they'd break the law on purpose because life in jail was much better than life outside for them. A lot of famous Irish Republicans were also imprisoned there while Ireland was still under British rule, so it was really cool to see a concrete bit of that part of Ireland's history since we've talked about it in almost all of my classes. My favorite part of the experience was this one cell that had a bunch of original graffiti (protected from foolish people by a layer of glass), both words and drawings, obviously done by prisoners. Most of them just said a person's name and a place (usually County Cork), but a lot of them were written by the Irish Republicans who stayed there so they were extra historical. I looked really hard to see if anyone had tallied up the days they spent in jail, but apparently that's not a thing people do in real life. 

This is not the jail. This is just Cork being pretty.

Turrets never get old.

Isn't this the funniest thing you've ever seen?!?

This guy was disturbingly lifelike from a distance.

It's really not the swankiest place in the world.

Irish prisoners are really good at art.

This person was a little less good at art, 
but the writing is still cool.


Leave it to Ireland to make jail look beautiful.

I mean, doesn't it look kind of like a castle
from the outside? It's a little misleading.

Friday, November 2, 2012

A Portrait of the Artist in London

Welcome back to my blog, dear friends. To those few kind souls who asked me to update again several weeks ago, I'm sort of sorry for completely ignoring your wishes. To those of you who just want pictures, skip to the end.

Last weekend (well, from Wednesday, October 24th to Saturday, October 27th) I took a trip to London. I had to miss a few classes, but nobody's worried because I WENT TO LONDON. Michelle, Evie, and I flew out of the tiny Cork airport, which proved delightfully easy. Despite the fact that security makes you declare your possession of umbrellas in addition to liquids and laptops, everything went much more quickly than expected. In fact, the security guard seemed kind of freaked out when I started taking my belt off, so I just left it on and everything worked out all right. We regretted leaving a solid 2 hours and 15 minutes of airport time because we spent about 2 hours and 5 minutes of that time waiting around in the airport restaurant.

On the flight to London, we even made friends with a 5-year-old British child named Finn who was sitting in front of us. Finn has the musical Mamma Mia memorized, which we found much more amusing than his 'mum' did. Michelle's ridiculously generous uncle got us a car from Heathrow to our hotel in Hyde Park, so we didn't even have to deal with the hassle of figuring out the Underground with all of our luggage in tow. It was pretty late by the time we got everything sorted out at the hotel, so we just found one of the few restaurants near us that was open to eat a really late dinner and wandered around the hotel's immediate neighborhood.

The next morning, we got 48-hour passes to the Big Bus sightseeing tour, which is potentially the most touristy and also the most convenient thing in London. We sat on top of the double-decker bus and listened to the pre-recorded audio tour that took us through most of London's major tourist attractions for a good hour and a half. (The nicest part? We didn't even have to move.) We got off at the stop for Big Ben, Parliament, and Westminster Abbey, all of which were incredibly huge and ornate. We lurked around Big Ben for a while waiting for Michelle's friend Hannah, who is studying abroad in London and turned out to be an awesome tour guide and person (hey, Hannah). From there, we just explored the area and ended up eating at a pub pretty much right in front of the London Eye, which was really cool-looking but also really expensive (so we just ate near it instead of going on it...same thing, right?). We took the Tube back to an area near our hotel and got lost in Hyde Park for a while, but obviously everything turned out fine because I'm blogging about it.

The next day, we hopped on our favorite Big Bus again and saw the sights, but this time we went much farther (gasp!) than we'd gone the previous day. It was disgustingly cold and rainy, however, so the top of the bus suddenly wasn't as fun. Unfortunately, the covered seats were taken, so we were forced to revel in our sightseeing misery for a good long while. We got off at Buckingham Palace for the photo-ops and, more importantly, the chance to get on a bus whose lower deck wasn't full of ungrateful warm people. Maybe this is the cold talking, but I was honestly not terribly impressed by the Palace. I mean, it was big and all, but it was a wee bit plain for the queen of England, if you ask me (surprisingly, no one did). We got a few miserable-looking pictures and then frantically caught the first Big Bus we saw. Unfortunately, the Big Buses really only have two routes, so we had to ride our trusty BB for a really, really long-seeming time before we got to the stop nearest our hotel. Once we returned to the warmth of our hotel room, we had a short amount of time to figure out how to get to Harrods, the famous lit-up department store, to meet my friend Kelsey (who is also studying abroad and a great tour guide and an awesome person, hey Kelsey) for some more tourism and Indian food. We were successful, dinner was delicious, and a good time was had by all. Despite the fact that it was the type of cold that no one enjoys, we wandered around Soho for a while before calling the night quits and going back to warmer and dryer places.

On Saturday morning, we went to the Portobello Road Market for some good craic (whoops, wrong country) and ended up wandering around for basically the entire day because there was so much to see...and buy. Normally I completely hate shopping and I get cranky and complain after a while (shocker, right?), but the road market actually had really cool things in addition to stupid things like clothes, so I was pretty content the whole time. Plus, there was an entire stand devoted to old books and old things in general which I spent a really long time perusing while Michelle and Evie stood back making fun of me. However, their mockery was completely uncalled-for because some of the books were 2 for 10 pounds (about 17 dollars...WOW, WHAT A CRAZY DEAL) and I just had to decide which ones to buy. The man who ran the stand kept coming up and talking to me and I'm pretty sure he didn't believe that I was going to buy anything because I was there for so long, but I proved him wrong in the end and we became friends. I bought a copy of Essays of Elia by Charles Lamb that was given to Nellie Stockbridge for Christmas in 1934 and a copy of A Kipling Treasury (obviously by Rudyard Kipling) that was given to someone with an illegible name for 'Xmas' in 1940. If you are so inclined, maybe I'll let you look at them someday with my supervision. They're really, really cool.

Sadly, our trip did have to end at some point. We went back to Cork on Saturday night, and I do have to say that I was actually kind of excited to get 'home' and be in a familiar place again. London was a wonderful place to visit, but I did miss the charm and friendliness of a smaller place like Cork.

Regent Street was ready for Christmas before Halloween even happened.

The Big Bus was so fun. Can you tell how fun the Big Bus was? 

The one on the left got really mad at the other two so it tried to storm
away, but then it remembered that it's a telephone booth and couldn't leave.

It's real! It's big! 

Westminster Abbey, sans royalty (unless we're counting me).

What an eye-conic landmark. You see what I did there? Get it, SEE? 
I could make these London Eye puns all day, folks.

If I had bangers and mash for every meal, I would be very 
pleased with my quality of life. 

The Tower of London is even older than those books I bought at the market.

Tower Bridge all up close and personal.

Buckingham Palace plus Michelle's face. Neither are really up to my standards. 
Buh-dum tchhh.

Hey, it's Harrods at night.