How to Say Goodbye

This semester, I learned a lot. I learned how to navigate foreign cities without speaking the language. I learned Irish toasts and plenty of drinking songs. I learned how to hitchhike. I learned how to cook for myself (kind of). Most recently, I learned how to say goodbye.

I’ve never really had to say a goodbye like this before. When high school ended, I knew I would always come home and see old friends. The same will go for college- I’ll always be able to come back to Hopkins for reunions and meet up with friends across the country. But this time, it’s different. I’m not only saying goodbye to a city I’ve come to love and call home. I’m also saying goodbye to a culture that I identify with completely. And most of all, I’m saying goodbye to people, both my American friends from the IFSA program and the Irish that I’ve met along the way. How do you say goodbye to a group of people you love, a place you call home, an experience you’ll never forget? Up until a few days ago, I didn’t have an answer. But after my last 24 hours in Galway, I think I finally figured out how to say goodbye. Here’s how:

– Spend the night before you leave with as many friends as possible. Relive memories, take lots of pictures, hug too much. Go to all of your favorite pubs and maybe make one last night-time trip to Galway Bay. Don’t go home until the wee hours of the night.

-Head downtown and window shop with your friends the next morning. Try not think about how you won’t walk these streets, with these lovely people, for a long time. Instead, think about how nice the weather chose to be on your very last day in Galway.

-Watch the sun set over Galway Bay one last time. Half of your American friends will be there, blasting songs that will always remind you of your study abroad experience. Thoroughly indulge in nostalgia and get ready to see some tears. You might just cry yourself- sunsets will do that to you.

-Later that night, on your way to your last trad night at Monroe’s, take the time to climb over the barrier on Friar’s River onto the Wishing Rock, even though it’s pouring rain and very slippery. But you take the chance of falling into the river because you’d never forgive yourself for skipping a Galway tradition, especially on the last night. Make your wish count.

-Once you’re at Monroe’s for traditional dancing, get pulled onto the dance floor by a sheep farmer from the Burren and spend the next half hour dancing a set with him. He’ll notice how you and your friends dance together and tearfully say goodbye. He’ll then tell you that these classic Irish songs were played over a hundred years ago as old friends bade farewell to one another before emigrating- and he’ll say you and your friends are carrying on the tradition.

-Walk home in the rain. After all, it’s Ireland- it’s only fitting.

-Say your last goodbyes as you pile into a cab to catch the 2:15 AM bus to the Dublin airport. Be too tired to even feel sad. Board the plane and leave your Galway home. Finally feel the sadness, but know you’ll someday return.

-Spend Christmas with your friends and family. Love the snow, love your Christmas tree, love the people you’re surrounded by. Love sleeping in your own bed. Miss Ireland, and hope everyone you left across the pond has a very merry Christmas. Always keep adventuring. Feel happy. Be thankful for the past four months, your home in Ireland, your home in Pennsylvania, and all the wonderful friends in between. Be thankful for the whole wide world and all its beautiful people and places. And it goes on…

“My hear is quite calm now. I will go back.” -James Joyce

The Best of Galway

I mentioned in my last post that Galway has become home to me. Believe me, I truly mean that, which is why it seems strange that I’ve only written a handful of posts about Galway throughout the semester. So many of the most memorable little moments have happened here, and there just hasn’t been enough time to write about them all.  And so, it seems fitting that my penultimate post of the semester should somehow pay tribute to my wonderful home of the last four months, Galway City. Because I haven’t been able to write about all of my favorite places in Galway, maybe this would be a good opportunity to outline all of the best spots in the city. Because Americans, myself included, seems to have an innate love of lists (thanks, Buzzfeed), here’s a top ten countdown of my favorite places in Galway, the places I’ve shopped, eaten, strolled, celebrated and lived for the past four months. A big thank you to all of these places and the memories they’ve created- and an even bigger thank you to Galway, where I’ll always call come.

10.) Ward’s: Studying abroad can get really expensive, especially if you’re eating at restaurants frequently. That’s why Ward’s is perfect- you can get a massive sandwich for only a few euros, and it’s just across the street from school. And better yet, my parents happened to stop here to ask for directions on their first day in Galway. The owner was so kind to them, and that makes me love Ward’s even more!

Ward's Corner Store- best sandwiches around!

Ward’s Corner Store- best sandwiches around!

9.) The King’s Head: Although The King’s Head can get slightly touristy, nothing beats the history in this Galway bar. Aside from the great bands that perform nightly here, the building itself is 800 years old- how many bars in America are that old? Zero. Also, the building fits into the intrigue surrounding Charles I’s execution, but that’s a story for another day.

The King's Head, all decked out for Christmas!

The King’s Head, all decked out for Christmas!

8.) Walk along the Corrib River: While this doesn’t exactly count as a “place,” the quarter mile walk from the Salmon Weir bridge by the Cathedral all the way to the Claddagh down by the bay is one of my favorite “strolls” in the city. Sunny or cloudy, the fast-paced Corrib River is beautiful and the cobblestoned walk beside it takes you back to another time.

Along the Corrib

Along the Corrib

7.) Ard Bia: This is hands down my favorite restaurant in Galway. Located beside the Spanish Arch, and inside a stone cottage dwelling, there is a rustic feel to Ard Bia that’s enhanced by eclectic indoor decor. Shabby-chic, hopelessly hipster, whatever you want to call it, this place is just straight up cool. Plus, the food is out of this world-don’t even get me started about the berry pancakes on the brunch menu.

The outside of Ard Bia

The outside of Ard Bia

The lovely interior of Ard Bia

The lovely interior of Ard Bia

6.) Shop Street: Nothing says Ireland more than colorful lines shops down a cobblestone street! This busy part of Galway is always teeming with locals and tourists alike doing their shopping for the week. Street musicians are everywhere playing everything from “The Auld Triangle” to Radiohead. It’s impossible to ever be in a bad mood on shop street- everything’s too happy!

