The Emerald Isle: Part 4

Perhaps a tiny bit hungover and loath to leave my gaggle of new puppy friends, leaving Killarney was challenging.  After a few fits and starts getting out of bed and putting my feet firmly on the floor, I persevered and managed to get on the road after a most-reviving breakfast provided by the Muckross B&B.  Headed for the westernmost point of all Europe, I came across a fellow driver who taught me a valuable lesson in humility.

I stopped for gas before I reached Dingle, and was engaged in garbled conversation by the station attendant, who was, as many people seem to be, enthusiastically supportive of a young woman traveling the world, and also of my choice of road snacks.  From what I gathered, my Irish country friend enjoys Jaffa Cakes as much as I do, and has a cousin that I look similar to.  Or perhaps it was that there was “a mutton that I should look into”…I’m uncertain.

The town of Dingle not only has a name that makes me chuckle, but is as charming a tourist town as you’ll ever find.  While there’s a definite element of “shabbiness” to Dingle, it is absolutely homey and its inhabitants are impressively patient with the constant stream of tourist folly. Having no idea what I was doing (as usual), I drove in erratic zig-zags around Dingle until I saw a sign reading “Slea Head Drive.”  I reasoned that no matter which route I chose I would find something beautiful, so I followed its direction and ended up in precisely the place I was looking for, easily one of the most invigorating places on earth.

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The one thing I was not expecting about Slea Head Drive was the steep drop-offs that would plunge any overly confident driver directly into the Atlantic Ocean.  Guard rails?  Nah, no need for those here.  Apparently the Irish believe that the best way to keep drivers from careening off the road and piercing themselves on a jagged shoal is to foster pure, uninhibited terror.  Don’t want to die?  Don’t go over the edge.  Having experienced and analyzed this concept first-hand, I can attest to its effectiveness.  Really, that mindset seems far more rational than to try and protect the world’s population of imbeciles from their own ignorance, but I digress.

I eventually got the hang of driving a foot away from a cliff edge and started to feel more like a Bond Girl in a daring Maserati car chase than a freaked out tourist in a Fiat.  But then…then came the sheep.  A gentleman came along with his flock of adorable little spray-painted sheep and was herding them with his car, which I thought was both lazy and brilliant.  However, this farmer was herding his sheep in the opposite direction of traffic, which I had assumed only flowed in one direction up until this point.  I was fortunate enough to have a small gravel median to my left, but I can’t imagine what I would have done if I hadn’t.  I edged Seamus over to about 4 inches from the side of the cliff, and prayed that it would give the flock and the herdsman’s car enough clearance.  It did, and the farmer gave me a nonchalant wave of thanks, while the sheep glanced at me with something akin to suffocating British politeness and normal sheep panic.  As they slid past Seamus, I held my breath, certain that any exhalation would cause the precipice on which my car was parked to crumble and I would become a glorious sacrifice to Poseidon.  But I survived my encounter with the fleecy road plow and continued onward, finding a few places along the road later on that did have a guard rail of sorts.

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To say I enjoyed my time on Dingle Peninsula would be inaccurate.  Slea Head has a certain kind of flavor to it, one that is both Irish and distinct in its own right.  It’s as though the land is really just a sleeping dragon which holds countless ancient secrets that it is unwilling to share with the silly, mortal passers-by that traipse over its hills and roads each day.  As a visitor, I was painfully aware that I was precisely that: a visitor.  The land seems to own itself, and isn’t exactly a “destination” or a “place” so much as it is a perception-altering experience — one which I would recommend a thousand times over.

I left Dingle Peninsula and was so lost in my thoughts  and memories of it that I suddenly found myself very near Cork, and didn’t really remember much of the drive.  I arrived to my next scheduled B&B and opened my car door to be greeted by yet another new bestest friend, Lily.

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I had already been aware of Lily from the many mentions of her sweetness in the online reviews of the Bridgeview Farmhouse B&B.  As I stepped out of my car, I exclaimed, “Oh, you must be Lily!”  A surprised voice behind me said, “you know my dog?”  And that is how I met the incredible Marion of Kilbrittain.

Marion is one of the kindest and most exuberant people I have met in my time traveling the world.  She exudes a traditional Irish charm, infused with a natural curiosity and love for people.  After settling in my room, Marion, a wonderful couple from Seattle (I think), and I sat in the parlor and shared tea and stories before parting ways for dinner.  Marion recommended two excellent restaurants and I foolishly ignored her advice for the sake of not having to drive for too long again.  I drove into the tiny village of Ballinspittle and opted for a simple pub-style dinner.  If you’ve ever been to Ballinspittle, you know exactly which pub I went to…because I’m pretty sure it’s the only one.

