I realize that I have postponed my blogging long enough. I have been in Europe for about four weeks now and I can honestly say that this is one of the few moments that I have had to sit down and simply reflect on my travels so far. I am so blessed to have this opportunity to travel around Europe for a month before my program starts at the University of Freiburg.
My traveling began on February 1st in Dublin, Ireland with my friend Roshin Sen. Roshin was one of my mother’s graduate students at Notre Dame several years ago and we have stayed in touch ever since. The last time I saw Roshin was on a family vacation in Scotland—I was 13 and Roshin was hip and in her 20’s (not to say that Roshin still isn’t hip and cool). I met up with Roshin at the Dublin airport which was completely deserted at 9 o’clock in the morning. We spent the first day fighting my jet lag and walking around the city. I knew that I was going to fall in love with Ireland the moment I saw the bay and walked down by the water. We first hiked up a hill to see what Roshin calls ‘The Irish Riviera.” It was absolutely breath taking. Literally. It was so windy and hilly that it was tough to breathe. Here’s one of the best shots I got from the walk up.
Roshin and I spent the next 10 days sightseeing around Ireland. We visited the Aran Islands, which are all the way on the west coast of Ireland—completely opposite of Dublin, for those of you who are navigationally-challenged like me. The Islands were absolutely deserted. We began our day at the island’s local hotspot: the American Bar. We ate an ‘Irish full’ breakfast in a hole-in-the-wall breakfast joint that consisted of eggs, toast, beans, sausage, tomatoes, and coffee. We met up with our lovely guide who gave us a bus tour of the islands. We have a theory that everyone on the island knew everything about us and had a tracking device placed on our phones because they always seemed to appear exactly where and when we needed them. The bus driver drove us up to the cliffs and it was incredible. We could walk right up to the edge of the cliffs with no sight of fences or barricades—it was surreal.
Although we flew onto the island, we had to take the ferry home because there was so much fog. I was pretty thankful because I don’t think I could have spent another agonizing seven minutes in the tiny 6-seater plane. We then spent two days in Galway where we spent the first full day taking a bus tour around the west coast of Ireland. We saw old castles, a sanctuary for hunting birds of prey, and, of course, the Cliffs of Moher. Only … we didn’t see any cliffs. It was so foggy that day that we literally could not see two feet in front of our faces. Since I couldn’t see over the cliffs and thus had no concept of depth or fear, I hopped up on the side of the cliff to take a picture. Little did I know that there were hundreds of signs saying ‘don’t jump over the barricades’ and that the fences were adorned with suicide prevention hotline numbers and posters. It was incredible none-the-less.
After the tour of the cliffs, castles, and caves, we headed back to Galway for a fancy designer cocktail at the g Hotel. It was so elegant and I spent entirely too much money on one cocktail, but man was it good. Afterwards we went and saw the most disturbing movie … ever. Shame? Anyone heard of it? Me either. It’s about a guy who is a sex addict and falls into a vicious cycle when he tries to overcome it. So disturbing and weird … but still well made. I don’t necessarily recommend it to anyone who isn’t prepared.
Things I noticed in Ireland:
1. People put their emergency blinkers on when they want to say thanks to another car.
2. It is totally acceptable to have a beer before noon.
3. Irish people do not believe in paper towels.
4. There is actually a thing as Irish time—no one shows up when they say they will and events rarely start on time.
After a very lovely 7 days with Roshin, I was finally on my way to see Claudia. Claudia and I were exchange students with each other in high school. We first met when we were 16, summer after sophomore year of high school and I could barely speak, let alone understand, German. I remember writing in my notebook at the time that I was so proud of myself that I could speak with Claudia’s mom, Ula, for 5 minutes, and now? I can speak entirely in German, Claudia and I are both studying at our respective universities, and we don’t have to talk to each other in English. It is so incredible how Claudia and I can go almost 4 years without seeing each other and still remain such great friends.
It was the first time Claudia was able to pick me up from the airport herself in her car which was exciting. We took a very roundabout way to get home (she got lost), but once we arrived, it was so comforting. Waiting for me there was the same apartment, the same guest room with my duvet and pillow. There’s something very calming knowing that even though my parents have moved from my childhood home to a new house in the middle of nowhere, 3,000 miles away there is still a home that is familiar.
The first night there we went to a birthday party with her neighbors. It was a lot of fun and we spent the night talking about the differences between the US, Germany, and Poland. It was a beautiful night. The rest of the week was spent hanging out at the house, going to cafes, shopping, and finally taking a trip to Munster, where Claudia goes to school. Munster reminds me a lot of Bloomington. It is a sweet college town with a lot to do, friendly people, but would be absolutely nothing without the university. We spent the two days in Munster with Claudia’s boyfriend Jörn, my German hipster fix for the year. It is actually very strange how similar Bloomington and Munster are. We went in and out of boutiques and quaint shops, ate at a Thai restaurant, and visited the bars. In the bars, I was introduced to Schlager music. How does one explain Schlager music? Imagine a genre of music that is composed entirely of Journey songs like Don’t Stop Believin’ set to a pounding techno beat. Some people love it and other people can’t stand it. Either way, it’s hysterical.
I am now at the residence of my second host family from high school—the Fette’s: Christian, Ritta, Johanne, and Clara. Johanne is 11 years old and plays handball and the guitar while Clara is 8 years old and part of a British Equestrian Vaulting team and plays the drums. First of all British Equestrian Vaulting has to be one of the most fascinating things I have ever seen. For those of you who aren’t yet acquainted with it, it’s essentially gymnastics on top of moving horses. Girls do back flips, front flips, splits, and cartwheels on top of moving horses. It is so intense and it looks like sprained body parts waiting to happen.
Over the last couple days I’ve been to three museums (Museumsdorf Cloppenburg, Deutsches Auswanderer Haus, and Deutsches Schiffahrtsmuseum), attended 6th grade, watched guitar lessons, and have eaten waaaaay too much. I think my favorite part so far was going to Johanne’s class this week. All of her friends asked me really cute things like: are you really from England? Can you drive? Can I see your driver’s license? And my favorite: Why are you so small? Are all the people where you come from so small? Comforting to know that children are just the same all over the world.
Looking ahead to the next two weeks I am so excited to start studying in Freiburg, I’m excited to see how my classes will work and I’m definitely excited to start living on my own. Tune in for more posts!