Monday, September 30, 2013

Trying new things

For anyone who doesn't know I am a very simple eater.  I hesitate to call myself picky because I'm not really picky; I'd eat chicken fingers over gourmet roast duck any day.  So it shouldn't come as a surprise that seafood isn't really my thing. I've never really liked it, and I haven't ever gone out of my way to try it. But on Saturday I was offered to try a piece of calamari and I said YES! I ate a piece, and it wasn't terrible! I made sure I got pictures for proof, but look at me all grown up and trying new things. Go Mary!
A little unsure at first but...
...I did it!

Blarney Castle and the Cliffs of Moher

Yesterday we made stops at Blarney Castle and the Cliffs of Moher on the way back from Cork to Galway.  The bus ride along the coast was incredible, but the stops we made were great and I was thrilled that the rain held off while we were on the cliffs.  Blarney Castle is a tower house built around 1446 atop a solid limestone mound.  The famous Blarney Stone is at the top of the castle and to kiss it you have to lie down on your back and lean backwards and downwards to the edge of the castle opening.  I didn't realize it would be such a feat just to kiss the stone!  Hopefully the pictures will make it clearer how high up it was!  The legend behind the stone is that kissing it will give you the "gift of gab".  Queen Elizabeth I used this term to refer to Lord Blarney since he would talk relentlessly but never actually agree to her terms. 

Some creepy art installations of eyeballs looking at you
The stairs were quite a tight squeeze!
The bottom rock there is the Blarney Stone!
I had to grab the iron bars to lean back and down to kiss the stone.  Luckily there is an attendant there to make sure you don't fall through the crack.
I kissed the stone! (and now I need purell for my lips)
There is a garden on the grounds of poisonous plants such as: opium poppy, marijuana, wormwood, wolfsbane, foxglove, hemlock, nightshade, and many more!  The leaf I'm holding is not poisonous, sorry to disappoint.
 For lunch we stopped in Lahinch which is small surfing town on the coast.  I had an amazing turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sandwich for lunch!  The view from the beach was great but I can't imagine how cold the water would be for people who were actually going out to surf. 
The shore of Lahinch, a popular surf town on the west coast of Ireland.
 Last stop: Cliffs of Moher!  The rain slowed to a sprinkle, the wind relaxed, and it wasn't too crowded.  The views were breathtaking, but I wish I had seen it in the summer.  From April-midAugust there is a puffin colony that dwells in the cliffs to lay their eggs before they fly to lower latitudes for the winter.  This isn't even a fraction of the pictures I took, but if you're ever in Ireland the Cliffs of Moher is a must-see.  It was truly a natural wonder, but it was kind of funny to see herds of cattle grazing so close to the cliffs.  The cliffs that we were all so impressed with have become a common sight for the farmers of the area that they must have to remind themselves every now and then how lucky they are to be surrounded by the awesomeness of nature.  It was definitely sobering to look down and think of the thousands of years it took the elements to create these formations.  There was not much in the way of barrier protection for visitors, so I cannot imagine how many people have lost their lives by falling, or jumping, off the cliffs over the years.  Signs throughout the park had the number for the Samaritans, and there was a memorial at one end dedicated to all the lives lost.  On a windier day I would have been hesitant to get as close to the edge as I got, because it was a long way down!  We all tried throwing rocks off the cliffs and into the water but it was such a long fall that we were not even able to see where the rocks landed since the wind took them away.

