Life in Ireland: 9/24

I have been here for three weeks now, which doesn’t seem that long. I have my go-to grocery stores. I know when I am getting ripped off at a pub (the price of a Guinness is the best marker). I can get to and from without getting horribly lost on the bus. These all seem to confirm that I am settled into life here in Ireland. Maybe it will even be hard to adapt back to American culture in the spring, but that is a later discussion.

Living with mostly Irish apartment mates gives me ample opportunity to compare Irish and American culture. Often our conversations are interrupted by us trying to figure out a common word that we use to describe an object or concept. A sweater is a jumper. Cotton candy is candy floss. High school is secondary school. Granola is muesli. There are many more examples. The other night we got to talking about Irish traditional names, which resulted in us all being very entertained as I stumbled through the pronunciation of every name they could think of. But it’s all in good humor, I’ve impressed them with my very basic Irish language skills.

Watching the sunrise from Elephant Rock while in Northern Ireland

Ireland has been full of many adventures so far; we’ve barely been in Dublin on the weekends. We have taken a trip to the North with Notre Dame. We visited Belfast, Derry, and the Giant’s Causeway all in one swoop. On this trip we learned a lot about the Troubles, which is still a much discussed topic here, especially with Brexit and the Backstop. We visited the site where the Titanic was constructed in Belfast, which was also home to the Titanic Studios where Game of Thrones was filmed. Most of Belfast is still separated by walls, keeping the Protestants and Catholics apart. All the gates close to separate them at 6:00 pm except one guarded road. As an outsider I was shocked, but the locals we talked with didn’t seem to mind them. Derry (or London-Derry depending on who you are talking with) also has walls running along the city that have been in place for hundreds of years. These walls also served as peace-keeping walls between the Catholics and the Protestants.

Visiting the Giant’s Causeway

Another weekend we went on a pilgrimage to Glendalough where we hiked up and down a mountain. It was absolutely gorgeous. When we got near the top we looked down and saw a path coming from the valley and went “I’m glad we’re not walking that. It looks so far.”; that is the path that we took back. It looked flat, but in reality was not in the least. The views fed our bodies and rewarded us to keep moving. Every bit of Ireland I see is more gorgeous than the last. That same weekend we had the chance to watch the Women’s Gaelic Football Final at Crokepark. The game had record-breaking attendance and was quite the match. It was pouring down rain, so the scores were low because the players could just not get traction. At some points it looked more like a slip-n-slide than a Gaelic football game. Dublin won the game making it their third championship win in a row. For those of you that don’t know what I am talking about, Gaelic football is a traditional game that is like a combination between American football, soccer, and rugby. The goal appears as the resultant of smashing a soccer net and a goalpost together. If you punt it through the goalpost, your team receives one point. If you kick it into the net, your team receives three points. There are fifteen players on a side at a time and only four substitutions are allowed during the game (2 30 min halves). To get the ball down the field you can either punch it (similar to throwing) to a teammate or carry it in your hands, but only for four steps. After four steps, one most perform a dribble-like maneuver where they bounce kick it back into their hands. It was much more exciting than an American football game, since the action barely ever ceases.

The view from the “flat” path through the valley.
Celebrating Dublin’s win at the Women’s Gaelic Football Final

When I am not travelling around Ireland, I am either on campus here at UCD or at the O’Connell House hanging with Notre Dame kids and attending classes. My classes here have proved to be very interesting and spread across many different fields ranging from history and language to computer science and design. The Irish college system varies from that in the States. The course grades depend usually on only one or two assignments or exams. All of the classes are much more lecture-focused than interactive. And fewer Irish students attend lecture than American students. But I am still chained to my desk during free time, studying and trying to master the content. Who knew manometers could be so complicated and that you could learn an entire coding language in 24 hours? There might be a lot of different things to learn, but they are all much more interesting than my introductory courses last year, which definitely makes studying a lot more enticing!

Enjoying Murphy’s ice cream in Dingle

To my family in the States: I miss you all and hope that you all are well. Feel free to drop and email, Facebook message, or Whatsapp to say hi. Just because I’m an ocean away doesn’t mean we can’t figure out some way to communicate. I am doing very well here and eating really good meals. I even made pancakes from scratch the other day that were fantabulous!

