So a thousand times adieu, We’ve got Bono and U2, All we’re missin’ is the Guinness, and the rain

Okay. So. Here we Go. My final blog post to officially end my semester abroad. Apologies for neglecting the site these last couple weeks. With finals taking up much of my time, with any free moments I had I tried my hardest to be out of the house and making the best of my incredibly limited time. I’m currently flying 36,000 feet above the Atlantic, headed for JFK and I have no idea how I want this post to sound. But I want to start with this disclaimer: No matter how this post comes across, I truly am ecstatic to be home. If you were a reader of this blog or someone that kept in touch with me throughout my experiences here, you are 100% one of the people I am so excited to hug and see and talk to about everything going on at home! With that being said, I am heartbroken to leave the place that’s become my home over the past four months. It’s hit me a lot harder than I thought it would. The past couple of days have been nothing but nostalgia and hugs coupled with crying and laughter.

 

I spent my morning sitting out on our balcony (which is against the rules.. soo… sorry Gara and Laureth), with a coffee watching the sun move higher in the sky and trying to really reflect on my time here. Actually, that’s how I’ve spent most of my time these last couple days. I thought about my last night with the recent strangers that had become closer to me than people I have known my entire life. I thought back on a conversation we’d all had about how to describe exactly what we’re feeling. The best I could come up with was: “it feels like someone is breaking up with me and there’s nothing I can do to change their mind.” And once I thought about it the more I realized how true it really was. It’s like one of those great romance novels or Nicholas Sparks movies: It was love at first sight in Dublin. From the minute I landed to the minute I took off, I never once felt like I wasn’t home. It was so comfortable and so exhilarating at the same time. If this were a Nicholas Sparks movie, I’d have plenty of music-backed montages to show the incredible laughter and happiness and new experiences this Emerald Isle has brought me.

Just like in any relationship that comes to an end, it’s the little things that you miss the most. The walks to Tesco, topping up our leap cards, trying to make the DART on time, Dun Laoghaire and the 40 foot, the River Liffey, Grafton street and the incredibly talented street performers, Henry Street, the crazies on the corner across from the O’Connell Bridge, the proper voiced bus stop announcements in English and Irish, Temple Bar, the always interesting nights that come with Flannery’s, the communication barrier between the Irish texters, and of course our incredibly beautiful home, Ailesbury Road. This is probably incredibly boring for the readers that haven’t lived this, but that’s okay. I’m writing this for me, while everything is still crystal clear and fresh in my memories (sans the Flannery’s nights which have never been crystal clear .. sorry mom) because in the past week anytime one of the aforementioned little things came about, I’d get that tight feeling in my chest and the lump in my throat. I loved those little things and it’s important to me that I don’t forget what they are.

 

I thought about saying goodbye to our beautiful house and then I thought about the amazing family that came to be because of that house: the beautiful people who made that house a home. From that mildly awkward first day at the Guinness Storehouse, to our first night out, getting off at the wrong bus stop (Sorry guys), our less awkward trip to Belfast (Helfast for some), to the family we became in Galway, to the shared looks of boredom and giggles in Marnie’s class, and the laughter till we cried in the kitchen, we truly became the family that was so hard to part with this morning. I don’t think there’s much I can say that hasn’t already been beautifully worded by one of my housemates already. I just wanted to say, if you’re reading, Nicole, Cassie, and Tara, you’re ability and preparedness to help anyone, be there for anyone, and uplift anyone at the drop of a hat has taught me a huge deal about the meaning of friendship. Ashley N.  Your hilarious stories and sense of humor brought a smile to my face every time I got to hear a recap of our Dublin nights. Kathleen and Joanne although completely opposite, you’re ability to truly be yourselves no matter who’s watching and what you’re doing is something I hope never changes. Evan and Lucas were just the brothers I needed to keep me grounded and keep me laughing at myself. Cara and Meredith, You are both truly beautiful people. Cara the energy you always have about you even when you’re stuck in bed with strep throat, you’re still able to make me die of laughter. And Meredith I am so happy I get to call you my friend and to know someone just as obsessed with the Jonas Brothers as I am. Gareth was always around with travel advice, a funny story, help with our way around town, or just for a laugh and Laura was like the big sister I’d never had, constantly there to show her support, give advice, or just listen. And then there were my roommates: Ashley and Josie, I cannot imagine this semester without you. You two goofballs taught me so much. You cleaned up after my messy side of the room, you danced with me to countless songs, you pigged out with me in the worst ways possible: Ben & Jerry’s, Pringles, Potato Chips, and Chocolates. I wouldn’t have been able to share that beautiful room with anybody else. You’ve truly become my sisters and I’ll miss our spacious bedroom with our more than comfy Ikea beds in the beautiful St. Michael’s Mansion on the breathtaking Ailesbury Road. What I would do for one more kitchen dance party. Those goodbyes were not easy. And then my thoughts turn to my tearful goodbye to the breathtaking Dublin Bay, which has proven to become an amazing friend of mine. I know only crazy people and 5 year olds are allowed to claim inanimate objects as their friends, so maybe I’m crazy, but that place was always there for me and never ceased to amaze me from my first run in January to my last one on Thursday. I always ended up there when I’d need to get away from the house, or my homework, or technology and when things got hectic a trip to the bay made everything clear, it brought me back to the present, it shut my thoughts up and let me just be. Anyone that knows me in the house knows I never shut up about that place. Sometimes a 6 mile run would take up to an hour and a half because I would find a new place to just sit and watch the waves roll in and out, or the sail boats in Dun Laoghaire blow around, or a new glimpse at my favorite bright red lighthouse in the distance. The Dublin Bay was definitely one of the harder goodbyes I’d ever had.

