Tuesday, June 22, 2010

72 Hours of Daylight

So apparently I'm a Bachelorette fan now. I watched an episode with the roommates and now I'm hooked. Embarrassing I know. But last night's episode took place in ICELAND! So between all the weather warnings for tornados in the Milwaukee area, I got to relive my little trip to Iceland with Katie.

We got there on a Friday, after leaving the rest of the family and my GIANT overweight blue suitcase that had practically my whole life in it. As we got off the plane and onto a bus to go into Reykjavik we noticed the ash in the air. It seemed just like fog but there was a layer of ash in our hair and on every surface around town that fog definitely didn't do. We asked around and found out that is was ash from the infamous volcano, but that this ash in the air had only happened one other time. It had been unusually winding around the volcano in the south.

We walked around for a bit, then had traditional Icelandic food for dinner, which consisted of weird food in jars. I had fish stew, which sounds pretty safe, but actually kind of tasted weird. To me Katie's was even worse, but she liked it.

Every night, we were beat from a full day of touring, but Iceland just didn't want us to go to bed. It stayed light pretty much the entire time we were there, hence the blog title. It was weird getting ready for bed, brushing your teeth, and laying down to sleep when the sun is saying its basically the middle of the day. By the last night there, I was used to it.
Saturday we went on the Golden Circle Tour. We saw geysers, waterfalls, and tectonic plates. I was actually in North America and Eurasia at the same time! Also, Iceland uses tons of geothermal energy, so we got to tour their power plant, which was really interesting. A long day in the bus seeing lots of Icelandic horses and strange scenery led to another early night in. The landscape went from snow covered mountains, to green fields, to this weird rocky desert like landscape covered in grey moss.

Sunday was a great day planned by me. A free tour of the city, the flea market, the Iceland Museum and hot dogs for lunch. The Maritime Festival was going on that weekend, so we got to see lots and lots of dead fish and a dead whale. They had a Coast Guard rescue simulation straight from The Guardian so we obviously were into it. All this right before we went whale watching.

Now you would think whale watching would be really amazing. We were imagining a giant humpback or sperm whale swimming beside our boat, jumping around, splashing us, and blowing out of his blow whole. It didn't happen. Needless to say we were pretty disappointed. We did, however, get to wear sweet jumpsuits that kept us warm and saw lots of puffins. As our boat got close to them, they tried to fly away but sometimes are too full from eating so they just barely skim the top of the water.

We did get lucky enough to see some dolphins. A huge pod of them that kept coming up, just enough to see their top fin. We got our pictures and were ready to head back but instead circled these dolphins for about..... a half an hour. I was done with the dolphins after about 10 minutes. Finally we headed back. Kate and I were both freezing cold and pretty bored, so we went inside and read books about saving Keiko, the whale from "Free Willy" who was originally from Iceland!

The next day it was time to head home. We took a quick stop at the Blue Lagoon before our flight. Unfortunately, there was a mix up with our tickets so we couldn't actually swim in the steaming blue water, but still got to snap some cool pictures.

We were on our way home. An amazing end to my semester spent with a great travel partner.

I sat on the plane, a five hour ride home and thought of all the things I had done and people I had met. As I watched "Marley and Me," (a movie I had seen before) I cried my eyes out, trying to hold back loud sobs so people wouldn't think I was that weird girl crying on the plane. But I knew I wasn't just crying for this dying golden retriever, but was crying because an unforgettable five months was ending and the next part of my life was beginning. I would be back home to Quincy and Milwaukee soon, and knew that I had to take everything I had learned about myself and the rest of the world and actually do something with it. I must admit, it is a little harder to come back than I imagined, but I am slowly but surely getting back into the swing of things, happy that I have good friends and family to help.

Some great craic

Sorry, sorry everyone. I've officially been done with my study abroad experience for a week now and still no posts. I know you are all dying to know how the family trip went, home amazing Iceland was, and how I'm adjusting back to American life. Well- here ya go. Picking up from where I left off.

Family arrived on Thursday morning to Dublin. They were expecting me to surprise them at the airport but no, not there. They were expecting me to be waiting in the lobby, but no, not there either. I was just waiting in the room with Emily and Pat, eating a scone. Katie and Dan knocked on the door, I jumped up to open it, and that was where I saw my family for the first time in 5 months. So happy I didn't really have anything to say to them . Just sat there with a smile on my face.

