Thursday, June 28, 2012

It's the Home Stretch!

Hip, hip, hurray! (insert old-school Nickelodeon fanfare noise here) Today was my last day of classes! Although it doesn't feel very real, it's gotten me a bit emotional. Bittersweet. I'm not afraid to say I'm proud of myself. I think that occasionally it's necessary for you to step back and look at all you've accomplished, and really appreciate what you've done. Although I haven't crossed the finish line yet, I'm so close! Now I walk to school knowing there's only a limited number of times that I will see these familiar sights again. I don't want to get too crazy on saying goodbye just yet, I'll save that for when I actually leave.

But what I noticed today, is that it's funny how you get so used to one thing in life, and all the little details of that thing somehow define it. Like the last day of school, for instance. At Missouri State, the last day of school is usually defined by a messy just-got-out-of-bed hair do, T-shirt/baggy running shorts, beautiful balmy May weather, a general feeling of excitement on campus, a dormant knot-in-the-gut feeling, and a giant breakfast. Post-class involves strolling victoriously through the beautiful open campus, dipping my toes in the fountain, and celebrating afterwards with Andy's ice cream. Then immediately back to frantically studying, maybe even for that weird Saturday final I'd occasionally have. 

So today, when I fixed my hair as always, put on real clothes, had normal breakfast, and had a pleasant, well-rested, overall feeling of general normalness, it didn't feel like the last day of school for me. Because usually, the biggest obstacle to get through is the semester. There's such a feeling of success that I made it! But not here. No classroom assignments, no job, no volunteering, no lab write-ups, no in-semester tests. No feeling of accomplishment or relief. That may also be because I still have, wait for it, THREE WEEKS of exams. Ugh. Double ugh. So there is still a chance for me to have that awful but glorious last day of school feeling on July 17th, when I sit my last exam in Operations Management. 

Luckily, today we actually had decent weather! Aachen can do right once in a while. The next couple of weeks will be busy, busy, busy with few breaks in between. However, tonight is the semifinal of Euro 2012 with Germany vs. Italy, and things are going to get exciting! And next week I'm celebrating the 4th of July by cooking American food for my international friends. Then all that's left are windsurfing lessons, the last international BBQ, and saying goodbye. Time is a fickle creature. It trickles and sprints at the same time. Soon I'll be back in the land of 24/7  Walmarts and XXXL pants. As I said before, bittersweet. 

So, in the next few weeks, if I do happen to post a blog ( I know, I know! I'm still behind!) you'll know it's because I'm seriously putting off studying for my final about European Economic Integration. :) 

I leave you with this thought. Appreciate the little details of every day in life, and especially on those days that have certain weird traditions. I didn't realize until too late today that I really missed doing the whole "minimal-effort last day of school thing."  Because when those details change, or aren't there anymore, you really realize how much they meant to you. 

Anyway, wish me luck! First exam is in my German class tomorrow! 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Ireland...The Sequel...except better than sequels, because they suck.

 As promised, here is the second part of my trip to beautiful Ireland. (If you didn't already get to see photos from the first few days in Ireland, click here.) 

After being a little disappointed by Dublin, Ireland had some catching up to do to meet my expectations. I did love the village of Howth, but I was still hoping for a miracle, some phenomenal adventure that would make Ireland compare to Scotland. As a little kid, I was always sort of obsessed with leprechauns and St. Patrick's day. I imagined dancing faeries and the like. I was lucky enough to have an awesome mom that turned every little holiday into a big event. She'd make green shamrock pancakes and talk in an Irish accent all day. I would set out leprechaun traps the night before, and when my sister was old enough, I showed her how to make them. My guess is that this sort of instilled in me a love for the country that inspired this fantastic holiday. I still do believe that Ireland holds magic.

 So the three of us girls booked a day tour of the Irish countryside. The tour advertised a trip to a family farm in the Burren, a trip through the Burren, the Cliffs of Moher, and the Portal Tomb. It was all that I wanted and more. It was so strikingly, wildly, magically beautiful. It lived up to and past my expectations. I don't really know how to describe that moment when you've wanted something so badly for so long, and when you finally get it, it's better than you ever expected. But if that's ever happened to you, you'll know what I mean. Get ready to see a lot of green.

We took a bus from Dublin to Galway, then rode down little winding roads until we pulled up in front of just a normal looking house. "Cottage" if you want to be quaint. So there we were starting our tour off at some Irish family's farm! It was so cute, nestled between the rocky hills of the Burren. All the mountains in the area are privately owned, so in order to go anywhere, you have to have the property owner take you. So the son of the family took our tour group on a hike up the hills, past their cows and sheep (he fed a baby lamb for us, it was so stinkin cute). 

