More to come soon…
Wow, I can’t believe that the last time I updated here was from my hostel in London. There is so much to tell —anecdotes from both London and Amsterdam, my week in Dublin after it, my trip to Newcastle and my visit to the town where my great-grandfather grew up. I hope to get to it all, and also to share a bit of the adventures that followed, including the month that I’ve spent back in the US— from New Mexico to New Jersey, New York, and Pittsburgh, because once you come “home” it doesn’t mean you have to stay in one place. I haven’t had a fixed “home” in years, and that’s the way I like it, so the jumping around is fitting.
Before I get to the lengthy bits, a solution to the photo-upload problem (namely, that wordpress takes forever to upload photos and I have a lot of them to share): the magic of photobucket. I’ve organized my photos from the summer according to location in separate public albums, which I’m linking below:
Dublin A general album of the city, and some things I did there.
Kerry My first weekend trip out of Dublin; organized by the program I was taking classes with, it was also the most thorough (and nice in terms of amenities). Includes shots of Killarney National Park, Ross Castle, and Dingle, probably my favorite town in Ireland.
Galway and the Cliffs of Moher A quick weekend trip I took with two friends from the program. The Cliffs of Moher were spectacular, as was the very long bus ride we took from town to the Cliffs through the Burren…
Greystones Beach photos from Greystones, a town on the coast just south of Dublin.
Amsterdam and London The Red Light District in Amsterdam, and some adventures in London. Unfortunately I didn’t take as many pictures in the week I spent on the continent as I was planning to.
Skerries A town on the coast just north of Dublin. Completely lovely.
Glendaloch Took a ride up to Glendaloch, a national park with two lakes created by a glacier that carved its way through Ireland many many years ago— my scientific understanding of the subject is nil, so I’ll leave it there. Beautiful site, beautiful day.
Newcastle and Belfast At the very end of my time in Ireland, I took a trip up to Newcastle, where my great-grandfather grew up. I stayed with Kitty and Joe, cousins who still live there and were kind enough to show me around Belfast.
Sadly, I am back at school and the pressure is on, so I’ll have to leave it at this for now. Cheers.
Yesterday when I got into London, I took a bus into Center City, which made me very thankful that I had opted not to take a cab: the bus ride was 40 minutes long. Apparently not all airports in London are created equal, at least not when it comes to convenience. Thus dumped somewhere in the middle of London (still not quite sure where), I proceeded to drag my suitcase to the nearest Tube station, down the stairs, and into an area that looked remarkably like the New York City subway when I discovered that my wallet was gone. Panic, reverse: drag 60 kilos of luggage up two flights of stairs, emerge on the sidewalk and start looking wildly around for a wallet that is actually the same color as pavement. I was so lucky. Someone had apparently found my wallet after it fell out of my bag and gave it to a cop, who happened to be walking by with it in his hand as I emerged from the station. I think he thought I was crazy. I was really sleep deprived, and so relieved that I could barely talk, and kept dropping things while I spoke with him. It also didn’t help that an old bum with a Jesus beard kept coming up to us while we were speaking and yelling, ” DO YOU SEE WHAT I’M DOING?!? DO YOU SEEEE???” The cop, who was very kind and much less reserved than cops are in the States, gave me a lecture about how people think that because they’re in London, aren’t the English so nice, nothing could ever happen to me. But, he said, London is actually filled with people who aren’t English and who aren’t so nice. So yes, half an hour in London, my racist cop quota has already been checked.
The Tube itself is a lot like the subway in New York, except for the interior of the cars. They feel much smaller, for one thing: I think they actually are narrower, and the ceilings are much more domed than in New York, which actually makes it feel kind’ve cozy. The “coziest” thing, however, are the seats: they’re padded and upholstered. And not dirty. I have absolutely no idea how they pull it off.
Last night I went for a long walk through the neighborhoods around my hostel. I started at King’s Cross station and went to find the wall between platforms 9 and 10 (I know, I’m a huge Harry Potter nerd), but there is no wall between platforms 9 and 10! I’m thinking they renamed some of the platforms after the books came out to stop people from doing what I did, and making tourist pilgrimages to a working train station. there were some nice walls between the lower numbered platforms that looked pretty promising. Ack, more later.
