Friday, 20 January 2012

The blank beginning of a new blog post is something intimidating to me. Endless white space to fill with thoughts, and that blinking black cursor just waiting to run from all the letters that eventually begin to chase it. I've hit the point in the trip where it's almost impossible to relay all that has happened in the past week or two. The robotic relaying of it all would be enough to put any reader over the edge. Plus- can we all just agree that when there's pictures involved the words to the side just get neglected? No worries, I won't take it personally. But I'll try to not comment on them AS much so I don't waste my time or yours. So with that thought- I'll start with a reflection, and of course- pictures will follow.

I was in a pub one night with my dear friend Laura Stucky who came to visit, and I saw a paper on the wall with a story written on it. It read...

"There once was a woman who woke up one morning, looked in the mirror  and noticed she only had three hairs on her head. 'Well,' she said, 'I think I'll braid my hair today'. So she did and she had a wonderful day.

The next day she woke up, looked in the mirror and saw that she only had two hairs on her head. 'Hmm,' she said, 'I think I'll part my hair down the middle today'. So she did and she had a grand day.

The next day she woke up, looked in the mirror and noticed that she only had one hair on her head. 'Well,' she said, 'today I'm going to wear my hair in a pony tail.' So she did and she had a fun, fun day. 

The next day she woke up, looked in the mirror and noticed that there wasn't a single hair on her head. 'YEA!' she exclaimed, 'I don't have to fix my hair today!'" 

The story went on to make the point that attitude is everything (as well as some other points), but pertinent to me was this-

Each day here is going to present me with a new situation. Maybe one I've seen before and would rather not repeat, one I've seen and am happy to meet again, or maybe one I've NEVER seen before and have no idea what to expect! The options are endless and the best conclusion to come to is to ENJOY whatever it is life hands me. Before coming here I had expectations planted in my head of what this time was going to look like. Now I know that it cannot be predetermined what is going to happen. I can't at all say where I'm going to go, what it's going to mean to me, or who is going to be there along the way. Three weeks into the journey I've decided to be okay with that. Not only am I okay with that conclusion, but exponentially happier with the thought. I'm aware of the fact that not being okay with it would only bring me trouble as I would toil over decisions, weighing what I want versus what others expect me to do while I'm here. So here's to these next five months being defined however I choose. Here's to seizing the day, the moment, but mostly the opportunity to learn how to pave my own path. I look forward to sharing more of what those moments will be, but for now- here's a little recap of the last couple weeks (in the fashion that you all prefer).

A long-awaited reunion of the two Laura's took place last weekend. The majority of this blog's pictures are from times we had together. It's impossible of course to capture a conversation had, a tear shed, or a laugh that lingered, but I promise it was all there. We had a blast together and I couldn't be more thankful that she came.

Above: This is our first night out! Laura and I had a funny habit of always being graced with someone's forgotten Heineken at the end of the night so I imagine this is just prior to that.

Right: St. Finbarr's Cathedral. Saint Finbarr is a highly esteemed man here in Cork because it was upon his Monastery's ruins that the university was built. The school coat of arms reads beneath it: "Where Finbarr taught let Munster learn". Munster is the region that the county of Cork is in. This is the cathedral in the city by night. Truly a most magnificent work of art that I can't ever just walk by. It's too beautiful to ignore.

 Left: A practically cultural late night snack that the Irish find themselves carrying on the way home from the bars. This is Chipsy King- french fries in a funnel with any topping you want- chili, cheese, garlic mayo, chipotle mayo, ketchup- it's ridiculous (for you and delicious).

On the bus ride to Killarney National park- this is not a bus ride you want to sleep on...

The next ten or so are inside and just outside the park. It's truly a majestic and peaceful place. It's different than any American National Park in that it's not as gated off or monitored- people were out walking their dogs, the dogs were jumping into the lake, people's wandering off into the tundra is not frowned upon and frankly, neither is poppin' a squat on it!

 I had to switch up the standard pose a little bit...

I LOVE this picture. Everything is reflected in the water. It was hard to tell where the real branches ended and the reflection began.