Perfectly charming Shop Street

Perfectly charming Shop Street

5.) Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop: Voted best bookshop in Ireland, Charlie Byrne’s is right up my alley. From browsing the seemingly endless rooms filled floor to ceiling with books to attending poetry readings here, great Galway memories were made at Charlie Byrne’s. It might be my English major coming out, but there’s no place I’d rather spend a rainy Irish afternoon.

Charlie Byrne's!

Charlie Byrne’s!

Just one of the wonderful rooms in Charlie Byrne's!

Just one of the wonderful rooms in Charlie Byrne’s!

4.) The Market: The bustling Galway Weekend Market is our Saturday and Sunday tradition. Any weekend that we aren’t traveling, you can find my friends and I downtown strolling around the market. The food is out of this world, and nothing beats the doughnut man who sings as he makes your fresh doughnuts. And there’s a lady who makes the cutest knitwear- my maroon earmuffs I bought from her have become a wardrobe staple during my time  abroad.

Just one of the wonderful rooms in Charlie Byrne's!

The Galway Market

The flower vendor!

The flower vendor!

YUM

YUM

3.) Cuppan Tae: For my friends and I, Thursday equals a trip to Cuppan Tae. Cuppan Tae is the most precious little tea room you’ll ever see. Males, beware. Complete with china dolls, lots of lace, and floral teapots, this level of girliness is not for the feint of heart. But there’s more than just frills- the tea is out of this world. Galway Cream tea is my absolute favorite. Pair it with the gourmet carrot cake, and I’m in heaven.

My mom and I in front of Cuppan Tae

My mom and I in front of Cuppan Tae

The Galway Girls at Cuppan Tae!

The Galway Girls at Cuppan Tae!

2.) Monroe’s: Every Tuesday night, without fail, you can find my friends and I at Monroe’s. Tuesday is trad night at Monroe’s, where six to ten Galwegians take center stage and perform traditional Irish dancing. During some dances, they invite onlookers to join them. After plucking up our courage, my friends and I joined the dancers a few Tuesdays ago- it was a blast and definitely one of my favorite Galway memories.

Blurry shot of the couples dancing!

Blurry shot of the couples dancing!

1.) The Salthill Prom: The Salthill Prom is perhaps the most iconic image of Galway, mentioned even in the song “Galway Girl,” the inspiration for this blog. From the colorful line of houses across from the Claddagh to the pier where brave souls jump into Galway Bay, the prom offers plenty of gorgeous sights. When walking length of the prom, you have to kick the wall at the end, per tradition- it’s kind of touristy, but I’ve seen locals do it and it’s very satisfying, so why not! Of all the lovely places Galway has to offer, nothing beats the briny, balmy sea air from Galway Bay and spectacular views of the Burren across the water, making the prom my favorite place in Galway.

 

The beach just off the prom!

The beach just off the prom!

The pier

The jumping pier

Lessons Learned

As my time abroad quickly approaches its end, I’ve found myself reminiscing about the past semester. What an adventure it’s been! A thousand stories have played out in between every plane ride, every bus ride, every train ride. And when push comes to shove, it’s hard to process everything, even in retrospect. But amidst the wonderful chaos of the past four months, I think I just might have learned a few things along the way. I really hate to be cliche, but what study abroad blog would be complete without at least a few ruminations on lessons learned? And so, for one of my last blog posts on the Emerald Isle, here are just some of the lessons that I’ve picked up on my travels, of course accompanied with lots of photos.

  • Studying is important but experiencing is crucial: While doing well academically at NUI Galway is important to me, all of the most important things I’ve learned in the last four months have been from life experiences. Whether it was learning how to navigate a city without speaking the language or learning how to make French toast (thanks Paige!), my experiences have taught me how to be a (semi)functional adult in a global world, something that could never be learned in a classroom.
London: The first city I successfully navigated all by myself!

London: The first city I successfully navigated all by myself!

  • Take too many pictures: Because you never know the next time you’ll be standing in front of the Eiffel Tower. Certainly don’t live behind the lens and forget to actually appreciate your travels, but at the same time, don’t feel bad about snapping dozens (ok, hundreds) of photos every day. After all, you can always delete photos, but you can’t take more once you’re thousands of miles away!
One of many Eiffel Tower pics

One of many Eiffel Tower pics

  • If it scares you, do it- the story will be worth it: Sorry Mom, but it’s true.  Although hitchhiking through the Irish countryside and scrambling along crumbling cliffs in Lagos were both probably pretty dangerous, I’ll always remember both of those experiences vividly. Even something as small as striking up conversation with a local can be scary, but  that’s all the more reason you should do it. Just get out there and live!
Death defying at its finest

Death defying at its finest in Lagos

  • You’ll probably remember the places you go, but you’ll always remember the people you meet: For example, my memories of Cork City with my parents might fade someday. I might forget exactly how the English Market looks or even how it felt to kiss the Blarney Stone. But I don’t think we’ll ever forget meeting Olive and her wonderful family, our hosts at the Auburn House B&B. We’ll remember Walter, the kindly farmer we met selling cheese at the English Market. And in the end, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Downtown Cork- I won't soon forget the sights, but I'll never forget its lovely inhabitants!

Downtown Cork- I won’t soon forget the sights, but I’ll never forget its lovely inhabitants!

  • Know and understand your heritage- it means more than you know: I’ll always be grateful for the chance to study abroad in Ireland, the home of my ancestors. Hearing local stories and learning Irish traditions have made me understand my own roots so much more. It’s important to know where you come from and how you started because it resonates in every day, even in something like a phone call from Nana. I’ve seen her expressions in the faces of people I meet here, and that connection alone makes me feel like I’m home.
With Nana, who first inspired me to study in Ireland!

