Thursday, 1 October 2015

The Last Last One

I meant the previous post to actually be my last one, but then this happened haha.....

Julie got a job with UFV Study Abroad, and requested a blog post from me about my time over there and if I had any advice for anyone who is looking at adventuring out.

So, I went about writing something up for her, and I think it turned out pretty good! Hence, I've decided to post it here as well, and hopefully you like it as much as I do.  So, without further ado, here it is:

Travels & Beer & Being Alive

My decision to study abroad was fuelled by many different factors - a desire to see a place other than my own home, to expand not only my knowledge of the world but also of people, and an intrinsic need to just live differently. Ireland specifically has been somewhere I've always wanted to go, and I eventually felt like all those study abroad posters in the UFV halls were just for me, telling me to go, urging me to actually make it happen, rather then just imagine it.

And for how scary it was, making plans to live somewhere I couldn't even accurately picture, I am so unbelievably happy that I went ahead with it and did it all anyway.  There are so many parts to what made my experience so incredible, and it would take forever to describe it all, so I've done my best to condense it!

I lucked out, and got to travel with another student from UFV, Julie, who after a very long plane ride, and a few short weeks, became one of the best parts of my whole experience. We also got to meet about 25 other international students from all over (mainly) Europe and Brazil, and they became my family away from home. They are some of the best people I've ever known - people with the biggest hearts, an uncanny love for adventure, and somehow even when I was right along with them, they inspired me to do whatever it took to really live life.

And while we were abroad, live life we did! Sure, there was school involved, and that did stay a priority, but we also traveled, went to pubs once a week (ok, maybe a bit more then that), and got to be a part of something that was unique to just us - a whole bunch of students from all over the world, living in a country foreign to all of us, trying to soak up and really experience every single day.

We took the opportunity during a couple of our weeks off from school to travel around the west coast of Ireland, and then to travel to four other European countries. Every single place held a different taste of life, and it's amazing to see how other people live - to realize that "normal" isn't actually a thing, because it all depends on where and how you choose to live.

When I look back at my five months in the land of luck, I remember more then just the traveling though. There's too many amazing moments to pick a favourite, but one of the contenders happened in the first week. All us international students had been introduced a couple days ago, and we were still at the point where we were learning each other's names, overcoming jet lag, and with wide-eyes, adjusting to the fact that we were in Ireland. There were 20 of us that went out to a pub one night, and we got put into the smoking room because there wasn't enough room in the actual pub. I distinctly remember being in that room, smelling nothing but smoke, being absolutely freezing cold, and sitting squished between an American girl and a Polish guy. And I was so happy - because there I was, amongst all these other people who have not only the capacity to dream greatly but to act on it; because I was sitting in Ireland, with it's green hills and sheep and beer; and because I felt alive, sparked by everyone and everything.

And so to anyone reading this, who even has an inkling of going - do it. It will at times be hard, and it will be scary, but I guarantee it'll be even harder to leave when it's all over. The experience, the adventure, and the places and people you will meet will be worth every single problem you may encounter. It is worth it ten-fold. So go research, go dream, and go make it happen.

To unpathed waters & undreamed shores  -  Shakespeare

Monday, 14 September 2015

The Last One

I have re-written this post about six times now, and haven't been able to get it right. Some versions were too sad, some were too introspective, and some just didn't have any unifying theme haha. So now, almost four months after I've been home, I've decided this has to be it - this has to be the right one, because I've already stretched it out too long. In fact, I wouldn't doubt if I'm the only one who reads this, but nevertheless, I'll post it anyways :P

Since being back from Ireland, there's been a couple different phases. It was nice at first to be back, to see everyone again, and to not have to pay for laundry. But that was pretty short-lived. I realized that after five months of amazing adventures, I had no inkling or plans of what I was going to do with my summer (or my entire life, really), and so my days fell into this horrible mental berating of myself. I was all alone in this big house for hours for days on end, and I was driving myself crazy - spinning my thoughts in circles, and basically just feeling quite sad and out of place. I had made the decision to go to Ireland at a point in time when I didn't like my life that much, and I was terrified that I was going to fall back into that place.

Then I started to work two jobs and consequently didn't have time to breathe, let alone overthink.

And now, I've been back in school for a week, and things have sort of fell into a routine again.

Ireland still invades my thoughts a couple times a day (okay, like every second minute), and it's tough not to compare my life here to my life there. Sometimes it feels like a dream - Ireland was so different and it brought out a laid-back, unhurried side of me that doesn't occur so much over here. While I was over there, I felt so full of life and excitement - I was genuinely at peace with where my life was, and here, I feel like such a chaotic mess, completely drained half the time.