This is the Muckross House- famous for it's traditional gardens and farms in the heart of the park. It was an estate built back in the 1800's by William Burn- a Scottish architect. It's had it's share of esteemed residents as well as visitors including Queen Victoria AND Lord and Lady Ardilaun (better known as The Guinness Family).

We definitely found a cave. We almost ventured all the way in but decided we didn't really know enough about the wildlife we might find in Killarney and basically- we chickened out.

I can't not comment on this picture to the left. It doesn't look like much, but allow me to put a little meaning to it. Laura and I stumbled upon this farmer's market around the corner from my apartment that takes place every Saturday. We were called over to this coffee stand by a young gentleman named Philip and an older man, Frank. They wanted some company with their coffee and we preceded to have great conversation with them and left the stand with some solid words of wisdom from Frank. I plan to go back on Saturdays when I'm in Cork to visit Frank and gain a little more life advice. He truly opened my eyes with his words to making this experience my own and not letting any part of it get me down.

View of Cork City at the top of a long, steep hill. We made it!

Random crucifixion scene at the middle of an intersection. Welcome to the Catholic center of the world.

Making pizza for dinner with homemade dough, pesto, and fresh cheese and veggies from the English Market.

Trad music session at a pub across the river. Great conversation had here. : )

Last eventful moment that will be shared on this blog- I invested in a guitar!! Greatest idea yet. It keeps me occupied at night when I'm feeling a little lonely. 

That's it for now! I'll part with a little goodbye I learned in my Gaelic class-

Slan go foill! 

(See you later!)

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Hello Cork

Seeing as I'm new to the "blog world", I don't know how often it's acceptable or not acceptable to post. However, I am updating 4 days later with the excuse that a lot happens in 4 days time when you're in a brand new country AND- classes start tomorrow so soon enough I'll be too busy for blogging every 4 days...hopefully : )

The end of this week and this weekend have been all about getting to know my way around the city. Thursday afternoon I spent with my roommates Missy and Shelby walking around town exploring the shops. We went into Union Bakery where we found delicious plunders (turnovers) and hot drinks! A hot cup of tea warmed my hands for the rest of our walk. We then walked on to the English Market which is hands down the place to go for some cheap fresh produce and meat! A live pianist fills the upstairs with lovely melodies as people dine on fresh food offered at the Market Cafe. (that last sentence was like an advertisement for the place...don't you wanna come here now?!?)

(Left- Shelby getting an Apple Plunder at Union Bakery; Below; Me inside the entry way of The English Market open everyday of the week)

My last class of the week is Thursday evening at 5. This week there was an Irish Culture Night going on on campus so a couple friends and I walked over to the Chaplaincy after class and enjoyed some Murphy's stout (competitor of Guinness), ham sandwiches, and Irish dessert. It was great fun and delicious food! I was able to meet some people that play music every Tuesday night so I am hoping to jump in on that this next week. After our fill of munchies and conversation we were ready to go out! Thursday night is THEE night for going out because majority of the students go home on the weekends. Therefore the bars are much more crowded on a Thursday night than they are a Friday or Saturday. A concept us American's aren't really used to. SO, the roommates and I threw on our going out clothes and to the bars we went for a fun night of dancing and chatting. I met a few Irish guys who I am to meet for coffee next week to learn more about this beautiful place. I look forward to it.

Roomies! (Shelby, myself, Katie, and Missy...the 5th roomy does her own thing...)

The line you'll find outside any favorite pub on a Thursday night. Yikes!

The rest of the weekend I walked around and outside the city quite a bit. A little on my own and other times I tagged along with the group my roommates came with. 

Walking around the city Friday afternoon exploring nearby book stores and coffee shops. Vibes and Scribes was my favorite book store found, and sure enough my favorite spot for tea happens to be right next door to the apartment! It's a little spot called The Haven. It's 100% volunteer run. I chatted with the gal behind the counter who's actually from the states and I may begin volunteering there in whatever way they need (baking, cleaning, playing with the toddlers on Wed/Fri mornings, serving, etc). I enjoyed some tea over the Irish newspaper and occasional breaks to make faces at cute Irish babies...what can I say...they melt my heart.