While eating, I was approached by a man named Gerard, who seemed to have some sort of cognitive disability, and he asked if I was happy.  I informed him that yes, I was very happy.  He nodded and left.  1.5 minutes later, he came around again to ensure that I was still happy, and informed me that he too was quite happy.  I ended up speaking to Gerard at length and we had a splendid conversation about America, traveling, how Gerard was born and raised in Ballinspittle, how Willie Nelson is from Texas, and how Texas is larger than the whole of Ireland.  Gerard was excellent company, but just as I was about to pay my bill, a family member of his showed up in the bar with a baby.  The baby turned out to be his niece, and Gerard insisted that I hold her.

Anyone who knows me at all likely knows that children are not my forte.  I have been chastised in the past for referring to babies as an “it,” so I would like to point out to a certain person (you know who you are) that here I was careful to include the appropriate gendered pronoun for the child.  In general, I don’t mind or dislike children, I just don’t know what to do with them.  I am neither skilled nor comfortable in dealing with a human that can neither communicate effectively nor walk a straight line without falling on his/her ass and crying about it.  To be clear, I am not discriminatory: I do not tolerate such behavior in adults either.  But honestly, if your child hands me a toy telephone, my first instinct is not to pick it up and say, “hello?”  My first instinct is to dump a truckload of complex information about telephones on the child and run away.  “Yeah, that’s a phone.  You see, there are buttons here, and each telephone has a series of numbers, seven digits long, that directs a call to that particular unit.  But those numbers are divided by geographic region, as well as country, which in all will add another four digits to the routing sequence.  K, bye!”

 It was clear that Gerard was simply very proud of his niece and wanted to share his joy with me.  That, combined with my confusion and reluctance, led to a small standoff in the pub. Gerard held his niece out to me to receive, and like the terrible person I am, I just sort of let her float there for a second before crushing guilt and social obligation broke me and I took her from him.  So I’m in a foreign country, in a bar, holding someone’s child that I don’t know, who was given to me by her mentally handicapped uncle, and she’s staring at me, and I’m staring at her, and everyone involved is weirded out except for Gerard, who’s thrilled.  The child’s mother had left her with Gerard and was no where to be seen, and I started to worry that she might think I was trying to steal her or something.  In America, you can’t even tell someone else’s kid to stop climbing on a grocery store display without getting rounded on by the mother, and I’m unfamiliar with the proper protocol for passing a baby around a room.  I understand that it’s a somewhat common practice, but…in a bar?  With strangers?  Does everyone get a turn?  Is there a special order for passing her?  Who’s supposed to get her next?   How long do I have to hold her before someone really believes “my arms are just tired?”

To add to the situation, the child in my arms just…stared.  She didn’t do any of the things normal babies do.  No flailing arms, no grabbing for my jewelry, no looking around the room, no babbling.  She and I were supernaturally connected through intense, unwavering, awkward-as-hell eye contact, and neither of us was going to break first.  She then started to lean forward, slowly, and got closer and closer to my face, as I withdrew at an equal rate.  Creepy Baby only broke eye contact when her mother appeared at my side and said cheerfully, “Hello!  Oh, be careful, she’ll bite you.”

What?!  Does she even have teeth?  I would almost rather be bitten than gummed, but that’s beside the point.  I forced a (hopefully) believable chuckle at the apparent flesh-eating hobby of the baby that was clearly making its move.  Oh, how silly the wee ones can be!  Haha...here’s your kid.

While I’m no good with children, I can say confidently that I’m a great actress.  I gracefully rid myself of the Zombie Baby, paid my bill, and said farewell to my friend Gerard, who insisted on giving me a bear hug.  With a sparkling American smile on my face, I thanked Gerard’s sister (I assume) for letting me hold her adorable offspring, picked up my bag and ran the hell away.

Back at Bridgeview B&B, the weirdness of the evening’s events melted away.  Marion served up glasses of some kind of fabulous liquor, and I stayed up with Marion and the other guests until well past 1:00am chatting, laughing hysterically, and sharing our best travel stories.  That evening was one of the most affecting moments I’ve experienced in all my travels.  It was a few perfect hours of genuine camaraderie, respect of differences, and intelligent, fascinating conversation between strangers.  If it somehow comes to pass that anyone who was in that parlor reads this, you should know it was a pleasure to meet you.

Stay tuned for the last installment of this series, in which I tour a castle and am introduced to how whiskey is supposed to taste.