This week should be a quiet week, but I will be going to Dublin on Friday to meet a friend visiting from Barcelona.  Maybe my second time in Dublin I'll feel a little more comfortable in the city!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Corcaigh (Cork) and Cobh

Just got back from a weekend in Cork, on the southwest coast.  The first day there we had a tour of Cork and of Cobh (pronounced Cove).  Cobh is the port town where the Titanic last stopped before it embarked.  It has a rich shipping history and was also involved in rescue missions to the Lusitania.  The town was really cute, but once you turn off the main street and away from the tourist destinations, much of it is run down.  The harbor also is home to the Irish Naval base; apparently the Irish Navy has a whopping 8 ships!  Cork harbor used to be home to steel industries, timber boat yards, and other industrial plants that have since been abandoned.  Now it is a popular place for pharmaceutical companies to build plants, as that is a big industry in Ireland right now.   Cork City was great and very lively when we were walking around.  The all-Ireland hurling finals were being held Saturday and Cork was playing against Clare so the streets were filled with team flags and colors.  The city also has a interesting past with being burned down numerous times by the Vikings, the Normans, then the British.  Cork also floods quite frequently as well so a lot of the doors and other architecture is built to accommodate old river channels that ran through the city but are no longer there. 
The microclimate that operates in Cork allows for palm trees to grow.  Pretty strange sight to see in Ireland.  On old maps Ireland is referred to as Hibernia, or Land of Eternal Winter, so the palm trees are a non sequitur.
Statue of Annie Moore with her two brothers-- at Ellis Island she is featured in a statue but her brothers do not accompany her since she lost them on the journey.

Memorial to the people of Cobh and Cork who came to the aid of the Lusitania
St. Colman's Cathedral, Cobh
This street is known as the "Stack of Cards" because the houses look like they might topple over if one is pushed out of place.
Interior of St. Colman's
House in Cobh overgrown with ivy
Boats at rest in Cobh harbor
The White Star Line building, the same liner that ran the Titanic
The English Market in Cork City
Quite possibly the greatest olive bar I've ever witnessed. I got a big bag to-go and snacked on them for the rest of the day.
And they had macarons.  So I tripled in size just by walking through the market.
Blackberry and violet macaron
Nationalist Memorial to the Civil War
A painter at work
St. Finbarre's Cathedral-- this church belongs to the Church of Ireland, which is actually the established Anglican church, and not of the Catholic denomination.  It is the most ornate protestant church I've ever seen, and apparently at its unveiling parishioners were shocked by its grandeur.
University College Cork's main quadrangle

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Arthur Day!

Happy Arthur Day, everyone! Today is a day in Ireland celebrating Arthur Guinness.  Funny thing is this "holiday" was only started 5 years ago by Guinness as an advertising gimmick.  At 17:59 (5:59pm) everyone raises their glasses to toast to Arthur to commemorate the year he started his brewery.  The day is controversial in Ireland as a lot of doctors site the creation of the holiday as the cause of a large increase in ambulance call outs due to alcohol.  Doctors also point to advertising gimmicks like this as part of the increase in the last decade of liver disease. I got all these great stats listening to lunchtime talk radio at community service today. So of course later I had to see what all the fuss was about. I'm a sucker, I bought a cheap pint and toasted to good ol' Arthur.  As to whether or not Arthur day is a good thing to have around as "tradition", the jury's still out.  

Monday, September 23, 2013

Indian Summer in Galway!

I finally got my package from home today (thanks Mom and Dad)
filled with a fleece, scarves, and boots, as I thought I would be needing them as soon as I got here. The past few days I have needed shorts and tank tops more than fleeces and scarves!  Locals are saying that this "Indian Summer" might last into October with the weather hanging around 70 degrees and sunny.  Obviously there will be rain here and there but I won't complain about the gorgeous weather! 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