Living here abroad and traveling Europe has changed me in more ways than I can even think of and I’d like to think it’s all for the better. I’ve figured out how to maneuver my way around foreign cities without the help of the ever so present iphone. I’ve learned about countless new cultures, met some truly incredible people from all over the world, and I’ve learned a shit ton about myself. I know I don’t have much of a right to be so sad to leave because of how lucky I am to have been able to experience this life in the first place and I count my blessings everyday, trust me.  Just two years ago the entire scope of my world was the drive from little old Margate to the halls of Atlantic City High School, but now, 24 months later, I find myself with three different places I’m lucky enough to claim as home: My quiet little South Jersey beach town, the skyscraper and river surrounded city of Pittsburgh, and the beautiful, breathtaking, buzzing town of Dublin Ireland. I’ve said it before and I know it’s cliché, but home is absolutely where the heart is and after this four month whirlwind, I’ll always have a piece of my heart on this Emerald Island. Until Next Time Dublin town

 

So much love,

Nellie

 

 

 

PS: I also need to send HUGE and incredibly heartfelt and grafteful thank you’s to the people who are making my departure from Dublin so much easier so look fo yo name!

 

Aunt Ceil: My friends and I always knew that as soon as a post with my name tagged it in went up, you’d be the first one on there to show your support and love. They would always say: you’re aunt really loves you doesn’t she? So thank you so much for constantly keeping up with me, and keeping in touch with me. For taking time to send me cards and money on my birthday! I’m so lucky to have you!

 

Aunt Beth: Always asking for the next blog post and always just as excited for my adventures as I am! You’re visit is something I would talk about to my last day in Ireland. My friends still ask me about my fun Aunt Beth. Thank you so much for all your support and love I’ll see you so so soon!

 

Kar-mom: Every time my blog post would go up I could count on you to share it right away along with an e-mail complimenting my writing and letting me know that you’re right along this adventure with me! Also incredibly grateful for the time you took to have everyone send me individual birthday cards with updates and love. And for sending me money in hopes that I could make these four months everything I wanted them to be. And I did so thank you.

 

Aunt Ellen: My G-mom. Thank you for the e-mails and all the encouragement on facebook and the texts letting me know that it’s okay to be sad I’m leaving, but that I also have so many amazing people to come home to! You’re financial assistance is also responsible for a lot of the amazing times I’ve had here and I have no idea how to thank you!

 

Aunt Jackie and Britt: I’m still so happy I got to see you here in Dublin. Thank you for taking your time to come over here and let me share some amazing memories with you. And for taking the time to send me the birthday card with all those pictures.. I think you can guess which one was my favorite.

 

Uncle Ed: I don’t even know where to start. Throughout all the time I’ve known you (so like… my entire life) you never ever let me make excuses or take an easy way out. You’re constantly finding the holes in my stories and forcing me to take the risks I may have been trying to find an excuse to avoid. You’ve helped me to become a better person in so many ways. I know we don’t do this sappy BS but I don’t know where I would be without your support.  You’re not just my uncle, but one of my closest friends and I constantly want to share what’s going on and my newest and most exciting stories with you. None of this would have been possible without you. So thank you so so so much.

 

Mom and Dad: For constantly supporting me, and never ever allowing me to limit myself to all the possibilities and adventures I experienced while I was here. For taking time away to come visit and allowing me to share my new world with you. I would be nowhere without your constant love and support and laughter. Another example of not only my parents but some of my best friends. I can’t believe I lasted so long without you guys around, but I wouldn’t have been able to do it if you didn’t teach me how to grow and be the independent person I am. I love you guys.

And also to Aunt Ruth, Nanny and Poppy, Patty Enright, and Suzie & Carl for all the mail. Everytime I’d see a postcard or envelope waiting with my name on it made my day a little brighter. Thank you so much for keeping up with my experiences here.

Alright readers, if you’re still with me, that’s probably about it for me and my adventures, I’m headed into a summer of two jobs and then an incredibly busy school year. Thanks so much for keeping up with me during my time abroad. My blog has surpassed 10,000 views over these four months and I’m sure to real bloggers that’s not a huge deal at all, but for me that’s incredible. So thanks for reading, even through my long rants like this one. Less than two hours until I’m home, I’ll see you all soon. Sláinte

Standard

“Do Not Be Afraid to Dream Great Things” – Pope Francis

HEELLOOOOOOOOO Fam and frandsss!!

I’m currently sitting in the airport waiting to board a flight for what is hopefully going to be a beautiful week on the island of Crete! Our entire house ended up booking a flight and soon we’ll all be laying out on the Greek beaches, (sort of) studying for the finals that are fast approaching (yikes). But enough about the future because I still haven’t updated this blog about the past and what is likely to be my most memorable experience while abroad: our Easter weekend in Rome! And before you ask, no I was not mistaken for an international superstar, only to become a part of a scheme to embarrass the crap out of my international superstar counterpart and then sing a duet with my international superstar doppelgänger. It’s not as common as you’d think…

Okay so We arrived to Duquesne’s Rome campus – what is actually a convent for a Nazareth Charter of nuns –  located a bit outside the city center. Josie (my roomate) and I were reunited with our best friend and current Rome resident Ashley! We got to meet and make friends with a lot of the Duquesne students studying in Rome and share our experiences. The Rome Vs. Dublin experience is so incredibly opposite it’s impossible to compare the two and I have no idea which I would prefer.

ANYWAY we arrived Thursday morning and almost immediately our Easter weekend began. We celebrated Holy Thursday with a church crawl led by the only English speaking nun, and Philadelphia native Sister Mercedes along side a priest, some students from the Loyola Chicago Rome campus as well as a group of seminaries. We all were given a candle and a prayerbook and were guided through the streets of Rome visiting some of the most beautiful churches I have ever seen in my life.  Luckily I utilized my iphone this time around and I can finally post some more pictures than I’ve been able to!