With Nana, who first inspired me to study in Ireland!

  • Who you travel with is just as important as where you travel: I can’t emphasize this one enough- even the most exciting adventure can be ruined by traveling with negative people. But on the other hand, traveling with the right people makes even the most stressful situation or boring layover enjoyable. I was lucky enough to find a fabulous group of friends in Ireland who have made all the difference. It’s unbelievable to think of how close we’ve grown over just the past few months! Traveling together bonded us, and I can’t wait to continue our adventures for many years to come.
Sarah, Katie, Paige, Katie, and Kacee: My Galway Girls

Sarah, Katie, Paige, Katie, and Kacee: My Galway Girls and the best traveling companions around!

  • “Home” isn’t always one place: For the first month or so of my abroad experience, I referred to only one place as “home”- Center Valley, Pennsylvania. But now, I’m realizing that Galway has become home to me. That doesn’t cheapen what my Pennsylvania home or even my Baltimore home at Hopkins means to me. It just proves that you can find many different places to leave pieces of your heart. And from now on, Galway is one of those places.
I'll always call Galway home!

I’ll always call Galway home!

The Endless Charm of Edinburgh

Just a few days ago, my friends and I returned from our last weekend trip of the semester: Scotland! Unlike most of our past adventures around Europe, our weekend in Edinburgh was surprisingly relaxing- which was just what we needed at this point in the semester. We took our time in Edinburgh, and I think that made all the difference. Many times, when exploring a new place, it’s easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle of sight seeing, map reading, and the like. But when you take the time to step back and appreciate a new city, you notice the little things that make each place unique. And believe me, Edinburgh is full of quirky and endearing details that can go unnoticed. In fact, I’d even go as far as saying Edinburgh has been the most charming place I’ve visited all semester, over Paris, Rome, and even lovely little Bruges (but not counting anywhere in my beloved Ireland, of course). So instead of boring everyone to death with a play by play of our weekend in Scotland, here are just a few of the reasons why Edinburgh has me completely charmed. Enjoy!

  • Edinburgh takes Christmas VERY seriously: When I first decided to go abroad during fall semester, I vaguely worried that I’d miss out on all the in-your-face Christmas cheer America so proudly (and commercially) displays. Boy was I wrong. Europe, in particular Scotland, takes Christmas cheer to an entirely new level. Edinburgh had not one but three separate Christmas markets throughout the city when we visited, and according to some locals, the Christmas markets of past years had been even bigger. Not only were there vendors galore selling everything from ornaments to potpourri, there was also an ice skating rink, ferris wheel, carousel, pine tree maze, and much, much more. No Scrooges to be found in Edinburgh!

The Skating Rink!

Ferris Wheel and Edinburgh Monument

Ferris Wheel, Christmas Market, and Edinburgh Monument

Christmas tree maze down below!

Christmas tree maze down below!

Beautiful Christmas Carousel!

Beautiful Christmas Carousel!

  •  Greyfriars Bobby, Cutest Story EVER: Meet Bobby, the most famous dog in Edinburgh and most loyal dog in the world. Legend has it that after Bobby’s owner died, this nineteenth century pup  spent the next fourteen years guarding his grave until Bobby’s own passing. Now, Bobby himself is buried in Greyfriars Graveyard where everyone can visit his grave. When my friends and I stopped by, we saw a little white dog running around with no owner in sight- WAS IT A GHOST??? I guess we’ll never know.

The Greyfriars Bobby Statue!

Bobby's grave Is it the ghost of Bobby?

  • It’s the home of Harry Potter: Because my friends and I are hopeless nerds, we obviously had to go on the “Pottertrail” Tour of Edinburgh and stop at all the Harry-Potter-Significant sites along the way. Greyfriars Graveyard, where Bobby now resides, was an important part of the tour. It was this graveyard that inspired the graveyard in The Goblet of Fire AND it also features the graves of William McGonagall (inspiration for Professor McGonagall) and most infamously, Thomas Riddell (inspiration for Voldemort himself!). We also saw the George Heriot School, which inspired Hogwarts, and got sorted ourselves. I’m proud to say I was the only person sorted into Gryffindor- dream big, am i right? We also stopped at The Elephant House, where Rowling wrote parts of the Harry Potter books- and we of course stopped in for coffee and shortbread, just like JK herself.
  • Paige and I with

    Paige and I with our Pottertrail Tour Guide

Tom Riddell's grave (!!!!!)

Tom Riddell’s grave (!!!!!)

The Elephant House, the home of Harry Potter

The Elephant House, the home of Harry Potter

Coffee and shortbread at the Elephant House, just like JK!

Coffee and shortbread at the Elephant House, just like JK!

The real life inspiration of Diagon Alley^The real life Diagon Alley!

 

  • Vandalism is perfectly acceptable (sometimes): While inside The Elephant House, we stopped in the famously graffitied  women’s bathroom and of course left our own messages for JK Rowling. The story goes that people leave messages for her inside the women’s bathroom in case she ever comes back to The Elephant House to write- that why management never paints over the walls. Well, plus it would probably be pointless- there’s no stopping rabid Harry fans (Ok, I swear I’m done for now with writing about Harry Potter).
Example 1 of Elephant House graffiti

Example 1 of Elephant House graffiti

Basilisk is in the pipes

Example 2 of Elephant House graffiti

Example 3 of Elephant House graffiti

My own contribution to the graffiti (with a very crappy pen)

^my own contribution to the graffiti

  • The Royal Mile: How many places in America can you walk from castle to a palace in just a few kilometers? In the heart of Edinburgh, there’s a large stretch of road that extends from the striking castle on one end to the Queen’s Palace, where Elizabeth II stays when she’s in town. All along the Royal Mile are shops galore- who knew Edinburgh had such good shopping? Best of all, one day when we were walking through the Royal Mile, it started snowing! Experiencing my first snow of the season in Edinburgh equals pure magic.
Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle

Buildings along the Royal Mile!

