Tuesday, February 17, 2015


Travelling is one of those things that I've always wanted to do. Growing up my family didn't travel much. Almost every family trip and holiday was spent at my grandparent's house, 2 hours north of the city where I grew up. Those remain some of my best memories to this day. When I think of childhood, I think of waking up at my grandparent's house, smelling my grandma cooking breakfast (like many grandmothers, her cooking was magical) and listening to the adults talk downstairs while I lay in bed.

The point is, my childhood was spent pretty close to home. I might have occasionally been frustrated when I heard about my friends and other people travelling, but looking back now I love the fact that I grew up so close to home and that I had places that meant so much to me, even if they weren't necessarily exotic or exciting.

The first time I left the country I was in 7th grade. I went on a service trip with my school, it was an annual trip that both of my brothers had gone on as well. We visited a nursing home and went to a poor village to hand out food and spend time with the kids, among other things. It was an amazing experience, and it expanded my horizons in ways that I didn't even know were possible. I went on similar trips every year up through my senior year of high school, when my class went on a trip to the Dominican Republic. That was the first time I ever flew on an airplane (we had always driven to Mexico). In my mind that's kind of when I became a "traveler". Travelling across a body of water somehow makes the journey seem more real and significant.

That trip began a deluge of further travels. I went to a college far away from home, which necessitates a lot of flying. (I'm from Minneapolis, and I go to school near Boston.) I went on trips to see my brother graduate from Marine Corps boot camp, to visit him at his new base, and to welcome him back from deployment. I continued going on service trips in college, this time to New Orleans. For the first time in my life I actually became the knowledgeable and experienced traveler in my family.

But still, all of my trips were organized by somebody else or had some specific purpose. To commute between school and home, to see family, to do service projects. I still valued every experience (except perhaps a few nightmarish trips between school and home). I became very familiar with the Minneapolis and Boston airports, the best places to sit and eat and go through security. Everything started to seem routine.

Changing the subject a little bit: another thing I have wanted to do for as long as I can remember was study abroad. I took for granted my whole time in college that it would happen, but it always seemed like the distant future. Until suddenly, it was the week before I was supposed to leave. I daresay I was a little terrified. I may say that I like to travel, but I am also not the best with transitions and new experiences. Especially when that transition involves me going completely by myself to live in an unfamiliar country for 5 months. I knew that I would run into new and strange situations (just look at this post!), and that scared me.

Anyway. This post became rather more complicated than I planned. What I meant to tell you about was a trip that a couple friends and I are taking. On Thursday we will be travelling to Copenhagen for a few days, and then to Amsterdam. (When I told my parents about the trip they asked why those specific places - honestly it was a little arbitrary. None of us have done much travelling in Europe, so we just picked some places that sounded cool and were cheap to get to!). I have been thinking about my past travel experiences because I think this trip will be different than any I have ever taken. We have no specific reason to go, no family to see, our parents didn't plan anything. We picked some places, found some flights, and just went for it!

I think this is what I always imagined travelling to be. Despite all the trips I have been on in the past, the anticipation of this one more than any other takes me back to those childhood dreams of travelling and exploring the world. It's a new and exciting experience, but somehow it has managed to stir up nostalgia. (I suppose that's probably influenced by homesickness as well!)

I believe there is absolutely a place for both well thought out travelling with a specific purpose and spontaneous travelling purely for enjoyment. I have experienced a lot of the first kind in the last few years - take my trip to Ireland for instance. Months of planning went into coming here. But, I'm excited to take a trip that my friends and I are figuring out as we go, with no agenda or even really any rationale for the locations we chose. I'm not a spontaneous person, at least with the big decisions in life, so I'm thrilled that this plan came together so quickly!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015


Today I got lost.

Not "Oh no, I have no idea how to get home!" lost, but "I have no idea where I am, but I feel like wandering and I'll pull out google maps when I want to figure out where I am" lost.

I hope somebody knows what I'm talking about...

I had a final destination in mind, but it didn't matter very much to me whether I made it to that specific place or not, or how long it took me. Most of the walk I genuinely had no idea where I was, but that wasn't a bad thing. I wandered any direction that seemed interesting, knowing that I could pull out google maps at any time to figure out where I was.