After our church crawl we were treated to an amazing Italian meal and then sent on our way so we could get rested and be prepared for the following early morning. We woke up bright and early on Friday and made our way to the Vatican! Where world renowned art historian and an adjunct professor for Duquesne, Elizabeth Lev gave us a swift moving and sarcasm filled guided tour. I loved it and her. Although she’s american, she grew up in Italy as her mother was US ambassador to the Holy See and one of Pope Francis’ top advisors, Liz is fluent in Italian and has a family with a former priest!!  She also served as a main consultant during the writing and filming of the Da Vinci Code (I think). The woman is pretty freaking cool. The Vatican was unreal and I wish I could’ve retained half of the incredible facts Liz Lev provided us with butttttttt I could not. Soooo here comes my completely uneducated and description-ally (haha that is soo not a word) challenged explanation of our tour through the Vatican. I just remember thinking about how many incredible people lived and walked around the grounds I was touring. Obviously Michelangelo was a huge part of our tour. We saw the Belvedere torso. An ancient sculpture that inspired his anatomical style of sculpting. We also walked through a courtyard which is apparently where Michelangelo among other famous sculptors and artists would sit and gather inspiration. It was gorgeous and filled with Greek mythology inspired sculptures. We walked through rooms with walls and ceilings filled with incredibly detailed artwork and architecture until we eventually came to the Sistine Chapel. Now time for some fun, probably inaccurate, facts about the Sistine Chapel that I only sort of remember: Although Michelangelo was a sculptor he was asked by Pope Julius II to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The Ceiling tells a story of Creation and human life on Earth with famous stories such as Noah’s Arc (P.s. the Russel Crowe movie.. blows. Don’t go see it.), and Adam and Eve. My absolute favorite painting (originally meant only for the pope among other esteemed Clergy’s eyes) is the one directly behind the alter depicting the day of judgement, appropriately named “The Last Judgement”. Michelangelo had first painted everyone in the photo nude and in their most beautiful form (ripped bods and six packs) in order to communicate the perfection that comes with the ascension to heaven.He included women and blacks ascending into heaven as well, depicting an idea of equality that was years before it’s time. The amount of detail that went into the painting could leave me typing for hours.  Eventually the painting reached the public eye and in order to avoid the massive backlash, the addition of fig leaves was added to the parts of the photo that weren’t as favorable to the public and therein lies the beginning of “fig-leafing” (Something I wish they’d do to the nude statue just put into place on UCD’s campus. Who puts a naked man in the middle of a college campus?). ANYWAYYYYYYYYYY (bored with me yet?) After that came St. Peter’s basilica and holy heaven (see what I did there?) that place was unlike any Basilica or church I’ve been in yet. I was in shock. I just kept walking around and around and underground until I was so late to meet the group they almost left me!

 

The group, however, did not leave me, and upon finding them at the last minute, we headed out to make our way around the City of Rome! We found the pantheon which was breath taking. It was built between 27 BC and 14 AD as a temple to the Gods of Ancient Rome. The Granite columns seen at the front of the Pantheon came all the way from egypt by way of rivers. Which brought about the question I found myself asking on way, way more than one occasion: “How the heck did these people do this?” Our self guided tour around the city also brought us to the President’s mansion, the remains of four ancient temples only discovered in the 1920’s when the find halted plans to build there. It’s now believed those temples are the site of the assasination of Julius Caesar. Then we came to the Ancient Roman forums and eventually landed around the beautiful Vittorio Emanuele monument and the Colosseum where we were meant to meet our group for the 9 o’clock Station’s of the Cross with the one and only Papa Francesco! We knew the Pope would be difficult to see, and the stations would be recited in Italian, but the energy of the atmosphere was so amazing that just being able to be a part of it was unforgettable.

We arrived back at the convent a bit late and headed to bed. Saturday morning, the Rome and Dublin kids all took a bus trip to the Tivoli gardens guided my the Dr.’s Wilson. A married couple well known for their knowledge on art history. The Tivoli Gardens were amazing to walk through. Once home to Cardinal Ippolito II D’Este, in the 1500’s it’s now a UNESCO world heritage site. The gardens are filled with beautiful fountains and plants and the home is wall-to-wall in artwork.  After the Tivoli trip, we packed up and headed to Nemi. A small town in Italy known for their little baby strawberries called Fragoline. We all had a group lunch at a restaurant over looking Lake Nemi, a volcanic crater lake with an undetermined depth. There we took part in a mini wine tasting and got to know each respective Duquesne abroad campus a bit better. When we returned to the convent, Ashley and another Rome student Dave, took us out into the pouring rain and gave us their own tour of the city. They were the best for taking time out of their super busy schedule just to walk through the soaking wet streets of Rome for us. They took us to the Spanish stairs. So named due to their close location to the Spanish Embassy,  as well as a church and their favorite gelato place. So much Gelato before our trip to Greece probably wasn’t our most bathing suit friendly idea, but “When in Rome ;)” Ashley also gave us the origin of that now common phrase: It originated with St. Augustine in a letter to Januarius when Januarius asked how he should handle the differing Church customs of the Romans. St. Augustine’s advice became the now famous phrase: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Josie and I also got to make our wishes at the Trevi Fountain which we were able to experience at night and during a gorgeous Roman day. I can’t tell you which was more beautiful. Once we were soaked to the bone from the Rain we headed back to the convent to rest up for the big event: Easter Sunday!!

Easter Sunday 2014 will forever be unforgettable and something I’ll look back on and talk about for the rest of my life! We got up around 6 am in order to prepare for the 10:15 mass.The Roman transportation systems were a bit of a pain in the butt so we arrived a little less ahead of the crowd than we would have preferred, but as Sister Mercedes said “You can’t be nice at Easter Mass. Just push and push and push until you find your spot” and that’s exactly what we did. BUT as it turns out, we didn’t really have to. Sister Mercedes along with a few other students had arrived an hour earlier than us and reserved three whole rows front and center. None of us could believe our luck, and the level of bad-ass-ness little 70 year old Sister Mercedes possessed. We all knew we were experiencing something we’d always remember. The mass was incredible with at least five different languages used throughout. Luckily the mass booklet contained an English translation for everything.They even managed to serve Eucharist to almost all of those in attendance. Once the mass ended, the Pope made his processions in his suuuuuuper pimped out Pope mobile. He was just a few feet in front of us I couldn’t believe it! I tried as hard as I could to take pictures while also trying to be as present in the moment as possible which lead to a blurry pope but an incredibly detailed photo of the back of Ashley’s head. BUT we were lucky enough that we got a second chance as Papa Francesco made another trip past our young crew and I managed to take a much better photo. I can’t believe I was able to be that close to someone that is likely to be on of the most influential Catholic figures of my lifetime. Viva Il Papa!