Atop a hill (mountain) in Bray

Arriving in Ireland

Monday I flew from Amsterdam to Ireland to start my next great adventure: studying abroad at University College Dublin (UCD). Ireland is absolutely gorgeous, completely green like a brand new spring day. Coming in to Ireland from the main land you see the beaches with waves lapping on them spreading out into the distance. There are mountains to the left and a small island off the coast to the right. Flying over the island you can see the farmland underneath. It is mostly evenly cut rows of hay at this point in the season, with the bales evenly lined up. Even just flying in, I felt like I was at home; more so than in the cities of Europe.

The view from the airplane as I landed in Ireland.

Arriving in Ireland was a bit crazy because the flight was delayed due to a strike in Amsterdam. Instead of going to UCD to check into my dorm, I got into a taxi with other late-comers to go to the Notre Dame O’Connell House for orientation things with the university. We went shopping for bedding and kitchen supplies to fill our apartments on campus. After dinner, we finally managed to lug all of our luggage and purchases to UCD to move into our new residences. When I walked into my apartment, all my roommates except one were already there. They bombarded me as I walked into the door asking all sorts of things and wanting to just say hi; they were so excited to meet me. They are very friendly and bubbly. Our apartment is very nice too. There is a common room with a small kitchen and an eating area, plus we all have our own bedrooms.

The engineering building is one of the first things you see when you arrive on campus.

The past few days have been very busy with orientation activities and setting up the apartment. I finally have groceries and everything I need in my room. It is so nice to be unpacked and settled after weeks of travelling. I have a warm bed to sleep in, a wardrobe for my clothes, and a desk under the window to write at. Being able to cook in the kitchen has been its own adventure as well. The meals have already taken quite a range from chicken stir fry to soup to beans and toast in a hurry. The hot meals in the kitchen surely beat eating from grocery stores and bakeries on our backpacking trip.

Officially a UCD student after receiving my scarf in the university colors.

Notre Dame has already kept us quite busy. Our first full day in Ireland we had a scavenger hunt that took up the entire afternoon. We ran all around the city centre trying to find different landmarks or solve puzzles. One member of each group even had to chug a Orange Soda in under 20 seconds! We didn’t win the scavenger hunt, but we did get 36 items on the list and won the best photo. Thursday night we had an opening mass and dinner at the O’ Connell House, which was very welcome after a few days of cooking for ourselves. Today just brought chores and preparing for classes to start next week. Tomorrow we are headed to the North to see Belfast and the Cliffs of Moher.

Sliding into the start of the scavenger hunt

Stacking up the wins on the scavenger hunt
Whelan n’ Dealing (our team name) can beat Doctor Who anyday

Fifth Stop: Berlin

Berlin is the last city on our grand tour of Europe before we start are studies in Ireland. We have been to four countries and five cities in a week and a half. So without further reflections on this trip (expect another post on that), here is the story of our last stop.

Day 1: Friday, 30 August

We got into Berlin on the 29th and went straight to the hostel and crashed after a busy day in Prague and then a 4 turned 5 hour train ride. A tea kitchen at the hostel was a nice welcome for our weary bodies.

Friday started with free breakfast in the hostel (always a nice perk) and then we headed for the S-Bahn station that was right next door. We retraced our ride from the night before and found ourselves at Brandenburg Tor, or the Brandenburg Gate. It is a large classical structure that has stood for peace since its creation. Many embassies can be found nearby, including our own.

We wandered over to the Reichstag building to see it’s architecture and look through it’s unique clear dome. On the way we found the Memorial to the Roma and Senti that were killed during the Nazi’s reign. It’s a quiet memorial along a well-travelled path. Outside there is a wall that describes the history of what happened to them. Entering into the memorial there is a circular pool of black water with a triangle in the center, since they were forced to wear a black triangular badge to identify themselves. Surrounding the pool are stones and on some of these stones the camps that the Roma died at are enscribed.

When we finally made it to the Reichstag building, we discovered that you had to make a reservation ahead of time to go in (the internet had misled us again). We walked around the building enjoying the architecture of it, but if I ever return to Berlin I hope to see the inside.