Cheers from London! After getting about three hours of sleep last night, I woke up at 5.30 in Amsterdam to catch an 8.40 flight to London. I didn’t really know how to get to the airport in Amsterdam because Ben and I had flown into Eindhoven (a neighboring city). It turns out that navigating public transportation in Dutch is kind’ve difficult. Armed with a set of somewhat sketchy directions from the front desk attendant at my hostel and two bags that (put together) weigh about 60 kilos (let’s put this in perspective: I weigh 60 kilos), I set off in the Dutch dawn in search of the mythical bus that would take me directly to the airport. I ended up taking a Amsterdam light rail system there, which is very organized and clean but not in English. This was complicated when I discovered that I had to change trains. In the end, I got to Amsterdam airport in one piece. Slept for approximately 20 minutes on the 40 minute plane ride (for which I had to be at the airport 2 hours in advance, gotta love air travel, then spent an inordinate amount of time at British customs. They’re the strictest I’ve encountered yet; instead of just asking me verbally where I was coming from, going to, and when I would be back in America, they had me put it in writing.
My time on the computer at the hostel is waning, but in the next installment: adventures on the London Tube (surprisingly more harried than when I was trying to decipher Dutch in Amsteram Centraal), frustrations with currency exchange, and hopefully a delightful summary of the walk I’m about to take in Notting Hill.
I know it’s been far too long since I last updated. There were trips to Galway, the Cliffs of Moher, and Greystones (just south of Dublin) that I still haven’t written about, along with a lot of pictures that I need to share. But I figured I would jot down just a few things while I’m here in Amsterdam with twenty minutes or so left on my wireless voucher at the hostel.
My classes ended in Dublin at the end of last week, and I had to move out of my apartment on Saturday. The whole experience was very strange. I’ve become very close with a group of the Americans I was taking classes with here; we navigated a new country, multiple new cities, being away from home and the small comforts that come with being in one’s own country, and a number of strange and mostly wonderful life changes that came along with being here. By the end of the program, I had developed a habit of leaning out my bedroom window and yelling to my friend Julia, whose window was next to mine, in order to make plans or see if she was around. So it was sad when people left, but I’m not too concerned about that bit— people will stay in my life or they won’t, and only time will be able to tell which will happen. I’ll discover, as I always do, how much room I want to make in my life for the people around me; it’s how we find out who we care about, and how much. The more bizarre thing was after almost everyone had left and the program was over, I had a secondary shock: I was in Europe on my own with two weeks to do anything I wanted within my budget. It was the fear that comes with freedom. How do we handle the fact that our lives are so huge and limitless? By imposing certain guidelines, restrictions, and goals, by spending time with people —hopefully people that we actually love, and not just people that we use to fill space— and all of that is good, and right. You can’t live without a certain amount of structure. But I got to a point where I realized that I have to separate the structures that other people have imposed on my life from the ones that I actually want: finishing school is something that has been imposed because it’s been expected of me, but it’s something that I also want. Going to graduate school: not imposed, something I want. Living in America: something I’ve always assumed I would do, but being abroad made me think about living elsewhere. What would it be like to get a work visa for a year and live in Ireland, before going back to New York for grad school? I could do that. I could do anything. The idea that I could do anything is terrifying, but the fear is tempered by the fact that “anything” is dictated by what I want, by what makes me happy.
So that was a strange realization that I had over the weekend. It led me to change my travel plans from Amsterdam-Paris-Barcelona-Dublin to Amsterdam-London-Dublin (getting back to Dublin a few days early). I was supposed to do Paris and Barcelona on my own, which I discovered I didn’t really want to do; I don’t speak a word of Spanish and being there entirely on my own the entire time didn’t thrill me. More importantly, though, was the fact that hostels in Paris and Amsterdam are wildly expensive and I could either have gone there and come back to Dublin on a very tight budget with a week left, or done a cheaper few days in London and return to Ireland with more time to explore all of the things that I haven’t, and with the money to do it. I’ll be back in Europe, and I’ll see paris and Barcelona when I have more time and money on my hands, but I just feel better about taking it easy and committing more time to Ireland. I still need to see Donegal, Belfast, and Newcastle, where my grandmother’s cousins live.
Amsterdam itself is pretty amazing. I have never seen so many bikes in my entire life. Yesterday I took a canal boat tour (my friend Ben, who I’m travelling with, got two free tickets when he exchanged money) and passed a parking garage for bikes that was three stories and housed over 20,000 bikes. It was epic. The city itself is placid, clean, and gorgeous —the architecture is both ornate and clean-cut, somehow— there are canals everywhere, and a lot of intriguing social stuff —brothels, “coffee shops” where they sell pot, head shops galore, and 20-somethings from pretty much everywhere. I do want to write about the social dynamic here because it’s so intriguing, but I’m running out of time and I’d do better to explore and write later.
Today is a big day: up in the North, it’s the height of Marching Season, when loyalists come out in regalia. Down here, it’s the World Cup final. I decided to throw myself in with Spain —I picked one, and am committing to it. Outside, there are Irish kids wrapped in Spanish flags, beating drums and yelling “ole, ole ole ole…”
*Title from James Joyce’s Dubliners.