After Mass we enjoyed a nice little Easter lunch with some of the Rome kids and then Josie and I broke away from the group in a blind search for the Colosseum as we had yet to experience the inside. Note: If you go to the colosseum, do not be discouraged by the long and disorganized line that precedes your ticket purchase. It’s a much quicker wait than it looks. But in order to avoid the ticket line completely, reserve your tickets online. Things will go even more smoothly. Anyway. Along our colosseum search, we stumbled upon the church St. Maria Maggiore (St. Mary Major), a church Ashley had explained to us is the largest Catholic Marian church in Rome. It was built between 432-440 AD and was one of the first churches built in honour of the Virgin Mary. And just like every other incredibly detailed church in Rome, it was breathtaking. Finally we stumbled upon the Colosseum and made our way inside. I wanted to type out all the fun facts and history of the colosseum but it’s a crap ton and with the amount of info I’ve already typed out I’d be surprised if anyone actually read this far instead of just quitting after my sad attempts at describing the Sistine Chapel to just start looking through the picture galleries I’ve been providing. But, I took lots of pictures of the information the Colosseum  provided and hopefully you’ll be able to read the info from there if you so chose!

Finally we enjoyed a wonderful Easter dinner the Nun’s prepared for us at the convent where Josie Ashley and I were able to catch up and enjoy our last hours together before Josie and I departed back to Ireland and Ashley departed back to America. She leaves April 30th! It’s funny because I was able to see and spend more time with Ashley while we were in Europe than I’ll be able to all summer while we’re both in America. It also made me realize how lucky I was to be able to travel and experience so much with my best friends. As David Gordon (Gordo) (Lizzie McGuire people!!) once wisely said “I’m in Rome with my best friend, what else would I wish for?!” <- I may have embellished that line a tiny bit.

And that concludes my lengthy recap on an unforgettable experience in the Eternal City. I’ve been so busy with travels and playing blog-catch up that I haven’t been able to update on my downtime in Dublin so that post should hopefully come during my upcoming downtime in Greece. After my week in Greece comes my week of UCD final exams (pray for me puhlease) and then a short week later I am returning home! I can’t even think about it though because as much as I miss every single person at home, I cannot imagine leaving Dublin and the amazing home and family I’ve been blessed with here! Anyway onwards to Greece! Hope everyone’s Easter was filled with lot’s of bunnies and chocolate and Jesus and maybe some Snoop Dog and such!

Caio for now!!!

xoxo Nellie

Standard

Bienvenidas esto es mi sueño

Hello Folks! It’s time for the final installment of Nellie’s Spring Break Adventures! This time in the beautiful city of Barcelona!

SO Ashley and I arrived in Barcelona March 19th and after a little bit of confusion found our hostel right off La Rambla – the touristy hub of Barcelona. We spent 5 days here and always had something to do. I definitely appreciated the warmth of the upper 60 degree weather, as Ireland hasn’t been passing the lower fifties. Unfortunately a lot of what we did was based on taking in the beautiful sights and since I still don’t have pictures of much I”m not sure how much I can put into words, but I’ve found a youtube video someone must have captured of me ash and some friends while we were making our way through the city:

Clearly we were having a blast. Anyways. That’s the best I can do without pictures. It actually captured a lot of the places we got to see! We started our first day with a free walking tour. And time for our third installment of “it’s a small world after all”: A boy in my tour group was wearing a T-shirt with St. Augustine’s Prep on the back. He didn’t go there, but he was from New Jersey. Weirdness. Anyway We learned a ridiculous amount on our short walking tour. But my ADD kicked in. I got so distracted by the sights that Ashley had to repeat more than half of the information our tour guide had taught us because I had zero memory of it.

Our hostel was just around the corner from the Gothic Quarter with most buildings dating back to medieval times, but some going as far back as the Roman settlements in Barcelona. The buildings were beautiful and walking through the little tiny ally-ways, it almost felt like we were being taken back in time. We saw a lot of Picasso and other artworks, but my absolute favorite sights was anything done by Antoni Gaudi, an architect from the late 19th and early 20th century. Ash and I made a point to visit his famed work throughout Barcelona, starting with Parc Guell, which can be seen in the video posted above. The park was intended to be a housing complex with beautiful views of the city, but proved to be unsuccessful and eventually became a national park. We spent hours roaming around the park, looking at the beautiful buildings and structures. It was like walking around Candy Land! We also made our way to La Casa Batllo which is absolutely beautiful. It built for a middle class family, but is now more a museum. Ash and I just admired the outside and then made our way to Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece: La Sagrada Familia. This church was unbelievable. Gaudi began his plans for the church in 1883, but because construction relied on private donations, the building of the church went by slowly and unfortunately, due to a Tram accident, Gaudi passed away in 1926, unable to ever see his finished product. Due to interruptions from the Spanish Civil war and still slowly incoming funds, the church remains unfinished, but there are plans of a finished product in 2026, the centennial of Gaudi’s death. I really can’t even find words to describe how breathtakingly unreal this place was so I’m just gonna steal some pictures from the internet.

Ash and I also got to see a fountain show that they call the “Magic Fountain” which can also sort of be seen in the video I posted above. And we made sure to eat a crazy amount of food and Tapas. Our favorite being “Patatas Bravas” which were french fries with a spicy mayo sauce on top. SOOO ridiculously good. The club scene was insane. Although I may have over done it the first night, and couldn’t really find the energy to go out with Ashley and a couple of her friends from Rome, the following night, Club nights should actually be considered club mornings as they usually being around 12 or 1 am and don’t end until 6 or 7 in the morning. Yikes. Our first night there we ended up accidentally in the VIP line of the club, but after pulling the stupid American card, they let us in for free, gave us free drink vouchers, a free shirt, and free shots. We had an absolute blast!