Thursday we just hung out in Dublin. Took a trip to the Guinness Brew House for my family to enjoy their first Guinness and tried to get the family adjusted to Irish time. It took awhile, and the grumpyness of everyone left us all a little nervous for the rest of the trip, but once Friday morning came, we were ready to go.

Sam, our wonderful guide, and the Vagabond van came to take us on our journey Friday. We piled all of our things in and were on our way.
I won't bore you with the detail, just some highlights. But, let me tell you, we had a great time.

I was fortunate enough to get to see The Burren, a castle, Doolin, and the Cliffs of Moher for the 4th time. Lucky me.

Galway. I got to show my family where I lived for the past months. We were lucky enough to be there on a Saturday, so the market was in full force. Definitely a highlight of Galway. I showed them the best food stands and trinket shops. The city was bustling, not too rainy. I think they totally understand why I loved this place so much. A walk to Salthill, some classic Galway Oysters, and dinner with Emily and Pat. For me, it was one of the best parts of the trip. I think everyone else would agree.

Beautiful weather let us climb next to Ireland's fjord. A little path with great views, no one else around, and lots of sheep just hanging out as we walked right past them.

Climbed a couple mountains, ending in great views as we reached the top. Even Mom and Dad made it. No problems for Laura.

Ennisgrone in Co. Sligo was probably my favorite place we stayed. We got there in the evening, dropped our stuff off in our nice B & B. We were pretty sure we had the entire house to ourselves that night. The house overlooked the beach, with a great sunset from our bedroom window. Before dinner we took a walk along the water, cows on one side, ocean on the other. The waves crashed onto the small rocks and as the waves rolled back into the ocean, it dragged the rocks back too, creating to coolest noise I’ve ever heard.
Dinner at another pub but this time with amazing tomato soup and goat cheese tarts, and of course Guinness. Katie and Dan were loving Guinness by the time we left; Mom and Dad, not so much. Mom was more of a Smithwicks fan. She couldn’t get enough. A walk along the beach and playing in the sand to end the night.

While in Donegal we took a boat ride with Paddy to see the biggest sea cliffs in Europe (I think) Too bad is was super cloudy and we could only see half of them. The water was really choppy and I must admit a little scary at times. But I always LOVE a good boat ride. ( No one was as scared as Katie though. She isn’t quite a rough water boater.) After taking my turn driving the boat, Paddy even offered me a job! I knew my plan of finding a job and staying in Ireland forever would eventually work out.

Finally we crossed into Northern Ireland, touring Derry and Belfast. Due to Sam’s stories, Mom was a little bias but I loved it. Seeing Giant’s Causeway and walking along the cliff path for 4.5 miles was gorgeous. Another climb up a mountain, in record time for Vagabond, and we were headed back in to the Republic of Ireland and ending our trip.

The best times were just sitting in the back of the van, laughing at mom writing in her “journal,” eating lots of Irish food, drinking Irish beer, and seeing the gorgeous sights of Ireland all together. For me, it was a perfect end to a wonderful 5 months.

Everyone always asks where my favorite place to visit was. I always reply that is was traveling around Ireland, hands down. I’m so happy my family was able to see it and hang out with me for 9 days. The people are wonderful, the sights breathtaking. No other place compares to it. I dream about going back, to Galway and all the other places I didn’t get a chance to see. No matter how much I saw, I will always feel like there are endless things to see in Ireland. Maybe I won’t be back soon, or maybe next year we’ll have a little Niland House reunion, I’ll never know, but either way you can bet that I will be back someday. You just can’t stay away from a place so great.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

I am now entering Rihanna's world.

Okay, not quite. But for a couple hours last night, at the O2 Arena in Dublin with Emily and Pat, I was totally in her world. The Rihanna concert was definitely the way to end 5 months in Ireland together. After listening to Rihanna songs for the past week straight, hearing them live couldn't have been better.

Our favorite song came on

Excited. Duh.
You almost needed an umbrella ela ela ela
So I'm obviously not in Rihanna's world anymore, but I have left Galway. Currently in Dublin hotel enjoying a little family time. The past week really has been a vacation. No visitors, no commitments, just the sun and Galway. We went to the beach, went for runs, the market, out to pubs. Basically what we've been doing for the past 5 months but with nothing else in between. And the weather was gorgeous. Apparently Ireland had a bit of a heat wave. We definitely took advantage of it.

mmmm treats on the beach

Frisbee time

It's hard to get used to the fact my family is in Ireland. I've talked about my life here so much, it's crazy to think they are now going to get to experience parts of it. So far today the weather has been perfect, they've already enjoyed their first Guinness, and our week long tour of Ireland starts bright and early tomorrow.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

So long, farewell....