He showed us a "fairy tree" where you can tie your problems onto it, and leave them there forever. Then he made us lie down in the grass and lay absolutely quiet for a  minute. We could hear the wind rustling along the mountains and through the grass. Getting up, expecting some profound statement after that profound moment, he just told us, "Now you know what Burren cows feel like." Unfortunately, I didn't  see any fairy circles or leprechauns But from the top of the farm, I could see the coast, the ruins of an old Abbey, and some ruins of the "seven churches" (of which there were only ever four. ) 

In case you were wondering what The Burren is, it's characterized by the rocky mountains (see below). A mystical, lonely, yet calm, peaceful, friendly place.

After the hike around the farm, we were treated (although we paid for it) to Irish coffee and maybe the most delicious apple pie I've ever eaten. Our tour guide (aka family son) even sang some traditional Irish songs for us and taught us the chorus. It was great fun. Ladies, if you're wondering: get yourself a man with a cute Irish accent who sings and feeds baby sheep and believes in faeries. 

From the farm, we got back on the bus and made a pit-stop closer to the coast to admire the rocky Burren shore. SO MANY ROCKS. (In case you were wondering why Ireland is full of cute stone fences instead of wood, it's simply because when they clear the land for farming, they have to do something with all those rocks).

The Cliffs of Moher were next, and they are extremely self-explanatory. Although when Emily asked the visitor centor lady how many tourists died, she corrected us to "visitors" and said she didn't know. Hmm. Also take note of how small the people are, and how small the castle on the far cliff is (the castle is probably about ~45 feet tall). 

The rain clouds started to settle in

After the cliffs, we headed to the Portal Tomb, or "Hole of Sorrow" as our bus-driver guide translated for us...which made us giggle...a lot. Oh man, I'm a terrible person. Anyway, it really was soooo amazing. It had a surreal feeling. I could almost imagine faeries and leprechauns were real at this point. 

On the way back, we had dinner at a traditional Irish restaurant, where I had the best salmon of my entire life. In fact, it might have been the best MEAL of my entire life (sorry mom). Oh, and we ended our tour with a stop at a castle. I think the guide said it was one of the old O'Brian castles. Ok ladies, update: get yourself a man with a cute Irish accent who sings and feeds baby sheep and believes in faeries AND has the last name of O'Brian!! 

It was probably the most perfect way possible to end my trip to Ireland. I am so glad I got to cross it off my List. I would recommend a trip to anyone that is thinking about going. But I would probably advise picking a different (more traditional) city than Dublin, and I'd also recommend visiting the Giant's Causeway (unfortunately we didn't have time for this, but it looks unbelievable!). Sorry for this post being extremely long! Belgium is next! 


Nil aon tinteán mar do thinteán feín

Nil aon tinteán mar do thinteán feín... a Gaelic saying for, "there's no fireplace like your own fireplace." 

After traveling so much in the past month, I've come to agree wholeheartedly..even if I have a mostly dead orchid instead of a fireplace. 

As I mentioned in my last post about Scotland, I had the whole week off, so after my two days of alone time I flew into Dublin to meet my trusty travel companion Emily and new friend Ellea who both studied during the semester in Amsterdam. My first thought on the bus ride through the city en route to my hostel wasn't that nice. Dublin was sadly disappointing compared to the striking beauty of Edinburgh. However, I was determined not to judge too quickly or too harshly, as I'd be spending 4 days there, and visiting Ireland was not only on my travel checklist, but on my LIFE bucket list. That's a big deal, since my life bucket list really only consisted of:

1.Visit Ireland. 

Ha. Jokes! 

Anyway, we pretty much wasted the entire first day failing at stuff. After finding Steak and Guinness pie, we found out the tour of the jail we wanted to do was already all booked, and then got directions from a local to hike the "short distance" (it felt like 2 miles) to try unsuccessfully to find the entrance to the Guinness Brewery before it closed for the day. So my first day in Ireland, what did we do? SHOPPING. When all else fails, spend money! Yeah! We found the Dublin edition of Primark, called Penney's and (to my complete surprise and utter delight) a FOREVER21 that was as big as a department store. It had three floors. Seriously. The problem with shopping on trips, is that although you packed your Ryanair bag to it's full 10kg limit, you still have to fit all the new stuff into the bag to go home. If I was smart, I wouldn't make these kinds of decisions, but there you go. 

The second day, we tried to make up for missing out on everything. We crossed the famous "gaol" (jail) off our list, it just wasn't going to happen, and took a 3 hour walking tour, along with a tour of the Guinness Brewery. The tour was enlightening, and we saw all of Dublin's major attractions, like these: 

The Liffey

Some statue of a famous dude.. I was bored of the tour at this point, sorry. 

Outside Dublin Castle


Oh, there it is...well THAT's disappointing. Dublin ain't got nuttin on Germany. 