Buildings along the Royal Mile!

Casual bagpiper, nbd

Casual bagpiper, nbd

The Queen's crib here in Edinburgh

The Queen’s crib here in Edinburgh

  • Enjoying the view was never so convenient: Just a step outside of Edinburgh is Arthur’s Seat, a muddy, steep climb up a very, very large hill where you’re rewarded with amazing views of the city and ocean all around you. We just had to be careful when we were up there- the wind was ridiculous! I guess that’s what we get for traveling to Scotland in December. But wind aside, the view made the hike completely worth it. And that’s always what counts in the end.
Bird's eye view of Edinburgh

Bird’s eye view of Edinburgh

Paige, Kacee, and I at the top of Arthur's Seat! We made it!

An Irish Road Trip

This past Thursday was Thanksgiving, a holiday filled with happy memories and precious time spent with family for many Americans. It is for this reason that I’ve heard students studying abroad during fall semester can experience feelings of homesickness during this predominantly American holiday. But this year, I had lots to be thankful for because I was not only able to celebrate it in Ireland, but also with my parents, who came to visit for the week! Without a doubt, this Thanksgiving was one to remember.

My mom and dad in front of the colorful Galway houses

My mom and dad in front of the colorful Galway houses

My mom and I in front of Cuppan Tae, my favorite place in Galway.

My mom and I in front of Cuppan Tae, my favorite place in Galway.

We explored the newly opened Galway Christmas Market!

We explored the newly opened Galway Christmas Market!

Because this trip was my Mom and Dad’s first time in Ireland, we decided to rent a car and road trip around the countryside. After all, there’s something about Ireland’s rolling pastoral hills and romantic stone walls that screams “road trip.” The country is ripe with hidden treasures from castles to fairy rings to ancient monastic settlements, all of which can be stumbled upon on a drive through the countryside.  But as spontaneous and free-spirited as this sounds, I should probably note that this was not without its share of stress and setbacks. For better or worse, my dad was the driver, and admirably braved driving on the opposite side of the road, on the opposite side of the car. And not even a stray sheep was harmed! On the other hand, we experienced a few hiccups along the way, as only a family on vacation can. But let’s not dwell on those moments- instead, by the end of the week, I found myself reflecting on how much had changed over this visit.

A manageable Irish country road

A manageable Irish country road

A slightly less manageable country road

A slightly less manageable country road

A terrifying country road- one wrong turn and you're off the cliff!

A terrifying country road- one wrong turn and you’re off the cliff!

The scary roads were all worth it when we made it to Slea Head! The prettiest little Irish beach!

The scary roads were all worth it when we made it to Slea Head! The prettiest little Irish beach!

We stopped at Trim Castle along the way to Dublin- I was in love with the gorgeous fall foliage all around it!

We stopped at Trim Castle along the way to Dublin- I was in love with the gorgeous fall foliage all around it!

My mom beside a beehive hut dating back to 2000 BC!

My mom beside a beehive hut dating back to 2000 BC!

Before my parents arrived, I thought I knew, appreciated, and loved Ireland dearly. And that’s true. But experiencing everything anew through my parents’ eyes, I was coming to realize that I’ve come to call Ireland, and especially Galway, home. My mom shared stories about my grandparents and great-grandparents (all of whom are 100% Irish-American) that caused me to think deeply about my roots in Ireland. For the first time, stories about the Famine told on bus tours were not distantly sad, but personally tragic. And more than ever, I began to notice similarities between people we met throughout the week and relatives of mine from home. For instance, “Rooney” is a family name from my mom’s side of the family, and we met a man named Ray Rooney who worked at Newgrange, a prehistoric monument we toured. We struck up conversation, and for better or worse, Ray claimed that I looked like his niece and have the classic “Rooney nose.” And then, in the English Market in Cork City, we met Walter Ryan Percy, a cheese vendor who made a connection with my dad, John Ryan Schnalzer. Turns out, he had also visited Easton, Pennsylvania, where my mom grew up, years before. From the kind strangers who gave us directions when we were hopelessly lost, to the wonderful (and very talented) people who pulled my mom and I up to dance traditional set dancing with them at a pub in Dublin, to the lovely proprietors of B&Bs that we stayed at along the way, everyone we met was beyond hospitable to us. More than simply generous or friendly, they almost treated us like family.

Newgrange-Older than both the pyramids AND Stonehenge!

Newgrange-Older than both the pyramids AND Stonehenge!

My mom participating in  traditional Irish set dancing!

My mom participating in traditional Irish set dancing!

Auburn House in Cork, a wonderful B&B run by the loveliest family!

Auburn House in Cork, a wonderful B&B run by the loveliest family!

By the time Thanksgiving Thursday rolled around, and we found ourselves in a cozy pub in Killarney after a tour of the Ring of Kerry, there was a lot to be thankful for. As for me, I’m thankful for studying abroad in Ireland, the best four months of my life. I’m also thankful for the wonderful people I’ve encountered along the way, and the beautiful landscape that surrounds me daily. And, I’m thankful that my parents were able to visit me here, where we were able to spend time learning about our heritage, which enriched my study abroad experience more than words can tell. Plus the free meals all week didn’t hurt either ;) thanks Mom and Dad!

Mom and Dad by walking the Salthill Prom in Galway

Mom and Dad by walking the Salthill Prom in Galway

Our family at the Cliffs of Moher- can anyone say Christmas card?!