To my friends and visitors, not yet to Galway. There are only a few of us left now. Two more left last night. Every other night seems to be someone's "last night" so we go out to dinner at one of the many restaurants we have yet to try, sit by the water, enjoying the nice weather, and then to have one last pint at our favorite pubs. Each day is one closer to when I'm leaving, but I'm not quite ready yet. I still have a few days left in Galway, and I will be enjoying every minute of them.

After finals were over, Sullivan came to visit! It was a much needed break for her, and a very very welcome guest for me. She needed a little bit of the Irish slow life put into her life. We ate out, cooked dinner, and enjoyed the market. We went to Dublin, the Aran Islands, and the Cliffs of Moher. Each of which I had done before, as you know, but we did something a little different at each.
According to John Jameson, Sullivan and I are certified whiskey tasters. I must admit, Jameson was my favorite and not just because we took the tour. Some souvenir shopping, a quick trip to the museum, and the typical tourist stops around town; we were back on the bus to Galway.

We bought tickets to go to Innishmaan, but as most Irish things are slightly unorganized, didn't get off at the right ferry stop. So we went to Innishorr instead, the small island. The rain held off so we biked around the island stopping for lunch by the sea, at the graveyard, shipwreck, lighthouse, and of course the white sandy beach.
Some poor planning let us stay in Galway the next day, enjoying one of my typical rainy afternoons eating treats, walking around, shopping, and watching a movie in the apartment.
Cliffs of Moher the last day in Galway. Everyone has to do it when they go to Ireland. I didn't mind seeing it for a third time. Its still amazing. And in a week from today, I won't mind seeing the Cliffs for a fourth time. The flowers had finally started to bloom and the grass was green, so it was whole new tour to me (almost). I sadly put Sullivan on a bus the next morning. Luckily, she took home a huge bag of my stuff. Less stuff for me to carry home.

I was happy to have such a great friend here to share what I've been doing for the past 5 months. She met my friends, saw the sites, and hung out at the pubs. Neither of us had a care in the world for those 5 days. We talked and laughed, ate and drank and it could not have been any better.

My days left here are shrinking, and with each day that passes, I love Galway more and more. the days are getting longer. The sun doesn't set until at least 10 pm, which makes you want to stay outside by the water all night long. Yesterday, we played Bananagrams and ate pizza by the water. Took a little break to change then headed over to Shop Street for a Bulmers. Burritos for dinner and a walk to the pier. My friends and I walked together and sat on the edge by the water, not talking really, just taking in the sights. We have been here for 5 months and its finally coming to an end. We've met great people who have made this time here so special. We live in a city where everyone wants to be. People are swarming, and as we walked back into town to have one last pint of Guinness with our friend Tara who was leaving, it felt like Summer. The tourists were out, strolling along enjoying every one of the street performers. The tons of locals came out from no where. It was like a block party, with plastic cups of beer and music. You couldn't even walk through the streets without running right into someone Irish. It felt like it was really finally summer, which made me never want to leave this place.

Rihanna tickets are bought for Wednesday in Dublin with Emily and Pat.
Surfing on Monday in Sligo if the surf is good.
One last market today.

Silent Disco Part II tonight!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Oh yeah, I forgot!

To tell you all I climbed a MOUNTAIN the other day! Not just any mountain either; it was Croagh Patrick in Co. Mayo. I had been told thousands of people climb this mountain every July, some barefoot, as a pilgrimage. St. Patrick was said to have fasted at the top of this mountain for 40 days and then threw a silver bell down the side, banishing the she-demon Corra and eliminating snakes from Ireland. (Thank you Wikipedia) This was a pretty popular mountain so I assumed it would be a leisurely walk up to the top, no big deal.

Boy, was I wrong. It was broken into 3 different parts: A steep part, a flat part, then a really steep rocky part. All three parts were hard. I could never imagine doing it barefoot.

First part
I thought about stopping, but pushed on, knowing it would be worth it in the end. Looking up towards the final stretch, however, with no real path, just tons of lose rock, was daunting.

Hard part
We walked in and out of clouds. It would be sunny and hot, then 10 steps later, cloudy, cold, and rainy. I finally made it but was stuck in a cloud and couldn't see a thing. A little anti-climatic, but still worth it.