A few reflections

By now I have been here in Galway for just under a month.  I feel like that is a long enough period of time for my initial impressions to be either reinforced or changed by the people I've been meeting and the time I've spent in and around the city.  Before my arrival I knew that Ireland was in a recession and I expected to see more poverty than I have been seeing.  Since Galway is a small city, I thought the recession would have had a visibly large effect on the economy and industry of the area.  Instead, all of that seems to be superficially covered, especially since Galway is a popular tourist destination, and no one wants visitors to see the true hardships of a city.  What I guess surprises me most is that despite the fact that the country is in a recession, the public works departments still seem to be very active on what appear to be non-essential projects.  For example, there is a large rotary/traffic circle/roundabout near my apartment which has been under construction since I've been here and they have been making new sidewalks, new bus stops, and they appear to be redoing the whole middle section of the roundabout.  The sidewalks that were previously in place were not broken apart or in a state of disrepair, but they seem to be redone only to match the cosmetics of the rest of the construction.  Now obviously I am not an expert on construction, road repair, etc., so it is very likely that all the work I've seen has been necessary.  It just feels like the city/country/people work very hard to keep up appearances and hide the problems underneath the surface.  When I see massive roadwork undertakings I assume that the city in question must have a healthy budget to perform these tasks, which contradicts all I've been told about the state of the Irish economy.  One professor even went so far as to assure us this is, in fact, a depression, not a recession, and that we shouldn't be fooled into thinking otherwise.  Another professor labeled it a "mancession" because the male work force has been most negatively affected by cut-backs and layoffs.  Maybe it is just because we are in the city that the poverty is less visible, but I am surprised that many of the effects of the recession are invisible to outsiders. 
Even in the tourist areas in town where street performers do their business (think similar to Quincy Market or Harvard Square, for all you Bostonians) there are very few people who appear homeless or down on their luck.  They're there, but they are not obvious at first, and their numbers are far fewer than I've seen in other cities.  One of our professors explained to us how some of the social welfare practices work, and she made it seem like people can still get by on what the government provides for short periods of unemployment, but long periods without income prove more difficult for young families and single parents.  The support is there but it cannot meet 100% of the need, which isn't surprising or unusual.  I, and the rest of my classmates, were taken aback by the professor telling us that the Irish pay about 50% of their income to taxes, in one way or another.  We all discussed that if we were paying that much money in taxes we would expect that more support would be provided than what is currently given to people in need.  We were also surprised to learn that Ireland isn't even a part of a National Health Service like the UK is, and so there is no universal healthcare.  If half of my income was being paid to my government I would expect more back, so it was very eye-opening to learn these things and then start to see the problems with it in our daily lives here. 

Just a few more comments to make on the culture here, and then I promise I'll stop rambling. 
Okay so as far as the Irish stereotype for drinking is concerned, the college students I've encountered fit the stereotype and then some.  They go out Mon-Thurs and have no problems smashing bottles, breaking signs, and leaving tons of crap in their wake.  I don't understand how they can do it every night and then wake up for class the next morning (although a lot of them don't plan on going to class every day).  I also don't understand how they can afford to be eating and drinking out this much.  The drinks are expensive here compared to home anyway, but if you add in the cover charges for certain clubs and music venues, students could be spending close to 100 euro a week on their nightlife alone.  I'm just glad I've found some like-minded people from my trip who would rather not be a zombie for 9 am class everyday, and who want to save their money for travel.

Maybe some of my confusion about the economy/culture will be cleared up in my classes in the coming weeks. I'll let you know!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Volunteering and Hurling in the Rain

Today I volunteered for Enable Ireland's final day of their fundraising week. They hosted a swingdance-a-thon in the center of town and even in the rain the dancers were swinging! I wore a yellow bib and sold Enable Ireland pins, buttons, keychains, and wristbands.  It was nice to be able to chat with people who were willing to stop and donate and ask me about the States.  One man from England bought a pin for his wife and told me that they have known each other for 33 years and are just celebrating their 3rd wedding anniversary this year.  He is 65 and she is 83 and he called himself "the original boy toy".  Plenty of other people stopped too, but cute elderly couples always make me smile! Anyway, here's me standing in the rain:

Later I got to see the final match of the Aer Lingus International Hurling Festival. It was great to watch it live even if it was just for exhibition play.  In a few weeks I will be in Cork during the all Ireland finals which Cork will be playing in!  It should make for some awesome viewing if we can find the right pub to watch in.