I've been told that chaos and heavy stress are just a part of life, which I sort of accept - but I refuse to believe that's it's inevitable that real life is just this draining process where we pay bills, go to a job that doesn't actually fulfill us, and live a life that we force ourselves to be content with. I refuse. And maybe that'll make my life arduous and inconsistent, but I fear a life of melancholic restlessness much more then a life of uncertainty.

And so, I'm consequently still left in a flurry of a busy life, just going one day at a time, trying to figure out the world and where I fit into it.... maybe that's a life long quest haha.

I am so happy, and so, so grateful that I had this opportunity. I don't think I'll ever be able to express in words what that semester meant to me. Thank you to everyone who cheered me on, everyone who read one, two, or all of my posts, and to my parents - thank you for the weekend skype calls, the frantic emails at 4am, and for so gracefully walking the line of supporting me, and letting me do it on my own.

And to all you other international foreigners I met in the land of luck, know that even though I only knew you all for five months, you became some of the best people I've ever gotten to know - you hold some of the biggest hearts, an uncanny love for adventure, and somehow, the entire time when I was right along with you - you all inspire me to do whatever it takes to love life.

Annnnd with that, it's over! I mean, technically it was over 3.5 months ago, but now it's official hehehe. I think I'll go "borrow" a guinness from my dad's stash to commemorate ;)

Until the next adventure.....

"Is fada an bóthar nach mbíonn casadh ann ~

~ It's a long road that has no turning. ~

Friday, 22 May 2015

Trips & Tears

The last week and a half have been .... both very cool and very sad.

Everyone is leaving, and these are situations where I can't help but cry buckets. Since I'm practically one of the last three of our core group to leave, I've had to say goodbye to someone practically every second night or so. These people have been like my family for the last five months, and it's hard to accept that I don't know when or if I'll ever see them again. Who knows what the future holds, but in the present moment, it's just sad.

On to lighter stuff:

Me and Julie went on two trips this last week, to fill up the time before I go home, and she continues on to travel Europe for a month! We went to Belfast last weekend, and Killarney during this last week.

Belfast is still a very troubled city with the obvious divide between Catholics and Protestants. We took a black taxi tour our first day there, which goes through the political history of the city and Northern Ireland. With the accent and the rate at which he was talking, it was hard to understand at times, but the main point is that even though the city is functioning at the moment, there's still a lot of unrest and tension. There are two obvious religions, two segments of the city, and even some pubs are part of that divide. Parts of the city are gated, closing at night, and some houses that are near the divide between the two city segments have cages around their backyards. It's sad and kind of disturbing. Long story short, it's not somewhere where I would want to raise kids.

With such an influence from Britain, it also reminded us of a mini Irish London. The buildings were big, old, and the side streets were reminiscent of the white clustered buildings of London as well. We also took a tour to Giant's Causeway from Belfast, and it was really pretty. The actual causeway was smaller then I expected, but it didn't matter too much because everything in Ireland is gorgeous. I could be in a random field of green surrounded by sheep and be happy (as long as the sheep weren't too close hehe).

We came back to Waterford on Sunday night, said more goodbyes, and then left Monday morning for Killarney, which was absolutely brilliant. Within the first ten minutes of walking around the town, I knew I was going to love it. It was quaint and cozy, kind of like Waterford. We were welcomed that day with pouring rain though, so we chilled at the hostel for a bit, before deciding to brave the weather and go for a walk through Killarney National Park anyways. Half the time, Ireland weather changes so much that within ten minutes the rain goes away, ten minutes it's back, and so forth. However, that was not the case this time, so we only walked for about 15 minutes into the park before we turned back around. That was ok though, as we did go back both Tuesday and Wednesday night, exploring with much better weather.

On Tuesday, we took a tour through the Dingle Peninsula, and by far, this was the best tour I've been on. We stopped at a whole bunch of gorgeous places and wandered through the town of Dingle for a bit, stopping for possibly some of the best ice cream I've ever eaten. It might help that it was coffee flavoured infused with Jameson whiskey ;) Later that night, we went out for drinks at a pub that was recommended to us by the hostel. The environment was really snug and cheerful, though they were unfortunately out of the beer I wanted, so I tried a stout beer called Beamish instead, which is produced in Cork. I also sampled a pale ale that's brewed in Dingle, called Creans. Both were actually pretty good. The shock.

Wednesday we went to the Ring of Kerry, which was a day of ups and downs. The first half of the day wasn't anything spectacular, which was disappointing after having such a great day the day before. The second half improved though - we saw a lot of really majestic looking mountains, which you can never go wrong with. When we got back to Killarney, we stopped again for ice cream, and I got the coffee with whiskey again, and rum and raisin..... because when in Ireland ;) After walking through the Park again, we went out to.... wait for it..... The Shire Bar! It's a Lord of the Rings themed pub and it was actually great hahaha. They even had five or six themed beers! - I had a tankard of Barliman's Best, and Julie had Gandalf's Ale. It was cooler then it sounds, ok?