Then we started our way down, which was harder than going up. It took me almost as long, trying not to fall on loose rock and tumbling down the mountain side. Boys were literally running past me as I took tiny step after tiny step. Finally, we made it back and enjoyed a nice treat and much needed stretch at the visitor's center.

A little game I've played before.

A typical little get-to-know-you game that I've played at meetings and first day of classes, and just read one on my favorite new blog: Happys and Crappys. Tell us one good thing (happy) and one bad thing (crappy) about your day today. As my trip is starting to come to an end, I can't help but want to play this game, just a little bit.

Happy: I went to the dog tracks on Friday. Get the student discount. Look at the info book. Pick the dog with the coolest name to win because I have nothing else to base my decision on as I have NO knowledge of racing at all. Place your bets. No more than 2euro for me. Run down to the track. Watch as the dogs parade around, then are shoved into the starting gates. The mechanical rabbit zips by and out go the dogs. Cheer for about 30 seconds. Go collect your prize! Repeat.
Crappy: Overall, I lost about 3euro, which isn't as bad as some of my friends, who ended up losing 20, but still. I was hoping to come away a winner.

Happy: My last final is on Wednesday! After that, I will officially be a senior!
Crappy: I actually have to study for it, which as I've told you all before, is difficult here. I've even admitted to dreaming about being in Memorial Library. Who would have ever thought I would want to be tucked away on the 3rd floor, in a cubicle, with no windows, no people, no noise, no distractions, just me and my studying?

Happy: Sullivan is coming on Friday! I haven't quite made our itinerary yet, but I can promise she will never want to leave, and not just because I won't be coming home yet. Hurry up Friday!
Crappy: Almost all of my friends here are going home between now and Saturday. I can't imagine being in Galway without them. Our time here has been so wonderful, with the best people and having such a great time together, I can't believe we only have a few days left. It hasn't quite hit me completely, but in the next couple days, Ireland just won't be the same.

Happy: Meals prepared by my roommates and I, including Oatmeal Pancakes, White Vegetable Lasagna, and the most delicious Potluck dinner yet.
Crappy: Feeling WAY too full because you just can't get enough of all that good food.

Happy: Family coming in almost 2 weeks.
Crappy: That little bit of worry I have that the ash clouds will interrupt their flight plans. If they can't come (or Sullivan) watch out- I will not be happy.

Happy: In a few days, having all the time in the world to just hang out in Ireland and do whatever I want.
Crappy: ........................ nothing.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Two Words: Silent Disco

By far one of the best nights spent in Galway. It wasn't at a pub, talking with old Irish men listening to traditional music, although I do love doing that, nor was it spent having a party in Niland House with all my friends. It was spent at Silent Disco.

You walk into the bar, pay 5euro and get your hand stamped, go through the curtains, onto the dance floor. Don't forget to pick up your headset! Put the headphones on, turn to the station all your friends are on, and dance the night away.

There are two regular djs, playing indie dance music along with all your classic American tunes like Twist and Shout on two different channels on your headset. When you don't like the song, simply switch over to the other station. Three solid hours of dancing like crazy. Its just like the iPod commercials. Jamming to your own tunes, but everyone is doing the same thing all around you.

By far, the best parts of the Silent Disco are 1. Trying to figure out which channel people are listening to. Either by their horrible off-key singing or great dance moves to the beat, it was so fun trying to match up to them 2. Taking off your headsets for a minute while the song is playing to just hear everyone singing but no actual music. It was the weirdest feeling, seeing everyone dancing yet the room is pretty much silent, except for a little singing and some side conversations.

Never have I heard of any Silent Discos back home, but if Milwaukee starts to be cool enough for one, I will be first in line to get my headset.

Another two words: Aran Islands.
The other highlight of the week, a much needed break after my first final, Tierney, Kelsey and I went off to the Aran Islands. After a bus and a ferry ride, we arrived to the Irish speaking island of Ireland. You hop off the ferry and automatically are bombarded by men trying to get you to come on tours in their buses and horse drawn carriages. We opted to rent bikes!
I'd compare the Aran Islands to an Irish Capri in Italy. The crystal blue water, a little touristy, but still one of the prettiest, most relaxing places you could ever imagine. We pedaled all throughout the island, stopping to see the seal colony, the watch tower, the white sandy beach for lunch and the famous Dun Aengus rock fort. The rock fort was by far the best part, more specifically the cliff edge. No railing, straight down 400 feet. It's like you are on the edge of the world. So cool, but the whole time my legs wouldn't stop shaking. I was happy to go back to regular ground.

Final #2 coming up Tuesday.