Our family at the Cliffs of Moher- can anyone say Christmas card?!

Midnight in Paris

I got back from a whirlwind trip to Paris two whole days ago, yet somehow, I’m still exhausted. But it’s the kind of exhaustion I’m beginning to recognize now as I’m nearing the end of my semester abroad. The kind of exhaustion that comes from exploring new places, trying new things, lots of picture-taking, and allowing yourself to let go and live. It’s the happiest kind of exhaustion there is.

I’ve wanted to go to Paris for as long as I can remember. I’ve wanted to stroll along the Seine, browse books at Shakespeare and Company, and wolf down baguettes to my heart’s content. And we accomplished all of this and so much more in just a few short days.

Once we pushed back our exhaustion from a sleepless night of traveling, grabbed a metro map that never left my side, and gobbled down a plate of “fromage,”  we were off to the Louvre. One can’t help but get blown away by the sheer amount of incredible art under one roof. And while that’s a wonderful thing, it made mapping our route through the Louvre a little challenging. We obviously saw the Mona Lisa, and I don’t know which is cooler: the Mona Lisa, or being able to actually see the Mona Lisa due to our traveling in the low tourist season. I’ve heard horror stories about people barely being able to see it, but we walked right up and could stare her straight in the face. We explored other parts of the museum like the Italian sculptures, but my favorite part was actually Napoleon’s restored apartments- talk about luxury! See for yourself in the photo down below. Sadly, it would be impossible to see all of the Louvre in the afternoon, and being first-time travelers to Paris, we had to see the Eiffel Tower. We first saw the beautifully illuminated Eiffel Tower at twilight in Tuileries, the gorgeous park beside the Louvre and, being giddy girls, rushed to take pictures along the bridge with the tower in the background. After snapping away for a good fifteen minutes, we grabbed a delicious dinner of French onion soup at a brasserie near the Eiffel Tower, we rushed to the tower took a million more pictures. Then we went on a nighttime boat ride on the Seine- despite the cold, it proved just how beautiful a city Paris is. Believe me when I say, it’s called “The City of Light” for a reason.

The Pyramids outside the Louvre

The Pyramids outside the Louvre

There she is!

There she is!

Napoleon's apartments

Napoleon’s apartments

Posing by the pyramids inside the Louvre

Posing by the pyramids inside the Louvre

Tuileries Park by the Louvre

Tuileries Park by the Louvre

Eiffel Tower by night

Eiffel Tower by night

The Eiffel Tower from the boat!

The Eiffel Tower from the boat!

The next day, we woke up early and visited Notre Dame, which had the most beautiful stained glass. Our day got even better when afterwards, we crossed the Seine and visited Shakespeare and Company, the coolest bookstore I’ve always wanted to explore. A major check off the old bucket list for me! Honestly, Shakespeare and Company was probably my favorite place we visited in Paris (I guess that’s the English major coming out in me). Everything from the shelves of Lost Generation novels to Sylvia Beach’s private library and type writer to the famous “Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise” sign was even better than I imagined. But I couldn’t even be too sad leaving, because who could be sad strolling along the Seine, across lovely lock bridge (where lovers write their initials on locks and clip them to the side of the bridge), and into the very Parisian LeMarais area. After exploring the Place de Vosges, which features many art galleries, we grabbed a quick bite to eat and were off the Musee d’Orsay, which specializes in Impressionist art. After spending a wonderful two hours looking at gorgeous paintings by Monet, Degas, and Cezanne (to mention a few), I can honestly say that I enjoyed the Musee d’Orsay even more than the Louvre- it’s just something about Paris and those Impressionists! Afterwards we explored the Galleries Lafayette, the most lavish shopping complex I’ve ever seen. What’s Paris without at least some window shopping? And then we ended the night by seeing the Arc de Triomphe lit up beautifully and  strolling down the Champs Elysees. Another wonderful day in a truly wonderful city.

The Notre Dame

The Notre Dame

Hey, that's us!

Hey, that’s us!

Shakespeare and Company!

Shakespeare and Company!

Sylvia Beach's library in Shakespeare and Company

Sylvia Beach’s library in Shakespeare and Company

Inside Shakespeare and Company

Inside Shakespeare and Company

The lock bridge along the Seine! So sweet.

The lock bridge along the Seine! So sweet.

Hey, that's us!

Hey, that’s us!

Inside the Galleries Lafayette

Inside the Galleries Lafayette

My friends and I in front of the Arc de Triomphe

My friends and I in front of the Arc de Triomphe

In the morning, we explored a slightly….different side of Paris. After wandering around a the St. Ouen flea market, we went to the Sacre Coeur, a beautiful basilica in Montmartre with a truly amazing view of Paris. And then, we descended into Montmartre in search of the Moulin Rouge, which I’ve wanted to see ever since watching the movie years ago. This is when we saw a different side of Paris. I guess I never really realized that the Moulin Rouge was in one of the seediest parts of town- the red light district. It seems obvious now, but hey, I was a girl on a mission to find it. And after snapping a few pictures, believe me when I say we hopped on the nearest metro and got as far away as possible, feeling slightly disillusioned but excited about what else the day would bring. The day brought plenty of chilly weather, but we still managed to take a few more Eiffel Tower pictures before heading out to dinner in the Latin Quarter with one of Paige’s friends. After dinner, we saw the little street where Hemingway lived in Paris- so, so cool. And for our last midnight in Paris, we decided to stroll down the Seine by the Notre Dame. No, we didn’t get transported back in time like Owen Wilson, but we were just happy to have had a magical time in Paris. And in my opinion, that’s just as good.