And that was it! Thursday morning we headed back bright and early to home. Which is only home for three more days....

This is Queen's University in Belfast. We didn't get to see a whole lot of the actual city- we were only there for a day and a half, and the weather didn't cooperate for a lot of it - but, we did go for a quick walk, and found the University. We found out that there was a Canada Room somewhere in it as well, so we went and explored and found that too - whether we were supposed to explore or not, who knows....

Giant's Causeway. It rained on and off the whole day, but it wasn't too bad for most of it, luckily. It was a pretty cool place, and I don't have room for it next to this picture, but if you'd bored, the myth as to how the causeway was created is pretty interesting. Or you can just wait until I'm back and then I'll tell you ;)

Also on our tour to the Causeway, we stopped at Carrick-A-Rede, which is this basically just this little rope bridge that you cross, and gets you to a little island. What's on this island, you may ask? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I paid five euro to cross a bridge and see the same thing I could see on the other side hahaha. But, hey, it was a cool experience!

Fast forward a couple days, and this is on the tour to Dingle! We stopped at a place called Inch Beach, which was gorgeous. Being me however, I have decided to not post a picture of the beach, and instead post a picture of words, because I loved this. It was on the wall of the one little shop on the beach.

Doesn't this look photoshopped? Haha, it's not, I swear! I'm not good enough with technology to do that...

Them green hills though <3

This was in Dingle somewhere.... I don't actually remember specifically where - which is kind of sad, seeing as it was only two days ago haha. Anyways, here's a beach for you guys :)

I have a serious obsession with green hills. Is it sad that I sort of love the bus rides here because I can just stare out the window forever and not get bored? I haven't even left yet, and I already miss all the green.
When in Canada, would a random walk through a park lead you to a castle that looks like this?! This was Ross Castle in Killarney National Park, and it was amazing. Everything in Ireland is so pretty, and while I try not to take any of it for granted, it is inevitable that eventually a castle is just another castle. For some reason though, maybe because the end is so near, when we got to this spot, it somehow hit me all over again where we were and the immensity of it all.
What an adventure.




Okay, kind of funny story (this was before everyone started leaving):

So as a group of 20 or so international students, we've had a fair number of birthday's over the last five months. Obviously, quite a few people still have birthday's to come however, so our German friend Chris decided to have a birthday party for all those people in the latter 7 months...

So, here we are, with birthday hats and streamers, celebrating.... no one's birthday in particular hahaha.

Gotta love it.

And, that is it. The last blog I'll be writing in Ireland. I'll write my official last one within the first week that I've been back, summing everything up, and probably getting way too deep haha.

Feelings about coming home are definitely mixed. I'm obviously very excited to see my family and friends again, and to have the comforts of free laundry and hot water. I'm excited to drive, to go to Tim Hortons, and I'm definitely ready for warm weather.

In terms of how I feel about leaving Ireland, I've realized that my experiences here have been greatly influenced by the people I've met, and without them, Ireland isn't quite the same. Of course I'll miss the green hills, the laid back atmosphere, hearing accents everywhere, and random ruins in the middle of the city, but I wouldn't want to stay here by myself. With every person that leaves, I understand that what I've loved about this semester is ending, and it makes me appreciate coming back home :)

See you all soon <3

Monday, 11 May 2015

Surfing, Spanish food, & the Start of Goodbyes

The title pretty much says it all this time around haha

To get right to it, we had our last international dinner this week, where our friend Carlos made Spanish food for everyone. It was really, really Spanish hahahaha - so it was later then he originally said, and it was delicious. Spanish ham is weird though - apparently it's this really big thing in Spain, but I wasn't a fan. Also, I like olive oil as much as the next person, but in Spain, it's not just oil - it's a way of life.

Last Monday, the day before my first exam, I took the longest study break of my life, and went surfing in Tramore. By far, that was one of the coolest things I've done here - not only cause it was in Ireland, but also just because I've never gone surfing. My friend Anna orchestrated the whole thing. She had called the place where we could rent wetsuits and boards from, and it sounded legit, so four of us decided to go for it. We got to Tramore, and walked inside this well worn, blue building. The bottom floor was a small cafe, with a couple tables and a small cashier stand. We were a bit confused, since this was supposed to be a surfing place - not a cafe. We saw stairs though, and figured it was on the second floor. Except the stairs led to one unmarked, deserted, locked door, which we obviously couldn't get in, and no one answered when we knocked. So we walked back down the stairs, and looked for someone to talk to. Nobody looked like they worked there though, so we had to wait until we saw a girl who looked like she was taking orders from someone. Turns out she did work there, and we were just supposed to rent boards and wetsuits from the same cashier that takes your coffee order. So, in between a chai latte and a green tea, we bought our stuff for surfing. We were told to wait outside in front of this old weathered, falling apart shed, for some guys to meet us. We waited for a bit, wondered if we were even in the right spot, finally saw the guys, and were given wetsuits that were still damp, and shoes that weren't the same size. But hey, I guess if it keeps you from freezing, right....? They didn't give us any instructions either, even though there out of four of us had never surfed! Consequently, it took us half an hour just to change, both because the wetsuits were the wrong size and still damp, and also because we were trying to convince ourselves we weren't completely crazy. It was a really sketchy experience hahaha.