Our next stop of the morning was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It is a block covered with deep grey stone pillars that are evenly spaced apart, but of different heights. They appear as if the Jews lined for roll call at a Concentration camp. Between the pillars there are paved paths that roll over hills, making it at times harder to walk. The memorial stones are short on the outskirts, but get taller as you get closer into the center, till you can’t see anything else. Underneath the memorial is a museum where it walks you through the history behind the tragedies. There is one room in which journal writings or letters of those that were tortured are laid out around the floor to be read. Almost everyone whose story or plea I read died. The memorial was very emotional and reflective. After walking through the memorial, I wrote the following in my notebook:

One enters a uniform grid

The walls one can see over

Walking deeper the walls rise

Blocking out everything

But the sky

Scared and lost; alone

Surrounded by grey

Walking on and on across the stones

Occasionally a glimpse

Humanity looking in

But the walls are high

The order locking you in

To the rows and rows

Standing always standing

Many different heights

Living for a few glimpses

Of humanity

The Memorial and Museum brought me to silence. Emotionally moved, we prepared to head to the Berlin Wall Memorial. What I realized today, was that Germany as I know it did not come into existence until quite recently. It was divided and torn apart in many different ways over the 20th century. The Berlin Wall Memorial is located at the one street in the city that is still split by the Berlin Wall. 300 street were divided by the Wall. There were two sections of the main wall still standing at the site and remnants from the other structures that comprised the border zone. There were the foundations of border houses from which people would try to escape from the East to the West. You don’t realize how close history is to you until you visit it. The Berlin Wall in many different iterations cut off West Berlin from the East for 28 years. And only fell 10 years before I was born.

After leaving the Berlin Wall, we thought we would visit the DDR museum, which was labeled as an interactive museum to learn about the Cold War in Berlin. As soon as we saw it, we could tell it was more of a tourist trap and wouldn’t give us the history we wanted to know. So we caught a bus (our first double-decker!) to the area by the Brandenburg Gate, where we found the Europe Experience and learned about the European Union (EU) and how it operates. We really enjoyed getting to learn about this parliamentary system that is actually quite similar to the US House of Representatives.

We finished the day by exploring a suburb near the Botanical Gardens and our hostel. We ate dinner at a local beer hall that was the true mom and pop place. No English and no English menu; it was our first time without any help in ordering. But we both liked our food and enjoyed the atmosphere. We strolled around town and were amazed to find that the suburb still felt like you were in the middle of the city.

Day 2: Saturday, 31 August

To celebrate the end of our trip we decided to spend our last day learning about the beauty of German engineering at the Deutsch Technik Museum. Originally we thought we would only spend part of the day here, but the sprawling museum enticed us to spend the entire day. The museum consisted of seven buildings with many exhibits explaining the development of technology and manufacturing processes.

There were two entire buildings that contained nothing but train engines, trams, and passenger cars. You could even walk under a few trains to see their undercarriages. The museum also boasted two floors of planes in the “new building”. I loved hearing about the development of airplanes from the German perspective. There was even a very small mention to the Wright Brothers (go Ohio!). I particularly enjoyed being able to check out the engines of many different planes and the creative designs of inaugural flight machines.

The first exhibit we went to was on the advent of computers and we learned of the German inventor, Konrad Zuse, who designed some of the first working computers in the world. James and I both equally enjoyed this exhibit. We also went through an exhibit on telecommunications, which was James’ favorite exhibit. It explained the development of radio, telegraph, the phone, and other similar devices. The most surprising exhibit to us was entirely on sugar. After delving further we were both very intrigued because it not only covered the manufacturing in history, but it’s role in history and its novel uses in material science and medicine. Did you know at one point in time most of the sugar in the world came from beets?

The final building in the museum proved to be possibly the most interesting. There were a collection of many different cars. There was also an exhibit called “The Network” which looked at how technology has effected society and globalized it. I must say parts of the exhibit made me feel like Big Brother (1984) was watching and I needed to go get my tin hat on (my dad). The exhibit raised a lot more questions than brought answers, but we enjoyed discussing the different things we saw. There was also an area called the Science Spectre that was much larger than we expected. It was an interactive science center that comprised of three floors with 5 or 6 rooms covering different topics on each floor. We tried to get through them all in the last 20 minutes before the museum closed.

We spent our final evening in the suburb of Lichterfelde, which was where our hostel was located. We grabbed dinner at a local döner and kebab joint. James got a falafel wrap and I got a döner box, which was basically a salad in a box. We grabbed groceries at Aldi’s for the train, which proved to be very economical. To end a great trip we got frozen yogurt at a local place in town before heading back to the hostel.