The Sacre Coeur Basilica

The Sacre Coeur Basilica

The Moulin Rouge

The Moulin Rouge

The beautiful Seine

The beautiful Seine

Classic Eiffel Tower photo op

Classic Eiffel Tower photo op

Ernest Hemingway's street in the Latin Quarter!

Ernest Hemingway’s street in the Latin Quarter!

Postscript: Before heading back to Galway, I managed to meet up with some friends from Hopkins! That’s the beautiful thing about studying abroad- you never know who you’ll run into!

College Democrats in a Paris cafe!!

College Democrats in a Paris cafe!!

Akshai and I in front of the Eiffel Tower!

Akshai and I in front of the Eiffel Tower!

On Northern Roads

Last weekend, my entire IFSA-Butler program was off to Belfast, in Northern Ireland, for the weekend. After a five hour bus ride, we flew into the city, no passport needed, despite Northern Ireland being another country. In some ways , it was hard to believe that we had left our beloved Ireland- the beautiful, rugged landscape of Northern Ireland struck me in much the same way as the Cliffs of Moher did months ago. But in other ways, as I’ll mention later, we uncovered an entirely different side of Ireland during our weekend.

None of this had occurred to me though as we got ready to go out on Thursday night- after all, it was Halloween! And I have to confess, I may have gone all-out American as far as costume went. Yes, I was Taylor Swift, in full “22” music video regalia (although most people thought I was some weird hipster cat). But soon the festivities of the night were over and Friday morning had arrived, bringing with it a day long tour of the gorgeous Antrim Coast of Northern Ireland.

The Antrim Coast is considered one of the “best drives in the world” for a reason- talk about a road trip. There’s a postcard perfect view at every turn, with plenty of local lore to spice everything up. At our first pit stop, we saw a plaque commemorating Paddy, a pigeon granted highest honors by the British for his indispensable service in World War II. How awesome is that? But there was much more than plaques to see along the coast. We stopped next at the Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge, which was used for fishing many years ago. We were warned extensively about the bridge- apparently, some people have been so terrified after crossing the somewhat rickety bridge that they had to be helicoptered back to the other side. But after scrambling along cliffs in Lagos with no guard rail, it wasn’t so scary. The view was incredible though- far out in the distance, you can even see Scotland!

Paddy the Pigeon's Plaque

Paddy the Pigeon’s Plaque

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

Posing for a photo on the bridge

Posing for a photo on the bridge

The view got even better when we arrived at the Giant’s Causeway, a geological phenomenon along the shore where thousands of hexagonal basalt columns rise from the earth as waves crash against them. The “correct” explanation for this phenomenon is an ancient volcanic explosion, but the more colorful explanation involves a fight between two, stone-throwing giants (hence the name, “Giant’s Causeway). According to legend, magic can be felt coming through the cracks between the stone columns. Call me crazy, but I’d believe it. Something definitely felt unearthly about the beautiful landscape. Speaking of unearthly, our next stop was Dunluce Castle, ruins of a formerly great castle perched atop a cliff overlooking the sea. I swear, I’ll never get tired of these amazing sights. (Sidenote: I was psyched to hear from our tour guide that Dunluce Castle has been used as the setting for The Iron Islands in Game of Thrones. SO COOL.)

My friends and I struggling to take a picture at the Causeway- the waves were crashing so close!

My friends and I struggling to take a picture at the Causeway- the waves were crashing so close!

Beautiful scenery at the Giant's Causeway

Beautiful scenery at the Giant’s Causeway

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Dunluce Castle

Dunluce Castle

Saturday was decidedly less beautiful, but definitely just as interesting. We began the day with a Black Taxi Tour of Belfast, which took us around the poorer sections of the city and explained “the Troubles,” as the Catholic-Protestant conflict is referred to in Ireland. We saw mural upon mural of sectarian propaganda- the Troubles never felt more real to me than they did during our tour. One mural in particular stands out- a memorial portrait of Stevie “TopGun” McKeag, a UDA militant and extremist responsible for the violent deaths of many Belfast Catholics in the 1990s. While atrocities were committed on both sides of the issue, seeing McKeag memorialized as a hero was jarring, to say the very least. While on the Protestant side of the district, we signed the Peace Wall, alongside Bill Clinton, Ghandi, and countless others who have prayed for peace in Ireland over the years. Next we saw the Catholic neighborhoods, separated by walls and gates from the Protestant sections. Large plaques commemorated those who died during the Troubles. We ended at a street with several large murals depicting human rights struggles all over the world, such as the Israel/Palestine conflict and many others. While I wouldn’t call the tour enjoyable by any means, I’m grateful to have learned so much about this place I’m beginning to consider a home and its past that is out of sight, but not out of mind in most places of the country.

Mural depicting Stevie "TopGun" McKeag as a hero

Mural depicting Stevie “TopGun” McKeag as a hero

Signing the Peace Wall!

Signing the Peace Wall!

Human rights murals in the Catholic neighborhood

Human rights murals in the Catholic neighborhood

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After so much talk of death, you’d think we would have done something a bit more cheerful with our last afternoon in Belfast. Think again. Instead, we headed over to the Titanic Museum, which despite the grim subject matter, was one of the best museums I’ve ever been to. I especially enjoyed the parts that detailed life in Belfast during the construction of the Titanic in Belfast shipyards. The exhibits of first class, second class, and third class cabins were also really interesting, as were the survivor stories. But thankfully, things began looking up after the museum. We went shopping around town and then out to dinner at a chic, off-the-beaten-path restaurant called “Made in Belfast” that I can only describe as “Anthropologie if it was a restaurant.” There, I enjoyed a delicious plate of crab spaghetti, almost putting Rome to shame. So ended our adventure in Belfast: a night of great food, great atmosphere, and great company.