Once we were in the water though, it was amazing. I mean I sucked, but it was fantastic. I stood up a solid five or six times, but only for a couple seconds each. I was determined to stand up and feel confident for at least five seconds, but by the end of our two hours, my limbs were slowly becoming unmovable from the cold, so I had to recognize that it wasn't going to happen. I'm pretty stoked with the whole experience though - it definitely makes for one of my favourite days here.

Other things this week include writing two exams. Not that exciting. They are strict about the procedure though - they have this whole speech the profs have to read out before we start - about how we can't have our phones, or any written material on us, etc, and that's it a breach of exam regulations and we can get kicked out, blah blah blah. Basically, don't cheat. My last exam is tomorrow, and I am so excited to be done with this school.

Also last week, was the week that people started to leave. I've said goodbye to three friends already, and another one leaves tonight. I don't really have anything to say, except that it sucks. This type of situation, where we all arrive in a foreign country, friendless, missing home, and lost and confused, lends itself to making friends really fast. There's no other option, unless you decide to spend five months in your cold apartment room alone on Skype. In January, five months felt like it was a lifetime, but we all knew there was an expiration date. It's tough to accept that realistically, I'm never going to see most of these people again - I guess that's the price for making friends across the world. But I also suppose that's why I downloaded snapchat ;)

Plans for this week include writing my last exam, maybe going on a day trip or something with everyone one last time, and then me and Julie are leaving on Friday to go to Belfast for a couple days! We'll get back Sunday, and then leave Monday to go to Killarney & Dingle. We're back from that next Friday, and then the following Monday, the 25th, I fly home.

Two weeks, my friends. See you all soon :)

The main exam room. When I saw it, I just sighed. I haven't been in a room like this since high school. They're kind of depressing....

From Spanish night. On the left is Hubert, who's Polish, and Carlos is on the right. It was his birthday that day too actually, so we were all surprised that he wanted to cook for the whole day, but he was quite adamant about it haha.

I've gone running a bunch since the weather finally lightened up a bit. The route I take is really nice. The day I took this wasn't the greatest, but further down the path, the branches on each side of the path sort of curve into each other, and it looks like a magic doorway haha.

I'm surprised I even notice that sort of thing when my main priority is usually just trying to remind myself why I like running....

On Friday afternoon, Evelyn (next to me) had just finished her last exam, and I'd just finished my second, so we went out to celebrate. It was also her last day in Ireland, so even though this isn't a great picture, it's going up to commemorate her last day :)

Surfing! Such a cool experience :)

Saturday, 2 May 2015

French toast, Vikings, and Getting Fancy

I'm currently knee-deep in exam study, so writing this blog is my study break. Well, I don't know if knee-deep is an accurate description, but yes, some studying has been taking place....

The last three weeks since I have gotten back from Europe have been good, though not as much stuff to write about has happened. There were the last two weeks of classes, and then this last week has been "study week" before exams start. We don't get a study week at home, so I've studied more in advance then usual, and I'm worried I'm going to forget everything before the exams even start haha. I'm curious/anxious to see what they're like. I haven't had to take any exams here yet, so it'll be interesting to see the layout. Apparently, even though classes here are laid back, exams are super intense - you need to identify yourself, sit in a certain seat, and literally leave your cell phone at home. Who knows if it's actually as scary as they make it sound, or if they're just trying to intimidate us. Probably a bit of both.

Aside from school and exams, the fun stuff that I've been par-taking in is mainly just a lot of hanging out and eating food, which you can never go wrong with. I think I might've mentioned this before, but all us international students here agreed at the beginning of the semester to have a night where they would cook traditional food from their country for everyone. Before the break, we ate Mexican and Brazilian food. Since the break, I've gone to American night, French night, German night, and yes, we put on a Canadian night as well.

I know only the name of one thing I've eaten - not including the American food, because really, we eat most of the same stuff haha. Other then that though, everything from all the other nights is unpronounceable - but delicious.

The one thing I know the name of! It's called: kaiserschmarrn. It's a German dessert that is like shredded pancake, but not as sweet.

So basically, what Canadians eat for breakfast is has more sugar then what Germans eat for dessert.....

Apple pie from French night! My roommate Vivien made this actually. He did a good job too, cause it was delicious.