Apologies for not updating in… Over a week? The pace of things has slowed down here. I’m simply living in Dublin now, loving it, and taking everything in stride to the point where I’m less maniacally driven to record everything.
I can’t believe my time here is halfway done. My attitudes about it change by the day. Last week, I was getting pangs of homesickness for my friends at home, for the almost frenetic comfort of the CMU creative writing department, where everyone seems to be in flux and stasis at the same time, stopping to sit in the department lounge and tell ghost stories between classes. Now, all I want to do is dig my heels into Ireland and stay here until I can’t bear it anymore. I wish I could explain why I love it here, but I’ve been trying to do the same thing for New York for the past five years and haven’t met with much success.
It’s definitely much quieter here than New York, and less edgy. I read this passage in a book (Let the Great World Spin, by Collum McCann, a great novel) about how what makes New York distinct is that it isn’t caught up in its own history. It’s not a city of monuments, but of looking forward to that next weird New York moment. I agree; New York is absolutely a self-referential place, but there is no block in the city set apart for the stasis of looking at the past. It avoids what makes the most famous piece of DC, the Washington Mall, also the most dull: the Mall could exist anywhere. Dublin is different. It remembers its past, and as the capital city, has to; the Book of Kells, Dublin Castle, the Parliament house, Merrion Street, the Georgian architecture exists as markers for the tumultuous past of this place. But they still manage to be a part of it, instead of remaining set back from the rest of the city, and the passage of time. I think I’ve said here that everything Irish is about a story. It’s the most narrative place I’ve ever been. The amazing thing about it is that everything that carries a story recognizes its place in the continuation of that story: it’s the reason that there are no ropes and guardrails here. History keeps spinning on.
Today, for example, I spent nearly all afternoon in a place called Cafe en Seine, a baroque-style eatery on the ground floor of a house that used to belong to British officers and gentry stationed in Dublin. It’s the sort of place where you really can spend the afternoon reading without feeling as if you should move on. They’ve kept much of the original baroque “stuff” (baroque decor really is just a lot of “stuff”) —statues of cherubs and looming lamps of amber glass and wrought iron— and tucked marble tables and couchy chairs in between. The place has gone through a lot of interesting transition, apparently: I found a little pamphlet on the address, which mentioned that the floors of the ground floor were originally half a flight of stairs above the street. When the place was renovated for business (it’s been a bike shop as well as a cafe), they lowered the floor to street level. That’s why the ceilings are so high. I think in America, there would have been hordes of historical preservationists howling about that kind of renovation, but it doesn’t take away from the mood of the place, or the memory of what it used to be. It simply allows the building to evolve.
This is turning into a summer of strange and wonderful nights. I should have known it would be like this when I left Pittsburgh. On one of my last nights there, I went with a few friends from one of my poetry classes to a birthday party. While we were there, it started to rain. I don’t remember whose idea it was, or what precipitated it, but we ran outside, into the street, at close to 2 in the morning. I left my purse inside, the boys took off their shirts (I was jealous, it was probably lovely), the road was empty and dark and rimmed by huge river-like puddles. We ran up and down the street like sixteen-year-olds, as if being out in the rain was the most wild thing we could possibly do. It was cold and shivery and we were drenched and I looked around and realized that I had been friends with those people for months and had never seen any of them so happy. It was joy, for no real reason. That’s when summer started for me. I should have known it would continue in kind.
I’ve been spending as much time as I can out in Dublin, searching out live music and meeting people and getting to know the friends that I’ve made here. I’ve found some pretty great things in Dublin after the sun goes down: an all-night chicken place with better fried chicken than any I’ve had in the states, an open-air club, a taxi driver whose name was John Lennon (no joke). But this past week, I really found Dublin at night. I went with my friends to the open-air club (one of the coolest spots I’ve found by far; you’re literally dancing in a garden under the stars), and ended up staying until it closed at around 2.30. Afterwards (there were about 10 of us), we took walk down to the River Liffey. I still don’t know why. The night simply wasn’t over. It was downright magical. It was chilly (I ended up wearing a pink cocktail dress, a pair of converse sneakers, and my friend’s wool cap for warmth) and raining, but already, by just after 3 in the morning, the sky was starting to lighten. Pale copper literally breaking across the edge of the sky. Interestingly, dawn begins on the north horizon here, because of how high Ireland is situated on the globe. We stood on a new bridge that the city just built, which looks like a harp— Ireland is the only country in the world with an instrument as its national symbol. Caught a few glimpses of the northern lights, and tried to name the colors we saw as the sky lightened: tin, indigo, gold, pale magenta, the inside of a rabbit’s ear. On the way home we got completely lost in a quiet Georgian neighborhood that I’d never seen before, but it was fine because even though it was 4 in the morning, day had already come.
That’s why I love Dublin.