We also got in a beautiful walk around Montjuic Mountain where the 1992 Olympics took place, and at the very top was Castell de Monjuic which provided gorgeous landscaping and sights of the city. It was at a little restaurant up there that we discovered the beauty of Heineken and Lemonade mixed together. It’s my new favorite thing. Unfortunately it was still a bit to cold to try out the beaches, but we still got to go for a nice walk along them!

Fun fact about Barcelona: Their first language isn’t actually Spanish, its Catalan. The language seems incredibly complicated with hints of French, Spanish, and Italian. Their word for thank you being a strongly pronounced “merci” and good morning: “Bon Dia” We had so much fun some days just wandering around popping into crazy little shops and finding one of a kind jewelry and clothes.

And that was my unbelievable spring break of 2014. I’m still in shock at how lucky I am to be experiencing so many incredible things at my age. And it doesn’t stop there. Tomorrow I leave for Easter weekend in Rome where I get to experience Easter Mass with Pope Francis!!! Seriously someone pinch me!!!

Also, I’ve gotten some more mail from Susie and Carl,Ceil, and Aunt Ruth! I loved my cards and my updates on everyone and everything! Thank you guys so much!!! I can’t wait to respond to them all!! Now I need to start packing for Roma! Happy Eater everyone!

Until Next time,

Nellie xo

Standard

“Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth it is a city of freedom.”

Hi loyal friends, family, and other readers!

I’m sorry for neglecting the travel blog! I’ve been spending a lot of much needed catch up time with my house mates. I’ve missed them for almost a whole month as the end of February and much of March were jammed packed with out of the house activities. Anyway, I still haven’t updated the blog with all the info from my Amsterdam and Barcelona trips over spring break! Still I am virtually photo-less so I’ll try to paint the pictures for you as vividly as possible.

After our departure from Budapest, Ashley and I landed in Amsterdam Saturday March 15th. We stayed in a hostel a bit outside of the city center which was nice because we got a feel for the residential aspect of Amsterdam, as opposed to the played up tourist craziness typically found in the Red Light District and surrounding areas. We spent about four days in Amsterdam and I really really loved that city. The canals and bridges were beautiful. There were flowers and gardens everywhere. Thrift stores, book stores, and record stores lined the streets and bike riding was the main form of transportation. It was like a hipster’s paradise. I felt like I was living inside a romantic indie movie every time I walked the streets.

So after a bit of confusion in getting to our hostel, Ashley and I arrived late at night to a room of girls from America also studying abroad! One girl saw my wallet and noticed I was from New Jersey. She said she had a friend from New Jersey and so following the now memorized script I have when someone is familiar with NJ, I said “yeah, I from the Atlantic City area if you know where that is.” She said her friend was from that area too, from a town called Margate… I was in shock! A stranger in Amsterdam just said the word Margate. Just another small world event that happened while on my spring break! Turns out, after a bit of Facebook creeping her friend was actually from Northfield, but can ya blame her for lying? 😉

Our first day in Amsterdam began with a bit of exploring and then a free walking tour. One thing our tour guide pointed out as she took us around the city was the extremely logical and business oriented way of doing things in Amsterdam. There’s no judgement and no insanely strict laws. You can pretty much do whatever you see fit to do as long as it’s not causing extreme harm to your neighbors and fellow citizens. We started our tour in the infamous Red Light District and as promised, there were plenty of Naked girls on display in their storefront windows. But as much as they enjoy being stared at, apparently if you were to take a picture, they have a tendency to come out and beat the crap out of you. Just a forewarning for anyone planning on making a trip. But really readers, these prostitutes are heroes. Before you judge, let me explain. In Amsterdam’s beginnings it was huge for trading. Sailors would travel for weeks to bring their goods to trade in Amsterdam. Ships full of just men for weeks and weeks can get to be a bit maddening, putting the women of Amsterdam in harms way. So instead of having drunk, rambunctious sailors harassing and causing problems for the citizens of Amsterdam, some women found a business opportunity and that’s where the prostitute culture of Amsterdam began. In the center of the Red Light District, surrounded by prostitutes in windows is an old church. The church was strategically placed there so these rambunctious sailors would go pay to have their sins absolved in the morning. The dutch were always thinking of the best way to make business.

The houses here were really different. They were all tall and skinny since property tax was based on a house’s width. (shout out to my roommate Josie for giving me that little fun fact.) A lot of the houses were actually very crooked since they were built on marshland and the foundations were beginning to shift. Not so fun for the residents, but super cool to see. Another subculture I found to be really cool in Amsterdam is the squatting culture. Many people would buy out buildings and then never do anything with them. Because of this, a law was put into place: if a property went unused for a year, it was then open to public use, until the owner decided they were ready to do something with it. So squatters would place tape across a door, and if a year later that tape went unripped, they made their home there, free of charge. Many of the property owners actually benefitted from the squatters because they kept the homes clean and in shape and were quite friendly to neighbors. A few years back when a new government attempted to change the laws and make squatting illegal, many Amsterdam citizens began to protest in favor of the rent-free residents… I just love the way Amsterdam works. It’s so happy and care free. They don’t don’t seem to get caught up in the hyper sensitive, religious divisions, and petty complications a lot of other cities, states, and countries struggle with. A lot of their dealings are based off logic and functionality.

One of the crooked houses

One of the crooked houses

 

Of course Ash and I couldn’t leave without visiting the Anne Frank House. Growing up in such a prominently Jewish community (I counted and I’ve attended 16 freakin bar and bat mitzvah’s. 16.), and having met and heard countless amount of holocaust survivors come in and speak all throughout elementary school, middle school, and in high school even attending a survivor’s brunch where we had the opportunity to converse one-on-one with these incredible people, and of course reading The Diary of Anne Frank: being in the house where it was all written and being in a city that 70 years ago had an incredibly large Nazi presence was an overwhelming feeling. I never ever thought I’d even get close to the countless stories I had heard over the years, but there I was walking through Anne Frank’s hidden home. I’ll admit that at one point there were tears. I’ve already written a ridiculous amount so if you don’t know the story of Anne Frank, it’s not too difficult to learn, but you’re gonna have to go a little bit further than my blog to learn about it.