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The Emerald Isle, Pt. 1

Ok ok, I know.  I was in Ireland in September, and it’s now March, and “where’s the blog about your trip?!”  Here it is, so you gibbons can quit your whooping.  I took some (poor quality) videos on my phone throughout my trip, mostly as proof to my Mother that I was still alive and the messages I sent her weren’t actually from my captors/murderers/pimps.  I hope you enjoy  my falderal.

Ireland was everything I expected it to be and more.  It’s a fascinating place, largely because it’s one where individual perceptions rarely vary too far.  With most locations in the world, everyone is eager to give their opinions and stories, perceptions and favorites; but all of those experiences differ between people.  When I went to France, many told me that going up into the Eiffel Tower wasn’t worth the wait or the money, and that the real splendor was seeing it from the ground all around the city.  I decided against their judgement and clamored up the metal staircase behind a group of 20 raucous French 3rd-graders and didn’t regret a moment of it.  If you were to ask me if the diving is good in Belize, I would advise against it: a few rays, a few fish, a few rocks, but nothing you haven’t seen before.  However, I met a couple on the dive boat who said they travel to Belize to dive every year because it’s their favorite location.  In Ireland, however, everyone seems to have remarkably similar experiences.  I’ve heard tales of people who were rained on for a solid two weeks in the middle of summer and still had the time of their lives.  I met a couple in a B&B who said it was their 22nd trip back to the Emerald Isle, and they had never once been disappointed.  While I’m sure there are people who have had less than stellar experiences in Ireland, I can’t seem to find them.  Perhaps it’s just the novelty of being away from regular life or the thrill of a new place, but I was able to think more clearly, breathe more freely, and really absorb my experience, rather than just traveling from landmark to landmark and checking them off the list.

My adventures in Ireland began when I touched down in Dublin and couldn’t see a damn thing.  Fog.  There was so much fog it felt as though it was raining.  I hopped in a shuttle van to the rental car lot with 6 other strange travelers, most of them American.  Within 2 minutes of our 12 minute ride, the driver had somehow conducted introductions of everyone in the car, given a few basic tips on driving on the left-hand side of the road, explained the difference between black and white pudding, passed out maps of Dublin, and was deeply into a hilarious Q&A with the backseat when we arrived.  There was a collective, “aw,” but we all exited the van and said our goodbyes and well-wishes to each other.  If you allow it to, Ireland will turn you into a nicer person than you were before.

My brain kicked into problem-solving mode as I hunted out my rental car in the lot.  I have driven a manual transmission car for years, but never with my left hand on the gear shift and never on the other side of the road.  My travel method can be generally described as: buy a language book, be aware of major threats, figure out the rest when you get there.  I located my tiny red Fiat, with its wimpy engine and many zip ties that fastened the passenger’s side hub cabs to the wheels.  Wimpy as it was, I developed an anthropomorphic fondness for it, and I named it Seamus.


So I survived the rental car parking lot and successfully navigated the Irish highway system into Dublin proper.  The driving itself is not at all scary or difficult.  The new spacial awareness, however, is downright terrifying.  Coming from the US, I was unaccustomed to allowing my car to come so close to other cars, walls, cliffs, etc., and there were many times I was shocked not to hear the screeching of metal against a pole or other obstacle.  I could have sworn I just hit that pole, but nope – I had just never experienced maneuvering a vehicle with only a 2-inch margin of error.  I was forced to find my courage in a parking garage.

And yes, I was instinctively reaching for the gear shift with my right hand.  It was my first day, alright?!  I finally checked in at the Croke Park Hotel*, and took a 45 minute nap, and then a shower to try and shake off the jetlag.  I spent the rest of the day walking through Dublin.  I somehow joined a small group of retirees and explored with them for a short while.  By explored, I mean we compared maps and tried to orient ourselves for a solid 20 minutes.  They were lovely, good-natured people and together we found our way into the heart of Dublin.  I branched off and headed straight for the one thing I was determined to see in Dublin: Trinity College Library.  Oh, friends.  I can’t express how glorious and reverent this place is.  If you’re a book lover or history/anthropology buff, I highly recommend it.  To get to the library, you’ll pass through the The Book of Kells exhibit, which is well-done and very informative, although be prepared to spend quite a bit of time there.  It’s very possible to flit through to the library, but the historical and culturally significant information there is worth taking the time.  Below are a few images I took while in the library when I wasn’t standing still, slack-jawed and drooling.