An old Viking church. There used to be a whiskey distillery in the basement. Multi-tasking at its finest. 

Trinity College

The Guinness Brewery was disappointing. It was poorly designed, the arrows on the floor were confusing, they had all the descriptions of exhibits written in WHITE letters on plexiGLASS signs...How can ANYONE read that? 

The coolest part was that I did, however, get to learn to pour my own Guinness out of the tap, which was pretty cool. There's a specific method for the best taste that usually takes ~2.5 minutes, so don't get impatient when it feels like your bartender has gone on a smoke-break! I even got a shiny certificate to make my fantabulous Guinness pouring official. And the Guinness building is the tallest in Dublin, so we did get a nice view at the top! 
Us girls and our expertly pulled Guinness
The cool thing about the walking tours that I always seem to go on is that they also run a pub crawl at night exploring a variety of the local (usually touristy) places. But we did make our way through the famous Temple Bar District, which was probably the most atmospheric place in Dublin. We visited a microbrewery there, and had a sampler of different beers. It was quite fun. ;) 

Rainy as always

The next day, we took a day-trip to the little coastal village of Howth. It was stinkin cute. We ate fish and chips, walked around the pier, did NOT see seals like we were supposed to, I creeped on an adorable little girl and her dad, and hiked down to the cliffs to see the lighthouse. It was breathtaking. I know, I know, I'm using lots of the same adjectives as Scotland, but seriously, the Thesaurus only has so many to choose from! 

This is me being a huge creepster.^

I'm going to do Ireland in two parts, so you don't get burnt out! :) Don't worry, the next part will come soon... 

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Castle. Check. Dungeon. Check. Scary Monster. Check.

I don't know about you, but I have gotten extraordinary good at fitting the maximum amount of stuff possible into a small, Ryanair-sized travel bag. Shower shoes? Check. Towel? Too bulky, you don't get to come! Lotion? Nah, I'll be smelly. Jeans? I only need one pair for the whole week. Let's just hope they don't rip...oh wait. Yeah that happened.  

In Germany, in the middle of May, the university gives us a "reading week"... sort of reminiscent of spring break, except the professors are supposed to give us extra work. Ha. I used the opportunity to cross off a bunch of things, including "travel by myself somewhere." I went to Edinburgh, Scotland for two days alone, before I met up with my friends in Ireland. It was really an awesome experience, something I think everyone should try in their lifetime. I set my own pace, had lots of time to think, wonder, ponder, and just soak up the beauty of life. Scotland was the perfect place for that. Serene, wildly beautiful, and overall, just a breath-taker.

Edinburgh was one of the most unique cities I've visited. It really had it's own living, breathing atmosphere. Part of me knew that I was in a modern working city, but I couldn't help but imagine the past around every corner. Greystone buildings with tons of chimneys, old churches, winding closes, tunnels, bridges, narrow stairs, etc.  

But I did get to learn about Edinburgh's dark past and apart from seeing a torture museum, I got to go inside the old vaults built under the city where the poor lived. It was SO creepy. Can you imagine 30+ people living/sleeping in this lightless hell (below)? It was awful. Not to mention all the ghost stories our guide provided. Fun stuff, let me tell you. :( 

**Note to self: Never, EVER, EVER go on a nighttime Ghost Tour when you're traveling by your lonesome. That's gotta be one of my dumbest ideas ever. 

 Warning: brief history lesson!! Back in the day, they required an entrance tax consisiting of £2 (a year's wages). So basically, people would enter the city, only to find out there were no jobs available. It was crowded, smoky, and dirty. The glitch was, in order to leave,  you had to pay another £2, which most people didn't have or expect! So crime rained rampant, due to the fact that it was illegal to sleep in the streets. People did whatever they had to in order to make some dough. And to make it better, the age for full prosecution of criminal activity was only 8 years old. Sad, right? Regardless, the city is so neat. Twisting, turning alleys, closes, and everything is built in, on, under, or around something else! See what I mean? 


The castle was really neat. Just perched on top of an outcropping of jagged volcanic rock. It was pretty intimidating, and you could see it from just about anywhere in the city. 

I did a walking tour of the city, hiked up a giant hill to get a breath-taking view, and did a day-trip to the Highlands and Loch Ness. The highlands were probably the most beautiful, magical, surreal place I've ever visited. It didn't help that the entire trip was enclosed in a weird misty fog that covered the peaks of the mountains and made everything feel like a dream. I think really the only way to describe it is in pictures. So here ya go! 

Sandwich with HAGGIS! go me! 

That's the queen's Scottish palace ^

I hiked to the top of Arthur's Seat

LOOK! It's Nessie!!!

Ireland is next, friends! Then Belgium, Berlin, and Barcelona! I've got a lot of blogging to do!! :) Stay tuned!