The Titanic Museum

The Titanic Museum

A particularly poignant quote in the museum

A particularly poignant quote in the museum

 

Glen in Galway

Throughout Ireland, Galway is well known for being a mecca of Irish music, both traditional and modern. And from trad nights at Monroe’s to live bands at the King’s Head, I think I’ve done a pretty good job of immersing myself in Galway’s famed music scene. But last week, I had the opportunity to see a true Irish legend live on stage: Glen Hansard, darling of Irish rock and breakout star of the film Once.

Because Glen seems to spend so much time internationally, I never dreamed I’d get to see him perform in his home country. But sure enough, last Tuesday I found myself in the center of the second row, watching him howl beautifully into the mic as he sang “When You’re Mind’s Made Up,” one of my favorites. And we were just ten feet or so away from him! Seriously so awesome.

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You have to really respect an artist that gets up on stage with nothing but instruments, a microphone, and his own raw talent. There wasn’t even any accompaniments until the encore (which lasted an hour!) when Glen invited his roadies up on stage to jam with him. Can you get any cooler than that? One highlight of the encore included a perfomance of Springsteen’s hit “Drive All Night,” which Glen performed alongside Springsteen last summer.

Glen Hansard and friends performing "Drive All Night"

Glen Hansard and friends performing “Drive All Night”

My other favorites from the night were “In These Arms,” “Bird of Sorrow,” and of course, his Oscar winning hit “Falling Slowly.” It was even cooler to hear his sometimes hilarious but startlingly honest anecdotes that accompanied each song, relating to their inspiration, often found in unrequited and lost love. It’s really striking how someone at the height of their fame can be so candid and jarringly frank with an audience. It’s for this reason that during the concert, I couldn’t help but think all of the other performers out there have something to learn from Glen Hansard. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you can’t relate to fans, you don’t have much.

Ruminations on the nature of fame aside, I’m just grateful for the chance to see some real, honest-to-goodness, rock and roll talent in little Galway. Without a doubt, seeing Glen Hansard in Galway is one concert that I’ll never, ever forget.

Ryann, Pat, Sarah, Cherokee, and I after the show!

Ryann, Pat, Sarah, Cherokee, and I after the show!

Roman Holiday

Last weekend, I fulfilled one of my biggest pre-adolescent dreams. That’s right, ever since seeing “The Lizzie McGuire Movie,” I’ve wanted to visit Rome, meet a hot teenage pop star named Paolo, and become an international superstar, belting it out at the Colosseum. And that’s exactly what I did.

In the words of Lizzie herself, “Hey now, hey now, this is what dreams are made of.”

…just kidding.

I’ll admit it, I didn’t meet any tween singers and certainly didn’t perform a concert at the Colosseum. But even still, our weekend in Rome is certainly one I’ll always remember. Per usual, indulge me while I gush about food for a while. First off, I don’t think I’ve EVER had as much ice cream and gelato as I had in Rome. Averaging out at about three servings per day, it’s safe to say Italy gave me diabetes just as much as Belgium and all its starchy goodness did. But hey, when in Rome, am I right? But don’t worry- I balanced all the dairy out with pasta-fueled dinners. I never knew a simple plate of spaghetti could be so mind-blowing until now. Now THAT is what dreams are made of.

GELATO LOVE <3

GELATO LOVE <3

BEST SPAGHETTI EVER

BEST SPAGHETTI EVER

But hard as it is to believe, there’s more to Rome than delicious food! Rome is home to so many breathtaking sights, it’s truly hard to take it all in. But nevertheless, here are my top ten countdown of my favorite places in Rome- hope you enjoy!

10) The Pantheon: Not only is this one of the best preserved Roman buildings in the city (2,000 years old and nearly completely intact!), it is also home to the best street musicians I’ve heard, many with a noticeable penchant for Pink Floyd. And coming from Galway, a mecca of street musicians, this is quite a compliment indeed.

The Pantheon

The Pantheon

9) Palatine Hill: The ruins of Roman’s oldest and most affluent neighborhood was the perfect place to begin exploring Rome. This was our first stop after a long morning of traveling, and I definitely appreciated its relative serenity compared to Rome’s bustling streets.

Palatine Hill

Palatine Hill

8) The Roman Forum: This was our next stop, right beside Palatine Hill. Here, this history was so incredibly palpable. It was incredible to think that here we were, standing right smack in the middle of what used to be the heart of ancient Rome. I wished for a half second to go back in time and see what it used to be like, but then I remembered how much I love having stuff like basic gender equality and air conditioning.  (But even still, such an impressive place!)

The Roman Forum

The Roman Forum

7) St. Peter’s Basilica: Friday morning, we made our pilgrimage to Vatican City and stood in line for forty days and forty nights (a slight exaggeration) for our entrance into St. Peter’s Basilica. My friend Paige and I may have gotten in a semi-heated discussion about the length of our ALMOST knee-length dresses with the security guard (can someone say power trip?), but eventually, we made it inside, sweaters tied around our legs and all. And believe it or not, it was worth it. I’ve never seen anything more ornate in my entire life, and probably never will. Especially as a Catholic, albeit a vague Catholic, St. Peter’s was definitely breathtaking place to see.

Exterior of St. Peter's Basilica

Exterior of St. Peter’s Basilica

Inside St. Peter's Basilica

Inside St. Peter’s Basilica

6) The Sistine Chapel: While we were in Vatican City, we made a trip to the Vatican Museums, where the Sistine Chapel is located. While we could have spent days inside the museum, exploring all of the many treasures housed there, for time’s sake we went directly to the Sistine Chapel, where we saw Michelangelo’s famous ceiling. So incredibly beautiful. And although we weren’t allowed to take pictures, I MAY have snuck a photo when no one was looking…

The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel- excuse the photo quality, i had to be sneaky!