A delicious dinner Friday night of chicken and potatoes (Mmmm!!... : / ).Certainly lacking on the spices here, but anything with ketchup I can manage to swallow. *Notice our sad, naked walls...that will soon change I hope!

Saturday I woke up to meet some other students for a tour around Cork only to find that I felt terribly sick to my stomach! I got dressed regardless and began to walk to campus until about half way I felt dizzy and literally bent over in pain from my stomach. I figured it was not the condition I wanted to walk around the city in and spent the day lounging until later in the evening. That night, after teaching Shelby and Missy how to play Kings In the Corner (shout out Dad!), we went for some "Trad" music (traditional Irish music). I captured a video but the server is unable to load such a hefty file. But trust me when I say it was authentic! Some true Irishmen filled the pub that night, including Futbol (soccer) players celebrating a victory and locals in to enjoy the music. I sat next to a few French men who were over in Ireland to celebrate the end of their exams. I was able to say "Hello my name is Laura, I am feeling good." to them thanks to Mrs. Goldstein- my elementary French teacher. They were excited to practice their English though which was lucky for me! We chatted the whole night and they offered to host me in their home town of Rennes, the northwestern part of France. I said I'd be delighted and we plan to stay in touch.
playing Kings in the Corner at our dining room table before Trad music! 

my new French friends Jonathan (middle) and Thomas (right)

Sunday (today) was exploration day. We must have walked ten miles across the river and up the hills and roads of County Cork. We even crossed over a highway! But to sum it all up, here are some of my favorite pictures from the expedition...
                                               Crossing the river on our way out of the city

A swan!! We passed a park that was swarming with pigeons, geese and swans (swans?)

                 Out in the middle of the pond was a nativity scene. What a great spot for a manger.

Reaching the top of the hill, finally! My face is a light bulb but you can get an idea of looking out over the city.

The little road we hiked and hiked and HIKED up until finding this farm

Looking innocent before trespassing into the field behind me. Whoops : )

pictures can't describe what was behind me...

I know I've typed too many words for any sane person to really pay attention to, but I have to conclude this blog with a few thoughts about my travels thus far. For one, it's only been a week! AHH! That's exciting in some ways but seriously terrifying in others. Exciting in the way that I can't believe how much I've already done and seen in just 7 days time. Terrifying because I still wake up having seen those from home in my dreams, and I wish to see their faces in person but I know it'll be months before that can be so. I am anxious to have normalcy and friends and travel plans and feel like I am at home here. However, I have no idea how many weeks it takes to reach that point and that can get me down some times. 
This is most certainly an experience unlike any I've ever had before. Where I would normally find myself at a Christian athletic camp with a familiar face, I am stepping into unknown territory with groups of friends that are already formed having no idea what cultural norms I am to be following. And as much as I can rant about that being "awesome", "exciting" and "exhilarating", there is SO much more that is felt entailing fear, anxiety, doubt, and loneliness. Now leave it to me to over analyze my experience in less than a week's time, but the point I am getting at is that I am learning so much more already than I could have ever expected. I am growing up in that I can't step out of the apartment door without a smart head on my shoulders. There isn't anyone beside me to suggest another opinion, to coax me into going one way vs the other (subconscious or conscious). I can't even find an example of the decisions that are made every minute of the day, but they're my own 100% of the time way more than they ever have been before. It's exciting, but it's new and with everything that is new I have always had a tendency to have an increased heart rate. 
I look forward to this next week of starting classes and establishing some routine. My hopes are to find something other to eat than PB and J and carrots and to make some new friends. In the meantime I'll teach myself to crave the satisfying bite of a homemade sandwich and I'll continue to invest in the friends already made. My thoughts and prayers are with every one at home for at least a few moments of the day. I am wishing everyone a great first month of the new year! I am also advising to appreciate what and who is there at home around you. You rarely love someone more than when you can't see their face everyday. Though that seems a melancholy note to end on, know I'm in good spirits and optimistic about the months ahead! 