IMG_3978

Anne Frank House from the outside

Stole this pic from my roomie Josie. Check out her blog too! :http://josieurbanski.wordpress.com/

Stole this pic from my roomie Josie. Check out her blog too! :http://josieurbanski.wordpress.com/

AANDDD Of course there were also the coffeeshops and a fun little bar crawl. Ash and I also went to an old victorian style theater turned movie theater, where we fought off tired eyes to watch The Grand Budapest Hotel. The theater was beautiful and the movie was hilarious. Of the three countries Ashley and I visited Amsterdam, believe it or not, has been voted the best place to live and raise a family. There is so much tolerance and love in that city. The homes outside the city center are absolutely beautiful and the bike culture is my favorite. Amsterdam was the perfect four days of relaxed exploring Ashley and I needed before we hit the buzzing streets of Barcelona! <- Blog to follow!

PS Special shout out to Patty Enright and Auntie Ellen. Patty especially for the card! I love love love getting mail here and I loved the photo you took on the front (I’m in the process of e-mailing you back just incase this blog was too painfully long to read all the way through). And Aunt Ellen for the E-mail update. I loved it! I’m also in the process of e-mailing you back as well! Miss everybody tons, but thanking the universe for everyday I have here!

 

Standard

There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.

Hello Friends, Fam, wordpress users who clicked on my abundant tags, and confused facebook friends who thought this was a quiz to figure out which Full House Character you are. (I haven’t taken the quiz yet, but my guess is I’d be Comet, I’ve always felt a deeper connection with his storyline).

ANYWAYS hey to all. I’m finally back and well rested from my eleven day spring break adventure! I can’t believe I get to say that my Spring break in 2014 was spent in Budapest, Amsterdam, and Barcelona with my best friend. But it’s real. And I did. And now I’m going to write about it so that I have proof that I did. So here I go:

I left Dublin for Budapest on Thursday March 13th. I arrived in the Budapest airport at 11 a.m. to a very exhausted roommate who had been waiting there for me since 1 a.m. Once we figured out the bus and train system we were on our way to the city. I have to give a huge thanks to Ash for doing all the homework and picking out the best possible hostels to stay in during our travels. She did an amazing job! Our Hostel in Budapest was a two minute walk from St. Stephen’s Basilica as well as walking distance from almost everything in the city. One thing Ashley and I learned over our travels is that a walking tour of the city is an absolute must. We found a tip-based, free walking tour of Budapest where we learned a lot of really interesting things that at this point I probably remember about 1/3rd of. BUT we live in the age of the internet, and therefore I can cheat.

Budapest (pronounced Buda-pesht) is the capital of Hungary. There are two parts of the city which are separated by the Danube river. We were staying on the Pest side. The Pest side, while still possessing incredibly beautiful, and seemingly old, buildings everywhere, is considered the more modern side of the city. Many of these seemingly old buildings with incredibly detailed architecture, actually only date back to the late 19th, early 20th century. Regardless of their young age, they were still incredible. Especially St. Stephen’s Basilica, which is tied as the tallest building in Budapest with the Parliament building to symbolize an equal importance of government and religion. The Buda side of the city, mainly the castle district, is equally as beautiful. It’s where a lot of the wealthier Hungarian citizens live (including the inventor of the Rubik’s Cube) as well as the home to the amazing Castle district. We had a gorgeous view of the Danube and the Pest side of the City once we reached the top of the Royal Palace. We also saw the Mathias Church which looks like a Disney Princess Castle.

Unfortunately we only had two and a half days to spend and we didn’t get to climb to the highest point, or take a Turkish Thermal bath, or see any of the really cool museums like The House of Terror. BUT we did try chimney cake (sooo amazing) and we did go caving. Well, Ashley did everything but drag me by my hair to go caving. (technically it’s called Spelunking, but I can’t type Spelunking without hysterically laughing, so for the sake of finishing this blog in a timely manor, let’s call it caving). Budapest is built on top of underground springs, responsible for the naturally heated thermal baths. These thermal springs have also created caves and these caves have become a guide-led adventure for people to partake in. I was so so so scared, but after a pep talk from Ashley during which I was called the explicit name of a lady’s certain body part multiple times, I really had no choice. We put on some intense caving gear and we were on our way. The experience was incredible. There were times when we had to squeeze through holes so tight, some of the bigger people were forced to take an alternate route. There were also giant rooms in the caves and at one point while we were all sitting together in one of the bigger rooms, our guide told us to turn off our lights on our helmets. We sat in pitch black darkness. It was so peaceful. Then our guide sang a traditional Hungarian song with the complete darkness and the echos of the cave. And then he asked if any of his group members could sing. Ashley couldn’t keep her mouth shut and I was forced to sing, but luckily it was pitch black and no one could see my bright red face.

That night we decided we would do a bar crawl. Budapest has a lot of “ruin bars” which are bars built in the ruins of the Jewish quarter, which was abandoned after World War II. We only got to check out one on our bar crawl but they seem absolutely insane and a total must if you’re in Budapest. Bar Crawls are also a great way to meet people when you’re traveling. Almost all the people on this bar crawl, however, were UCD students on spring break. Small world (small world seemed to be a recurring theme on this break as I traveled from country to country). Ashley and I made friends with the people that run the Bar Crawl. Daniel, Chris, and Michael. Meeting new people is one of the absolute best things about traveling. The stories people have to tell are incredible. Simply asking Daniel his last name, led to an amazing story about his grandfather, who was in the Holocaust and in line to enter a death camp only to make a run for it and get shot in the back. He survived the shot, but remained on the ground to appear dead and escape in the night. Chris and Michael came from England. They had intended to visit Budapest for only four days.. that was two months ago. They ended up becoming great friends with Daniel and just decided to live with him and help him with the bar crawl.