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I spent the rest of the day wandering Dublin, eating fish and chips, and generally being a tourist.  Dublin is a very interesting city, and I enjoyed my time there, although it was no highlight of the trip.  Out of the European cities I’ve been too, Dublin is the dirtiest, hands down.  The smell of urine meanders boldly down most streets, and the buildings and walls are covered with a special kind of seemingly permanent grime.  While listening to the radio in my car the next day, there was an entire segment of listeners calling in to discuss the issue of public urination in Dublin, and many contributors were of the opinion that it’s just a fact of life.  So while Dublin is teeming with culture and history and good times to be had by all…wash your hands.

I left Dublin the next morning and headed to Belfast with little-to-no idea of where I was going except “north.”  Throughout the entire trip, I was very surprised at how easy it is to navigate the roundabout-laden highway systems in Ireland.  I found myself many times without a map or a functioning GPS, and still never got lost once.   If you have to, you can get around Ireland just fine with a brain, a functioning pair of eyes, and a few tidbits of local advice.

Adventures in Belfast and the remainder of my time in Northern Ireland will be continued soon.

*Hotel and B&B reviews will be written soon. Eventually. I’ll get to it, I swear.

How Novel

I have enjoyed writing since my high school days, and can find enjoyment in nearly every genre of literature that exists.  I have written silly poems, published articles, journal entries, product reviews, blogs (of course) and even a thesis.  I realized a few months ago, however, that the one realm of the written art that I have not yet dabbled in is that of the fiction novel.  I have many friends who have suggested I write a book, although most of them beg for a paperback copy of my absurd and risible dating life.  They caw, “it would be such a great comedy book!  You’re so witty about all those loser guys!”  Yes, my inability to find a sentient being who makes me happy is a total scream.  Although if I could become a millionaire from documenting all the tortuous dates I’ve had in my time, perhaps it could pay for grad school…but I digress.

In the true spirit of myself, I decided a few months ago that I was going to write a book, damnit.  And it will be awesome!  And inspiring!  Prize-worthy! Meritorious!

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With all my perfect future predictions in mind, I got a notebook and some coffee and set myself down to start creating my first opus.  About 3 hours into character creation, world building and jotting down scene possibilities, I felt confident and clever, and went to bed excited for the ideas I would concoct the next day.

Then a month went by.  Whoops.

I woke up one morning and said aloud to myself (and my cats), “Well, barf nuggets.  I just frittered away a solid 30 days of writing time.”  Then and there, I decided that such a level of procrastination and a lackadaisical attitude was unacceptable.  I vowed to write/create/scheme/brainstorm/research SOMETHING every day to ensure the forward motion of my project.  That afternoon, I wrote several scene outlines and developed some great character detail; “dedicated” was my middle name!

Then three weeks went by.  $#^@.

Thankfully, I was able to scoop myself up into a metaphorical dustpan and begin again.  I have been quite diligent with my book over the last few weeks, and am quite happy with the progress with the exception of one small detail: actually writing it.  I have tiny chunks of scenes written, some extensive outlining, a decent plot and complex characters, but every time I sit at my computer to write, I stare at Microsoft Word like a mackerel at Pike’s Place and my thought processes are as dry as the Atacama desert:

…so, right…where to begin?  Once upon a ti…ugh, no.  There once was a man from Nantuc…haha, but no.  Mmm…I really like “Century Schoolbook” for a font, it stretches things out to make it look like I wrote more.  “Cambria” is pleasant too, but NO.  Time to write now.  Hokay…writing…things…that…are…interesting…and… what if I research more writing strategies?  Or maybe I should world build some more?  Pinterest might have some good articl–NO.  No Pinterest for you.  …fuuuuuh.

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Turns out writing a book is not only difficult, but obnoxious, and depressing, and exhausting.  The idea that this would be easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy has now been firmly booted out the window, and has been replaced with a mild sense of panic and lots of nonsensical scribbling on paper.  As happens often in my life, I’ve been humbled by a learning curve.  I am enjoying the process, and am still confident that I will achieve my goal of completing a fiction novel, but I’m now realizing the time and work that actually goes into fiction writing.  Neil Gaiman, Michael Crichton, Dan Brown, J.K. Rowling, and all you other creative smartasses out there: I salute you.

I should really go write my book now.

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The End of an Era

At this point, I only have 3 remaining days of college classes. In two weeks, I will wear an oddly shaped hat and an ugly smock in a sea of other people dressed just as ridiculously.  Someone will then butcher my name into a microphone, and awkwardly try to hand me something and shake my hand at the same time.  The past 6 months have been a whirlwind of activity and exhaustion, all culminating in a what will be a few weeks of rest before reality once again strikes and I find myself in a new kind of crucible.  After much hard work, hoop jumping and difficult decisions, I’m proud of myself and my accomplishments, but am not naive enough to believe that this is the Winter of my Discontent.  I refuse to write a blog with a listing of “Things I Learned in College,” because firstly, those things are too numerous to list, and secondly, those things are considerably more complex and personal than I had anticipated them to be.  Instead, I have compiled a list of accomplishments.  While some may be trite, they are things I am proud of myself for and can definitively say were the most salient moments of my time in college.