We didn't have French night at our apartment, but they did make a lot of the food here and needless to say, our apartment smelled amazing for a couple of days!

For Canadian night, myself and Julie were kind of stumped on what we were going to do, but eventually decided to do Breakfast for Dinner - so we made French toast, scrambled eggs, sausages, and fruit salad. This mainly stemmed from the fact that my parents brought over this huge jug of maple syrup when they visited, and there was no way just me and Julie were going to make that many pancakes before coming back home. So, we had over 25 people in our tiny apartment, and made over 50 pieces of French toast. It was absolutely crazy, but I'm pretty proud to say that it was a successful night. So successful in fact, that security had to barge in, and tell us to be quiet. That's the second time our apartment has been bombarded by security ..... I'm going to blame that on the fact that we live right next to reception ;)

Canadian night! Julie had brought a huge Canada flag with her, so we finally had a good reason to hang it up in our apartment. And it's still there hehe.

This is the crew that stayed till the wee hours of the morning - no, not to clean up, but to play card games. Man, we're just the coolest.

This week as a study break, me and Julie finally went to Reginald's tower. It's the third museum in Waterford, and the only one we hadn't gone to yet, so we walked down to city centre and made an afternoon of it. The tower only has three small levels, so it didn't take long. It was all history specifically regarding Waterford, which was really neat, seeing as that's where I'm currently living. Of course, I don't remember much.... only that Waterford used to be populated by vikings, and everyone drank wine because they thought water was contaminated.... you know, the cool stuff. I hadn't been to city centre in a while, so I was reminded again how different & pretty Ireland is. I have three weeks left here, and I'm going to try to not take any of it for granted.

Reginald's tower, is literally a tower. And for how big it is, the door is quite small.

The view of Waterford from one of the windows on the third floor of the tower. It was a grey, sort of nice, sort of rainy day.

On the Thursday just passed, there was a black tie event held in City Hall specially for international students, and everyone looked magnificent. It wasn't quite what we all expected - it was just a whole bunch of speeches, and then appetizers were passed around. Nevertheless, it was kind of cool - the mayor and the president of WIT were there, and even though I only understand about 50% of what they said, what I did get was interesting. After that, there was a slew of pre-parties, the party, and then after-parties. It makes it really obvious to see who came to Ireland just to drink haha. Overall, it wasn't the best night I've had here, but it was the last big international event, so it was definitely worth going to.

From left to right:
Eva, who's from Germany; myself and Julie; and Bruna, who's from Brazil.

Looking forward, the next week and a half is exams, and the last week and a half I'll be hopefully heading up to Belfast, and then Killarney & Dingle. Nothing has been booked yet, but as it's been pointed out multiple times to me here: "Stop stressing and it'll all work out." Not exactly my strong suit, but I'm working on it haha.

I know some exciting stuff is happening at home right now, so good luck to everyone who's traveling, opening up new places, or simply celebrating exams being done :)

And a final thought for you all: I've learnt quite a lot about what the Europeans/Brazilians/Mexicans/everyone for who English is a second language, think about English. And the consensus is that it's strange. Their proof to back that up: this picture hahahaha

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Europe, Part Two

Hello again :)

This is the second instalment of my Easter Break, which includes the last city we traveled in Europe, meeting my family back in Ireland, and then just some thoughts at the end.....

So, to get straight to it:

Ahh, Paris. I'll say right off the bat, the Eiffel tower is cool. And other then that, I didn't like Paris.

Gasp! It feels so weird saying that.... how can someone not like Paris?! It's Paris! The city of lights, love, and crepes!

But while their crepes were delicious, their macarons even moreso, it was just a big city, full of people, super touristy, and old tall buildings without any charm. Even the Eiffel tower, which I admit was stunning - especially lit up at night - is really just a big piece of metal. I do recognize that Paris was the last stop, and by this time, I was exhausted, dehydrated, and severely missing home-made food. However, even with that in mind, I can strongly say that I will be okay never going back to France.

I still had some pretty cool moments though, one of them being: seeing the Eiffel tower for the first time (I think that's a given), and I really loved walking across the Love Lock Bridge. My friends are all cynics and were talking about how at least 70% of all those couples have probably broken up, gotten divorced, etc, and after I punched each of them in the shoulder, I sadly had to give them some credit, because they're probably right. It's such a touristy thing now anyways. Most of the bridge is panelled up now as well to prevent any more locks being put on, since all the added weight has caused damage to the bridge. But it was still pretty cool, and provided some really awesome pictures.

Other big things we did included going to the Louvre, walking through both the Sacre-Coeur, and Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe, Moulin Rouge, Champs-Elysées, a couple museums, and Mont Parnasse. Pretty cool stuff.