Out of the countries Ashley and I visited we voted Budapest the best one to study abroad in. English is incredibly easy to come by, prices are affordable, and the ruin bar nightlife as well as museums and communism, or Jewish walking tours prove there’s always something to do there. Sadly our two and a half days in Budapest were over before we knew it, but I have every intention of returning. It was incredible and I still have so much I’d love to be able to do there! But it was time to pack our bags and head to our next destination: Amsterdam. <- blog post coming soon!

Unfortunately throughout the trips I relied on Ashley’s super fancy Nikon camera and kept my phone in my pocket only to find out she can’t upload pictures to her computer at the moment! But my mother is really pushing for these blog posts and so you’ll have to rely on my words and less on the pictures. As soon as Ashley gets the opportunity to upload the pictures I’ll share them asap.

Standard

“And to sit beside a turf fire in the cabin And see the sun go down on Galway Bay”

Hey hey!

I’m writing to ya’ll on a train bound for Amsterdam Central Station! Ash and I just left Budapest and plan to spend four days in this Netherlands city. As I try to pass time on this lengthy train ride, I started scrolling through my Instagram feed featuring forty shades of green, orange, and white partnered with a crap ton of alcohol and drunk selfies. This can only mean one thing: it’s St. Paddy’s (Not patty’s) parade day! Which reminded me: I never updated you on my trip to Galway!! Hopefully I can pack in some irish facts for you guys just in time for the season!

SO I arrived in Galway a day earlier than my classmates because my parents and Uncle Ed wanted to see the West as well. After I said my sad goodbyes, I checked out of one luxury hotel and walked thirty seconds down the road to check into another. Rough life I lead I know. The first day with my classmates was spent getting acquainted with the city and the beautiful Galway Bay. We also did a group dinner, searched for claddagh rings, and enjoyed a night out.

The next day we got to experience some on sight irish history and culture. We took a beautiful ride out to a farm where we saw a beautiful view of the country side and then we were driven by tractor-pulled trolly to an old cottage once owned by famed farmer Dan O’hara. A farmer forced by tyrannical landlords to leave his home after he refused to pay the fine for increasing the size of his windows. He and his family packed up and left for America. Unfortunately, his wife and one of his children died on the boat ride over and he was left broken hearted and poor, forced to sell matchboxes on the streets where he would sing this song:

some irish info I learned at the cottage, if you are easily bored you may want to skip ahead a bit.
The man giving the tour showed us how to pull turf. A solidy/muddy substance found in the ground. The turf is packed so tight that oxygen can’t get in and due to the lack of oxygen, perfectly preserved bodies (bog bodies) have been found four times in the irish turf. The guide cut a piece in half revealing some plants that can date back to a time when Christ was walking the earth. When the turf sits out for a few days it’s eventually dried out and used in fireplaces to produce fire: a turf fire.

45

The man also explained the story of wellies (rainboots) and why they call them such a strange name. (Sparked my interest as Uncle ed had just gotten me a pair and we did not understand the term at all) well General Wellington -the Irish-English general responsible for defeating Napoleon- died and as a sign of respect his boots were turned backwards in the foot holes of the saddle on his horse. This created a leather boot fashion trend, and when someone started making them out of rubber to cut costs, the name was born.

Once inside the cottage our guide pulled out some moonshine from a hiding spot in the ceiling. The irish call it: uisce beatha which literally means “water of life” and is thought to have influenced the modern irish word fuisce meaning whiskey. I’m assuming that was the drink of choice for most yesterday, so now you can say it in the irish language! (Don’t ask me how to pronounce it) After the introduction, he poured some people shots. I opted out. But I enjoyed hearing the familiar toast that he taught to the students braver than I: “Here’s to those who wish us well and those who don’t can go to hell” (familiar thanks to my abundant irish alcoholic family members.)

Then we left for Kylemore Abbey to see how the other half (the landlords) lived during those times. It was incredible. And also very nearby multiple filming locations from The Quiet Man. This was the mansion belonging to the Henry family. The owner was a landlord who had a bit more sympathy for the farmers than many others of his kind did.

The next day we left early morning for the Cliffs of Moher. I have zero words for them. It was a surreal experience. I managed to stray from the group and avoided picture taking in order to get to the best view in limited time. Once I reached my destination I stood in silence for ten minutes looking around in awe and feeling incredibly small. I wish I could find words or pictures to really do it justice, but I cannot.

After the cliffs was a lunch stop that I appreciated: the original Durty Nelly’s. Then a trip to Bunratty castle/village. The castle was really well preserved and had real artifacts from room to room. We also got the chance to walk around the little Bunratty village and pet some Irish wolfhounds, goats (the funniest animal ever), and a piggie.

Once we were done at the village, we packed on our bus and headed back home to Dublin. Finally all my essays, visitors, and trips were taken care of and I had two days to myself before packing up and leaving for my 3 countries in 12 days trip. Budapest to Amsterdam to Barcelona. I’m four days in and having the absolute time of my life. I can’t wait to write all about it.

Until then: I hope your parade day was a great Craic!
Saint Patrick was a gentleman,
Who through strategy and stealth,
Drove all the snakes from Ireland,
Here’s a toasting to his health.
But not too many toastings
Lest you lose yourself and then
Forget the good Saint Patrick
And see all those snakes again.
‘Beannachtam na Feile Padraig!’
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Sláinte

Some (memory based and probably only half true) St. Patrick facts:
-he first arrived in Ireland from England as a slave.
-upon escaping/being freed he returned to his home only to hear a calling from God to go back and convert the Pagan Irish to Catholics.
-it’s believed Patrick May not have been the first to introduce Catholicism as a man named Palladius was documented as a catholic missionary in Ireland a few years before Patrick’s alleged return to the country.
-he became famed years after his death due to two writers, who are believed to have been the originators of the famed snake story among other myths surrounding the saint. They did so in hopes of making the saint of their church the patron saint of Ireland.
-America has adopted the holiday and some irish say the parades in America are bigger and better than the ones throughout Ireland!!!

To live above with the Saints we love,
Ah, that is the purest glory.
To live below with the Saints we know,
Ah, that is another story!

Okay bye for real this time!