1) I went back to school.

I consider this to be one of my biggest life accomplishments to date, and credit members of my family for their undying support in my decision.  I will be graduating with my B.A. at the age of 25, and can recall a point in time when I didn’t think college was an option for me.  I chose to uproot my life, quit my steady job, and drive across the country with my Mom and two cats for a chance at something different.  I clearly made the right choice.

2) I found my niche.

I am one of the lucky few who knows precisely where my passion lies.  I explored many options, and can definitively say I would never be happy studying anything other than my beloved linguistics.  It is the one subject I find fascinating 100% of the time, regardless of monotone professors, clicks and pharyngeal phonemes, word structure trees and that damned Russian case system.  With all of the tedium and frustration, I am still enraptured.

Fun with the IPA

Fun with the IPA

3) I traveled to Europe.

For my 25th birthday, I decided I was going to do something special for myself rather than make my own cake and share icing with my cats.  I came to the conclusion that I had been waiting far too long to travel to places I was dying to experience, so I planned a trip to France.  I spent nearly two weeks in France mostly traveling alone, with the exception of the time I spent with some wonderful new friends that I met there.  I encountered some stiff negative opinions regarding finances, time, school, safety, etc., but it was undoubtedly the best risky waste of time and money I could ever have imagined.  I have previously written a blog about traveling solo, which can be found here if you care to hear more of my opinion on that topic.

4) I pushed myself to the limit.

I am not one known for doing things the easy way, just ask my Mother.  I enjoy a good challenge, and sure as hell found some in college.  I am familiar with the physical breaking point after many years of fitness interest, but the mental breaking point was new territory for me.  I took on a workload of 21 credit hours in one semester, 5 of which were attributed to learning the Russian language.  I worked off-campus throughout that semester, and also studied for and took the GRE…in the middle of finals week.  I also decided to write a Senior Thesis before graduation, having done no prior research.  An incredible professor took a chance on me, and allowed me to bypass the mandatory independent study classes for the chance at graduating with honors.  This gave me one semester to pick a topic, put together a study, conduct all participant research, and pound out a finished product.  I will be turning in my final draft this weekend.  All of this, and I’m also graduating 8 months early.

GRE horse&*#%

GRE horse&*#%

5) I was hit by a truck.

Literally.  A few weeks ago, I was hit by a truck while biking home from school.  I am healing well, and more quickly than expected, but it was truly a humbling experience.

6) I got accepted to grad school.

I received my acceptance into the grad school of my dreams approximately 1 hour before I was hit by a Tacoma.  Let’s just say it was a day of “ups and downs.”  After months of solid job hunting and nothing to show for it, I began considering the option of graduate school.  On a complete fluke, I ran into a school representative who informed me of what seemed to be a Master’s program tailored for this chick right here…as long as I had my application submitted within 48 hours.  I put my head down for about 30 of those hours and made it in under the wire.  After waiting impatiently (just ask my friends how many times they heard me whine, “how long does it take?!”) for a few months, I received the good news that I was going to be a graduate student.

7) I received impressive opposition, and continued to move forward.

The first professor I asked about writing a thesis dismissed me as, “too inexperienced in the field.”  The second professor I asked preferred to follow The Almighty Rulebook and did not believe waiving the preparatory courses was wise.  I finally found a professor who was willing to say, “Sure.  You’re a smart girl, let’s see what you can do.”  To that professor, I say thank you so much.  As for graduate school, there are members of my family that do not believe it is the best course of action for me.  It took several weeks for me to weigh out my options, and carefully choose the decision I know will move me in the direction I wish to go.  I know they will still love me regardless of my decision, and I hope they can come to support me in my education although it does not adhere to their beliefs.  Also, I consider a truck to be a pretty good opponent.

Research Material

Research Material

While I never went to a football game (which I believe is a punishable crime at UF), never did a kegstand and continue to harbor an intense dislike for “Greek life,” I have greatly enjoyed my learning experiences in college.  Having completed this milestone, I don’t pretend to have advice for other students or any inspirational revelations.  All I care to say is that I am excited to see where my knowledge and experiences will take me, and am incredibly grateful for the opportunity I was given to work hard, and build my own future.