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Goodbye Kansas

It's been just four days since the elegant wedding of Mr. and Mrs. John Falk and here I am already beginning to learn the ways of the Irishmen. It took a while to get here, but the time was appreciated as it served to buffer the initial shock of arriving in an entirely new country. After saying goodbye to family at the Christmas party- Mom, Dad, Gage, and I headed to the airport. After a sad, yet exciting goodbye and one round of the phone game (the delay on the phone between the person behind the security glass and the one in the airport makes for a hilarious waste of time before take off...), I was off! Though I thought rest would come I couldn't help but sit wide awake, contemplating the journey ahead. From plane to plane I went, the longest ride being a 7 hour red-eye flight from Chicago to London. In between occasional shut eye, I conversed with the man next to me from Bulgaria about life and more so about Die Hard 2 which played on repeat throughout the flight (Die Hard 2 and Lion King...). The movie's pretty intense if you haven't seen it. Me and my new friend Vasil were PRETTY into it...

 ANYHOW- It wasn't long before they were making the call for breakfast around 10am London time (4am Kansas City time) and we looked down upon this...

London, England from an aerial view! This was the first stop in Europe where I feasted on some peanut butter pretzels (Thanks Dad!) and took a nap on some airport benches- exhausted from the day of travel. At this point I felt as though I was just watching myself go about traveling. Being so tired wasn't really allowing me to process the fact that I was about to move to Ireland for 5 and 1/2 months. I was basically going through the motions and not realizing the climax of it all. But it was when I saw this below me that I began to let my mind wander to the reality of the situation...

When the plane hit the ground I could see the terminal in the distance. If you squint you can see the yellow letters that spell Cork on top. I had finally arrived! We walked off the plane straight to the outdoors and into the terminal from there. A cold wind hit my face immediately, but the beauty around me numbed the burn. As I rode the taxi into the City Centre I was in awe of the view. Everything is SO GREEN here!! The taxi driver educated me a little on the history of Cork, the most interesting fact being that the River Lee is the main river that feeds into Ireland. The mouth of the river is at the cove of Cork and as it runs further in, splits into two channels (north and south). The two channels surround the City Centre and then meet again after a ways out. This lay out makes the City Centre of Cork and island within an island! Crazy huh?! I certainly thought so...but that brings me to where I'm living. I'm in Leeside Apartments next to the North Channel of the River Lee in the City Centre. I live with 4 other girls that are truly very kind and sweet-hearted. 2 of them are from Minnesota and the other 2 from Maryland. They have come with groups from their school that all travel together. That has made it a little hard for me to initially jump in because they already have a group formed, however, the more time that passes, the more I realize- to be apart from a group holds a lot more opportunities (in most cases). 

This is my bedroom which is the largest in the apartment! Lucky me! The window looks down onto Grattan Street, one of the many side streets that runs into St. Patrick's street- THEE main street in the City Centre. The second picture is our living room that actually has yet to really be used...I assume once we make more friends we'll begin to have socials in there : )

Lastly are some pictures of me on campus. One outside the university gates, another in the main quadrangle, and the last in my English classroom with my roommate Katie. I can't explain the skull and cross bones, but some funny history about the quad is that no one ever walks on the grass or on the sidewalks that intersect through it. In the west wing of the building is the registry office and the office of examination, and across the lawn in the other wing is the president's office. It was superstition that if you were walking across the lawn you had failed your exam and therefore had to walk to the presidents office to explain your failure and get permission to repeat the class or academic semester. Therefore, in hopes of avoiding bad luck- all students stay off the lawn! 

I am slowly learning the ways of the Irish and getting to know the city of Cork. This next week will be the first full week of classes. I am in the mean time trying to get involved with clubs and societies on campus as well as finding some volunteer opportunities that the Chaplaincy on campus offers. I am looking to find some Irish friends that can show me more of this beautiful country! 

Until next time, cheers!