Standard

Wherever you go and whatever you do, May the luck of the Irish be there with you

Hi peeps!

These past two weeks have been insane! I arrived back in Ireland from Norway with the rude reminder of why I’m actually living in Dublin, for school. I had four papers to write in four days if I wanted some free time to spend with my long list of visitors arriving at the end of the week; so Monday I hit the library and got to work. I finished one a day until my last paper which took a bit longer than expected, but my best friend Ashley was arriving that day and I was too excited to concentrate!

Ash arrived in Dublin on the last Thursday of February and Josie and I couldn’t have been more excited! Ashley’s spending her semester on the Duquesne campus in Rome and her stories sound absolutely amazing. I get to visit her during Holy Week so just you wait people. I’ll have tons of great and Godly and stories to tell ya’ll! BUT While Ash was here we planned out our spring break together! We’ll be spending two days in Budapest, four in Amsterdam, and four in Barcelona!!!! If any of you worldly readers have any advice or insight on any of the aforementioned destinations I’d love to hear them!! Getting to see Ash after her month in Italy made me realize just how much of a truly life changing experience studying abroad is. Ashley has a completely different mindset about her: Before she sucked. Now she’s just mildly tolerable. (kidding). My crazy, wired roommate has become this laid back, silver lining seeking, culture addicted wander-luster. And being abroad really does open your mind. It makes you realize how big the world is, and how much there is to explore. I hope I never find myself laying in my bed in Dublin unless I’m sleeping or trying to plan my next adventure because after how quickly this week has gone by I’ve realized how little time I actually have to explore this side of the world.

Annnnyyywaayysssss: On to my next set of visitors. Brittany and Aunt Jackie arrived in Dublin the day after Ashley (Friday) and my parents and Uncle Eddie just two days after that (Sunday)! Throughout the weekend there were plenty of dinners, laughs, and love! On Sunday we went to one of my favorite pubs called “The Old Storehouse” where we were surprised with one of my favorite pub singers in Dublin Jake Suleman. Aunt Jackie cheered him on and afterwards my dad decided to adopt him as the new Irish Kevin. He offered him up the basement for the summer and told him to drop the English accent and adopt and Irish one and he would find him plenty of places to sing in Atlantic City. If only my dad could remember the poor kid’s name for longer than five minutes. I really loved getting to see so many familiar faces in such a far away place because it’s something not many study abroad students get to experience and I’m so so grateful that so many people have taken the time to come and visit me. In fact the whole entire time everyone was here I noticed a recurring question popping up in my thoughts: “How did I get so lucky?”

Tuesday was the day that that thought was loud, and clear, and infinitely replaying in my head. Aunt Jackie, Britt,Uncle Ed, my mother, my father, and I all loaded onto a tour bus and spent the day in Northern Ireland. Our first stop was the Carrick-A-Rede bridge. After some coercing from the entire bus, my mom agreed to partake in the bridge crossing, so we hopped off the bus and were on our way. The walk down to the bridge was beautiful. I think it’s so important for people coming to Ireland to get the heck out of Dublin and really see the naturally beautiful sights that exist here. The mountains were green, the skies were clear (well as clear as you can expect in Ireland), and the ocean was a beautiful blue and even had a little seal swimming around! Unlike my mom, I found the bridge to be a lot of fun. I bounced my way along, it felt like a trampoline. My dad bounced a long as well, while my mom was an inch above crawling and repeating the words “don’t look down” over and over.

Next stop on our bus trip was Giant’s Causeway. We learned all about the legend of Finn McCool. He was a giant (ridiculously good looking cartoon) man protecting Ireland from invaders, but there was a Scottish (Not so good looking) giant named Benandonner who was threatening to take Finn’s wife. In order to check out his competition, Finn built a bridge/pathway across the ocean to Scotland to spy on Benandonner. When he saw how large Bannandonner was he ran as quickly as he could back to Ireland. When Benandonner heard that Finn McCool had been to Scotland without challenging him, he made his way over McCool’s pathway to Ireland to fight for Finn’s wife. Finn McCool and his wife devised a plan. She planned to dress him up as a baby and place him in a crib, telling Benandonner that the “baby” was McCool’s his son. When Banandonner arrived at the house and saw the size of what he thought was McCool’s son, he thought McCool must be huge and he ran all the way back to Scotland, smashing the foot path along the way.

Tuesday we said bye to Aunt Jackie and Britty and spent the day at the kilmainham gaol (jail). Loaded with so much interesting Irish history and Friday, we left for Galway. My parents and Uncle Ed were only in Galway for the night, but I’m here ’till Monday. The train ride here was beautiful. We saw so many beautiful farms, and fields. Last night (Friday) we walked around this adorable little Irish city. The Galway bay is beautiful. We had dinner and then went to The Spanish Arch for some drinks and I learned a very important lesson: The Welsh love my mother and my dad loves the Welsh. The second my dad left for the bathroom a group of Welsh men descended. They crowded around my mom to the point that my dad could barely get back to his spot back at the bar. When we introduced them to my dad, they ended up loving him more than me or my mom. Typical. BUT They (my parents and Uncle Ed) loved the friendly little city of Galway. And so do I. I can’t wait to explore it some more!

This Morning I said my goodbyes to my final visitors. I was sad to see them go, but this week we made some of the best memories I’ll have in my four months of being here. Between catching up and cracking up with Ashley, taking in the sights and laughing at our parents with Britt, peeking in windows with Aunt Jackie, eating incredible meals and making friends with our cab drivers with Uncle Ed, making friends with all of Ireland and Wales and romping around in our Wooly Jumpers with my dad, and cuddling with my mommy I really can’t believe how lucky I am to have so many amazing people with so much love and support and positivity. I’m so grateful for my visitors I’ll miss you guys so much!!

Next is my weekend in Galway and shortly after that, my spring break begins. Now that I’m about half way through this incredible experience I cannot wait to see what the rest of my time here will entail! Until next time!!!

Wherever you go and whatever you do, May the luck of the Irish be there with you!

Sláinte

Standard