It ended up being a much longer walk than I intended, but it was also really nice to have no deadline or timeline, or really any plan at all except a vague target destination.

According to google maps I walked 6km (close to 4 miles) but I'm sure my actual route was a little bit longer and less direct. It sure took me longer than 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Of course, I documented the journey with pictures. (Seriously, as much as I hate to admit it, I don't know what I would do without my smart phone.)

St. Ann's Church

I bought a smoothie at the grocery store, and it
came with a mini stocking hat on it...

I get overly excited when I see new things

Probably my favorite find, several swans
on a canal.

My main detour was due to this building.
I saw it from a long ways away and had
to find out what the giant green dome was.

It was a church. I probably could have guessed!

Double-decker bus

I also kept going because of this building, but
this is where I finally turned back.

I had to revisit the swans on my way back.
Luckily Jet was with me :)

St. Patrick's Cathedral, my original intended
destination. I finally made it! I'll definitely
be back though, on a day when I have more
energy to explore.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Times I've Looked like an Idiot in Ireland

I rather like the alliteration of that title, don't you?

But in all seriousness, there are a lot of new things to learn when you enter a new culture. I had never been anywhere in Europe before this semester, so there are a lot of things I needed to figure out quickly. I've messed up a lot. And I'm sure I will continue to mess up. So, I decided to share a few amusing stories of times I'm sure I looked like an idiot, or at least felt like one. (This list is by no means exhaustive.)

  • The very first day I was in Ireland I went to the grocery store to get some basic things. I felt pretty accomplished for finding a grocery store and getting the things I needed and checking out without a problem (using credit cards is a bit different here.) But then, once I was at the end of the checkout I realized there were no bags. I stood there for a while, uncertain what to do. I realized I would just need to wait until the cashier was free and buy a bag, but there were people waiting and I couldn't exactly get back into line and leave all my groceries. So, I awkwardly waited at the end of the counter. The woman after me in line even asked if I was okay, apparently it was obvious that I had no idea what I was doing. But, after one more person checked out I was able to get the attention of the cashier and everything was fine. Until the next time I went grocery shopping... I did slightly better, at least I remembered that I needed to buy bags, but I forgot to ask for them until after he finished the transaction. Third time's the charm, I guess!
I happened to see this at the grocery store
today. Shopping is always an adventure,
even if do I remember to bring bags with me.
  • One day at the grocery store I bought a frozen pizza. I got back to my apartment and was all excited to make it for dinner. I looked at the package, and it said turn the oven on to 200 degrees. I was very confused, until I realized that it was celsius. Of course! But then I had another moment of panic when I wondered how I would know what 200 degrees celsius was on the oven dial. Then I had an "I'm an idiot" moment when I looked at the oven and the temperatures were in celsius. When you're used to seeing one thing your whole life, it takes time get used to a different system.

  • The first time that a friend and I went out to eat here, she looked at me and said "Do you tip in restaurants in Ireland?" Which made me realize, I had no idea. I had heard that the United States is somewhat unusual in our tipping practices, but I hadn't actually thought to find out how it worked here. Thank goodness for google and cell phones with data! (If you're curious, apparently it's normal to tip around 10% if there is table service, but not customary to tip at a bar or anything like that.) There are so many social protocols that are important to know in a new culture, but not obvious to figure out.
This is not the restaurant from the story,
but it was delicious. Chowder and crab legs!
  • The drinking age in Ireland is 18, which I did know before I came here. My second night in Ireland, however, I had kind of a shock. I attended a welcome reception for a program I was part of and they served wine, because of course all of us were old enough. That's something that would never be taken for granted at any official college gathering at home, since a lot of college students in the US can't legally drink. I really haven't drunk much in my time here, because I don't particularly enjoy it (and it's expensive!) but I've spent quite a bit of time in pubs with friends. Everything in Dublin closes really early, so if you want to go out at night pubs are one of your only options. 
We discovered recently that some tea
shops are open late too.