The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel- excuse the photo quality, i had to be sneaky!

5) Villa Borghese: We stumbled upon this gorgeous park entirely by accident, and perhaps that’s what made it so sweet. In the midst of all the crowds on a Saturday in Rome, the sprawling Villa Borghese was the perfect respite from the noise of the city.

The treetops of Villa Borghese

The treetops of Villa Borghese

4) The Colosseum: Perhaps the most famous place in Rome, the Colosseum should be on everyone’s must-see list. Standing inside the ancient structure, all I could think was that the Romans got it right. Yeah, some pretty violent stuff went on at the Colosseum, but I couldn’t get over how similar it was to every football stadium I’ve ever been in. It’s truly remarkable to see how much our present day society is modeled after the ancient Romans, and the Colosseum definitely reminds you of this-plus, it’s really pretty at sunset!

Outside the Colosseum

Outside the Colosseum

Inside the arena!

Inside the arena!

3) Piazza Navona: This piazza, while perhaps not the MOST stunning landmark in Rome, makes the top of the list because of the super cool art fair we found when we stumbled upon the square. Artists and their paintings covered the square, each with images of Rome, celebrities, pets, and basically anything you can imagine, ranging from the sublime to the crass. And on top of this, many street vendors were there with fake designer sunglasses, and this is where I learned to barter for the first time. Major shout out to Katie Brady, my bargaining instructor! With her help, I got a pair of fake Raybans from thirty euro down to seven euro (but I still didn’t buy them- they were pretty bad knockoffs).

Paintings at the Piazza Navona!

Paintings at the Piazza Navona!

2) Trevi Fountain: By and large, this was my favorite place in all of Rome. Despite being packed with tourists and even worse, pushy vendors, the Trevi Fountain really felt like the heart of Rome. Each of our three nights in Rome, we ended our night eating gelato at the fountain, taking in all in. Without a doubt, I think the Trevi Fountain is what I’ll remember most about our time in Rome.

Trevi Fountain by day

Trevi Fountain by day

My friends and I at the Trevi Fountain- our nightly tradition :)

My friends and I at the Trevi Fountain- our nightly tradition :)

1) Everything: I know this is a lame cop-out, but who cares. My weekend in Rome is one I’ll never forget, and I have the whole entire city to thank for that. Ciao!

A perfect Roman Holiday!

A perfect Roman Holiday!

On Southern Roads: An Adventure in Portugal

One thing is certain- I never thought I’d be getting a tan during my semester abroad in Ireland. But little did I know I’d be booking a trip to the Algarve region of Portugal, where even in mid October, the sun is shining and the temperature hovers around 80 degrees. Talk about perfection.

 

From first sight of the rugged brown hills and turquoise ocean, I think my friends and I all fell in love with Portugal. Our appreciation only deepened as we piled into  the Ford Fiesta (or, the Ford “Party” as we liked to call it) we rented and began our journey to Lagos, a breathtaking beach town in southern Portugal. Major props to Sarah, our talented and trusty driver, the only one of us brave enough to take on stick shift! Soon we were safe and sound in Lagos, a town of pretty white washed buildings and billowing palm trees. After window shopping, dinner, and getting scared to death by a street performer dressed as a plant, we checked into our hostel, exhausted but happy. 

On the road, en route to Lagos from the airport

On the road, en route to Lagos from the airport

My friends and I in front of the ultra old city gates in Lagos

My friends and I in front of the ultra old city gates in Lagos

Old City Lagos- our hostel was just a block away!

Old City Lagos- our hostel was just a block away!

On Saturday, we had one thing on our agenda- get to the beach. And believe me when I say we were not disappointed. Without a doubt, the beaches of Lagos, from Prahia Dona Ana to Prahia Camilo are the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen, and probably ever will see. Each beach is surrounded by steep cliffs of orange rock, and beach-goers can get from shore to shore through caves and tunnels dug into the rock. SO COOL. I could keep going, but maybe I should just let the photos speak for themselves. 

Our view from the beach- not bad for mid October, right?

Our view from the beach- not bad for mid October, right?

The Prahia

The Prahia

 

Sunday morning was devoted to a jaw dropping (and sometimes stomach dropping) hike along the cliffs above all the beaches- in flip flops! I know, we’re such dare devils. We were rewarded with incredible views of the ocean that I’ll never ever forget. And then, of course, we snuck in a few more hours of beach time before heading off to Faro, another city in the Algarve.

Cliff's-eye view of the Lagos beaches

Cliff’s-eye view of the Lagos beaches

Walkway down to Prahia Camilo

Walkway down to Prahia Camilo

Jumping for joy!

Jumping for joy!

On the way to Faro, we stopped at Millreu, ruins of a giant Roman villa in the mountains of the Algarve. The mosaics in the ruins of the baths were startlingly intact- an excellent prelude to our upcoming adventure to Rome next weekend! But back to Portugal. The rest of Sunday was spent casually meandering around Faro, finding our hostel, and finding dinner. I must admit, Faro did not quite measure up to Lagos in terms of beauty, but we did get the chance to see one of the “Top 10 Creepiest Places on Earth” (at least according to Buzzfeed, which we all know never lies). That’s right, we made sure to check out the Capela de Ossos, a chapel made entirely of human bones. All I can say is that it was the epitome of creepy/cool. You really never know what you’ll run into on your travels! Before we knew it, we were on an airplane back to Galway. And for the rest of my life, I know I’ll always remember our road trip through the Algarve, our holiday in the sun. 

The ruins of Millreu

The ruins of Millreu

Old Town Faro

Old Town Faro

The ceiling of the Capela de Ossos- look at all the skulls!

The ceiling of the Capela de Ossos- look at all the skulls!

Enjoy the view? I sure did.

Enjoy the view? I sure did.