It was interesting walking through the Louvre, seeing an astounding amount of beautiful art work, and then coming across the Mona Lisa. You can see it's encased in glass, is bordered off so you can't get close to it, and it even had a guard to the side - and obviously no other painting was safeguarded to that extent. Compared to many of the other paintings, I thought it was small and ... well, uninteresting. It's just a painting of a woman. If it wasn't famous, it would just be another painting to glance at and walk past. Yet here we all are, lining up and taking selfies. How easily we are all fascinated with things just because society convinces us they're important.

The view of Paris from Mont Parnasse. We didn't climb to the top of the Eiffel tower since all the tickets were sold out, but we did this instead, which I think is just as cool. We went up 56 (or something like that) stories, and got to see the entire city. We timed it perfectly, and got to see Paris slowly transition from day to night. It was very, very cool.

The Eiffel tower! Our second, and our last, full day in Paris we literally just spent the whole second half of the day looking at and taking pictures hahaha. It was awesome.

Ah, the love lock bridge. How picturesque.

Every hour for five minutes, the tower sparkles. It must waste a ton of electricity, but it's pretty....

After Paris, I met my parents and brother back in Ireland for the next three days! We met in Waterford, where I showed them my apartment, my school, and my Dad showed me his left side of the road driving skills haha. Since he kept us all alive, I deem it a success! It's a different view from the front of a car, and I was reminded again how narrow the roads are here. Everyone also drives like they're on a mission. Needless to say, I'm okay with not driving here myself hahaha.

We were only in Waterford for half a day, since there's not much to do here. I think the main reason they came was cause it's where I'm living, so thanks guys! After that we headed to Dublin. To be honest, those three days were kind of a blur for me, filled with catching up on sleep, revelling in the chance to not make any decisions, and being incredibly thankful that I was staying in a hotel instead of a hostel.

Nevertheless, from what I remember haha, in Dublin we obviously went to the Guinness Storehouse. We got to see in detail each of the ingredients, how they make it, and how their advertising escalated, among other things. It was neat! Even though I don't really like Guinness, it's such a big part of what Ireland is known for that it was a really cool thing to experience.  We didn't really do much else in Dublin - for being the capital, there's not as much to do as you'd think. We walked around, saw the Dublin Castle (which is undeserving of the title "Castle," if I do say so myself), and I pointed out stuff I'd gone to or seen on St. Patricks Day, which was cool. Dublin overall was extremely crowded and busy, like claustrophobically so. It makes me very glad that I'm residing in a smaller, much less touristy part of Ireland.

We also went on a trip to Wicklow and Kilkenny! I hadn't yet been to the Wicklow Mountains, and it was great. It's been somewhere that I have wanted to go from the start, and though I would've loved to spend more then just an hour or so there, I'm just glad I got to see it. Trees, lakes, and mountains - it was stunning. Probably the closest thing to Canadian landscape that I've seen too, since I otherwise have not seen any mountains. From there, we continued on to Kilkenny, where I have been before, but obviously the rest of my family hadn't, so that was cool. Kilkenny is such a quaint, small city, so I think my parents really enjoyed it. It was a good end to the day.

And that was it! I said goodbye to Samuel and my parents at the airport the next morning, and then headed back to Waterford. It's crazy to think I'll be back at the airport to leave myself in just five weeks. Five weeks! I'm starting to think about coming home more often now, and I have mixed feelings, like I figured would happen. But before then, I still have three more days of school, and exams to get through - blech.

Mom and I on the streets of Dublin. It was ridiculously warm that day actually. I'm not sure how that happened. I think I've forgotten what heat felt like, but it was amazing haha.

We each got a complimentary pint of Guinness at the Storehouse. And I totally drank all of mine, what are you talking about?...... (if my sarcasm wasn't thick enough there, I definitely did not drink the whole thing. In fact, I only got through like 1/5th of it. If that. Twas a sad, sad day).

The Wicklow Mountains. Pictures don't even do it justice; it was amazing.

- I think those two weeks, I literally took every type of transportation imaginable. We went on planes, trains, buses, trams, a boat, the metro, the underground, and we also used our feet a lot haha. I think the only thing we didn't do was bike. Biking was actually something I really wanted to do in Amsterdam, but it didn't work out. So instead, we just looked at bikes, because they were everywhere. Like piled on top of each other, spilling into the street, you're about to get run over by a massive herd of bikes, everywhere.

- Speaking of walking everywhere though, one of the guys has an app that told us how many km's we walked per day. I don't know what we averaged, but in Paris, in one day, we walked close to 20km! We were only a couple km's short of a half marathon distance! We didn't believe it at first hahaha.

- So, now that I've gone backpacking for close to two weeks, here are my views on it, if I'm not to arrogant to think that you'll want to read my views haha.
I think that traveling this way, with the right people, and with a good balance of planning and winging it, was simply freaking amazing. Poetic, right? ;) We had really good experiences with most of our hostels, so I have no complaints there. If nothing else, they remind you to never take for granted having a place to actually call home. Walking as much as possible allowed us to actually see the city - not just wave at it through a window, or just take pictures of tourist attractions. You get the creepy streets, and you get the amazing random views - you get it all. Waking up early, and staying out every night for as long as we could, not only made us feel like we weren't wasting our money haha, but gave us the chance to see and accomplish an incredible amount. Every night I just fell into bed, so tired, but so astounded at the world and what's out there. I felt so small, but in the absolute best way possible.

- On the flip side, I also think that backpacking is romanticized, perhaps too much. There is a difference between the glorification of travel, and what actually happens. The glorification is eating crepes, having full camera's, and feeling full of life. And while all those things are true, there is also the constant headache from the lack of water and proper food, ever accumulating dirty laundry you can't do anything with, and constantly feeling lost and vulnerable, like when you're stuck who knows where in France, with no idea where to catch your train that leaves in 10 minutes. It's not like every second is wondrous. Simply transporting yourself to a different country does not automatically change the way you think. Worries do not disappear, and when you're hangry (yes, hangry), and lost, looking at a map on a random street in a random city is not that fun. Maybe that's all knowledge that just comes with experience, and most of you already know all this, but it was an intriguing concept for me.

- To put it all in perspective, I would without a doubt, do this whole trip over again and change nothing, but it also was shocking how relieved I was when it was over. Twas an interesting enlightenment.

And with that, the European adventure is done! I have about a million more pictures that haven't made it to this blog, so I found one more (the best one, obviously) to end off with hahahaha. Have a good rest of the week everyone :)

They don't know I posted this picture..... shhh.....

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Europe, Part One

I'm back! It's weird writing a blog again actually, even though it's only been a few weeks. Forgive me if I sound rusty ;)

So, during our two week Easter break off from school, eleven of those days were spent traveling to five different cities in four different countries. I went with three very cool people: Julie, my roommate; Carlos, who is from Spain; and Bert, who's from the Netherlands. It's weird to think that I've only known these people for three months, but here I went traveling around Europe with them. Yay for circumstances that create really fast friendships! hahaha. We actually accomplished a lot in that week and a half, so I've tried to narrow it down to the interesting stuff - in other words, this will won't be very detailed. Even so, it's still too much for one post, so I'll be writing two. A couple of cities today, a couple later.

So, here we go, with city numero uno:

London was huge. It looks exactly like you would think it would look like, with these massive, white, majestical, old buildings surrounding you almost no matter where you go. Telephone boxes were on every street, double decker buses were a constant sight, and the entire city sparkled at night. In fact, we didn't arrive at our hostel until later our first night, so when we finally got out to explore, it was already 8pm. Our first view of London was when everything was lit up, and needless to say, that was probably one of the best moments on the trip.

Mostly, our adventures in London consisted of just walking around, seeing as much as possible. London is as expensive as everyone thinks, so there was no way we could possibly do all the touristy things without going broke in the first three days. We did choose one touristy thing though - the London Eye - and it was exceptionally cool getting to see the city from that high up.

My favourite London experiences were probably that first night, seeing everything in the dark, and our last day, when we went for afternoon tea. (Ugh - that sounds really lame doesn't it? haha). We had just spent a whole day walking, and it was really nice to just sit down in a cafe, drink English Breakfast tea in London, and look out at the city. It was one of those moments where I thought, "Holy shit! I'm in London drinking tea! How cool is this?!" This whole trip was very surreal, so any moment where the gravity of what we were doing or where we were was actually apparent, was very welcome ;)

London at night! The London Eye was the first thing we saw, followed by Big Ben. Obviously, pictures don't do it justice, but nevertheless, it's still pretty cool.

The famous London Bridge. We took far too many pictures, and then slowly meandered our way across it.

The guards in front of Buckingham Palace! We didn't get up close to any of them, but we actually lucked out. Without planning it, we showed up just in time to watch them change!

The Canada gate! This is right close to Buckingham Palace, and at first, none of us had any idea what it was for. Upon closer inspection, each of the columns had Canadian provinces on it, basically stating when each joined the country. It was cool! Obviously, we had to take a picture.

The Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey from the London Eye. It started raining about halfway through our ride, but even so, we still got some pretty cool pictures.

Ironically, out of the four of us, I was really the only one who wanted to go to Amsterdam haha. Bert is from Holland, so it's analogous to me visiting Vancouver, and Carlos and Julie were interested, but not particularly excited. For some reason, I had it in my head that Amsterdam was going to be this quaint little city, beautifully lit up at night (I think I have a thing for cities at night hahaha), and there were going to be tulips everywhere, in front of all the characteristically tall skinny buildings. I think I'm too much of an idealist - though, except for the tulips, which were out of season, all of that was pretty much true.

We went on a canal cruise, walked through a flower market, and ate some strange, probably really unhealthy, Dutch food. Croquette was the first thing, and I didn't particularly like it. It's a fried roll filled with some sort of meat. Secondly, we tried frikandel (no, I still can't correctly pronounce it), which is basically a type of hot dog, with curry, mayonnaise, and onions on it. It sounds disgusting, right? Well, I tried it anyway, and surprisingly enough, very surprisingly, I actually kind of liked it. Who knew?!
We tried to go to the Anne Frank house too, but there was a two and a half hour wait, and at that point, it was windier then it was in Ireland, so with a unanimous vote, we went to a wax museum instead.... what a historical substitution, right?

I guess I should also mention that yes, we did walk through the red light district, and once was enough.
All in all, Amsterdam was beautiful, and I'm glad we chose it as one of our cities to visit.

The canals! And tall, skinny buildings! Oh, behold!

There is no escape from the bikes. No escape.

The I amsterdam sign! Both days we saw it, it was aswarm with tourists - so we took pictures from far away, and went back at night when it was quieter. I don't have any of those pictures yet though haha, so this'll have to do.

Brussels is the capital city of Belgium, and I loved it. If I were to go to any of these places again, I would come back here. Perhaps that's because I really love waffles, or perhaps that's because we only got to spend half a day there. Probably both, but whatever the case, Brussels was fantastic. Though, if I ever go back, I might want to learn French. Apparently, studying it for six years throughout school gave me nothing.

We decided to go on a walking tour of the city, which ended up being led by an Irish guy! We talked to him a bit about Waterford and Ireland, after he educated us on the history of Belgium. It's a small world, I guess. We also drank Belgian beer, and ate chocolate, waffles, and fries. Honestly..... I think chocolate is just chocolate. Maybe I didn't try the right stuff? I didn't taste anything particularly different between chocolate from home and Belgian chocolate. The fries were good too, but since I don't really like fries, I can't say much on that front either. Everyone else loved them though, so they must've been good. And the waffles, you ask? Let's just say I will always be disappointed with Belgian waffles at home from now on. They were melt in your mouth, diabetes on a plate, absolute deliciousness. The streets literally smell like chocolate and waffles all the time too. It's great. Unless you're walking through them hungry.

As a city, Brussels had a bit more of a modern twist to it, but since we only had one day here, we spent most of the time in the older, quainter section. (I know I overuse the word quaint, I'm sorry haha).
Favorite moment: obviously eating waffles!

Our hostel in Brussels was super cool. The whole common room was decorated with old ... artifacts, for a lack of a better word. They had planes, bikes, an old typewriter, etc.
Generally speaking, we lucked out with all our hostels. As long as you keep the expectations low, then it will always be better then you thought haha. We didn't spend a lot of time in any of them either, which helped.

One of the main buildings in the main square. One of the things we learned on our walking tour: this building was constructed improperly. If you look at either side of the building, they're actually unequal. The picture may not be the best to see it, but there's a pretty big difference. None of us noticed it at first, but once pointed out, it's literally all you can see. Even more, the door isn't centre in the column. It's significantly off to one side.
Consequently, if you ever want to insult someone Belgian style, you call them a drunken architect ;)


Bruges is the second city in Belgium that we visited. We went here because everyone that we had talked to who had visited Belgium, said that Bruges was actually much nicer then Brussels. Since the two cities are close enough to each other, we decided to go. Weirdly enough though, all of us agreed that we liked Brussels better. This may have been due to the fact that Bruges was a smaller town (though more medieval, which was cool), and after the excitement of three big cities right before, it was kind of underwhelming. Bruges is also known for it's canals, and while impressive on their own, they were nothing compared to the canals of Amsterdam. And while seemingly meaningless, the weather was much nicer in Brussels then Bruges, so that might have had something to do with it as well.

We decided to go on a walking tour here too, and needless to say, it also may have coloured our glasses in an unflattering light. In the first two minutes of the tour, our guide must've sworn at everything and everyone five times. His jokes were incredibly uncomfortable & inappropriate, especially considering the fact that we were basically strangers. It was weird. We all sort of wanted to leave actually, but weren't sure how to execute it without being rude. All in all, just a tip then: if you want to go to Bruges, just explore it on your own hahaha.

Windmills are a big thing here. So we walked for ages (not really, it was like 20 minutes), and got to see some windmills up close.

Canals, medieval buildings, and boats.

The main square. It was substantially smaller then any of the other cities so far. Still pretty amazing though, especially when you consider that nothing like this exists where we live.

According to the tour guide, this is the most beautiful spot in Bruges. Why, I do not know haha. But here you go.

And, that's it for today! I have most of my next blog written already, so that should appear within another couple of days or so :)