Saturday, December 22, 2012

So Long, Farewell...

It is hard to believe that I am at the end of this 10-week-long journey. I have been preparing for this trip for over a year, and for it to be coming to an end feels very strange.

Although living in a place for a couple months can make you feel at home, it cannot feel like the place where you grew up. I am not sure how long it would take to feel entirely like a new country is home, but - especially after this experience - I do know that moving to a new country permanently would be a very difficult and brave thing to do. 

This has been an unbelievable, probably once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I wouldn’t change a thing about it. I came to live in a new country, lived with a host family, taught in a school, and traveled to so many cities and beautiful landmarks. I am so appreciative for this incredible opportunity and to the people who made it possible. I encourage you all to take a step outside of your norm - by traveling, talking to someone new, trying a new food, anything out of the ordinary - and see a different piece of the world, whether it is close to home or far away.

I have learned so much about Ireland and Irish culture during my time here, but I cannot pretend to be an expert. If anything, I have more questions now than I did before I came to Ireland. This beautiful country has such a rich history, gorgeous countryside, and interesting people. I have so enjoyed meeting so many people, visiting different parts of the country, and especially seeing the incredible architecture and historical buildings, and the stunning landscapes.

I hope that through this blog I have shown you at least a small piece of my life and Ireland in the past couple months. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and share in my adventures! And, for the last time, slán leat!

Friday, December 21, 2012

On the Road Again...

I have been so lucky to be joined by my best friend and international travel companion, Jessica, for my last week here in Ireland. Would you believe that when we were in elementary school we would check out library books about Ireland and plan to live here in a castle together when we grew up? Well, even though we have not and will not live in a castle, we have had a pretty wonderful week together in Ireland. I'll share a brief overview of our travels with you.

Saturday & Sunday
We wandered around Dublin, went to a huge Christmas flea market, and stayed in a hostel in Dublin overnight. On Sunday we attended the morning service at Christ Church Cathedral and explored a bit more before catching a bus to Galway.

We took a day trip to Connemara with a great guide named Mike, and just five other people. Just the eight of us in a giant tour bus. I feel that I should personally thank every person who told me to go to Connemara. It was breathtakingly beautiful - certainly one of my favorite places I have visited. We drove through rolling green hills, saw tons of sheep, and stopped to take so many amazing pictures. Back in Galway in the evening, we heard an 18-piece big band in a pub, and spent one more night in Barnacles hostel.

We took a bus to the Cliffs of Moher (my second time there, this time with much better weather). It was a beautiful, mostly sunny day. In the afternoon we took a bus to Limerick, where we ate a late and delicious lunch at the bus station before catching our bus to Killarney. We walked through a large part of the town looking for our hostel, and finally collapsed in our room when we got there.

We slept in, then headed to O'Brien's Bagel Factory for a tasty brunch. We walked into Killarney National Park and wandered along the river and through the wild, green forest to the beautiful Lough Leane and Ross Castle. In the afternoon we had tea and cake at Miss Courtney's Tea Room, and later we went to a movie and walked back to our hostel under the lovely Christmas lights.

We took a bus to Cork, dropped our things at our hostel, and meandered around the main streets before eating lunch - can't get enough soup here! Then we caught a bus to Blarney, and headed to the Blarney Castle. I know it is one of the main tourist attractions in Ireland, but it truly is worth the visit. (And that wasn't just because of the incredible double rainbow that appeared when we were at the top of the castle!) We kissed the Blarney Stone, and now should have the gift of eloquence.

We arrived in Wicklow Town in the afternoon, checked into our hostel, and wandered out toward the bay. We walked down the pier and saw the beautiful view and some seals swimming in the water! We also saw the ruins of a Viking fort, built in the 1170s. The views were spectacular and the little coastal town was beautiful as it lit up with the sunset.

Tomorrow we're heading back to Dublin, spending the night at my host home, and preparing for our flight on Sunday morning. It has been a fabulous week!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Travels, etc...

I'm still here! My past couple of weeks have been rather busy, but I've finally had some time to sit down a write a post. I have been able to do quite a bit of travel the past few weekends, and I'm so glad to have a few other student teachers in the area who I have become quite close with. A couple weekends ago we went to Galway, where we explored the Christmas market and wandered all over the city. There were plenty of entertaining street performers, including these musical Santas and a magical floating guy.

Saturday our weather was beautiful, but Sunday was misty. I still loved the colorful houses along the water, even in the rain.

This weekend we were in Cork, also wandering and shopping. We walked through a well-known English market, visited St. Fin Barre's Cathedral, and saw the Christmas lights and festivities in the park.

This time of year, there are SO many craft markets everywhere. I have visited a quite a few of them and supported a good number of artists... The biggest one I have been to was the National Craft Fair, with over 150 stalls!

It's a bit dangerous, really, because there are so many wonderful things to buy (and eat)! I must admit, I haven't been able to resist some of the delicious cupcakes.

Recent school highlights:

~ A few days ago, I showed some pictures of home to the fourth class students and gave them a chance to ask me questions. The things that interested them most: tornadoes (They had endless questions!), chipmunks (when I said there are chipmunks in Indiana, someone asked incredulously "Have you seen a chipmunk before??"), and cardinals ("It looks like one of the Angry Birds birds!")

~ The theme for stations in the junior and senior infant classes this month is Christmas. (It's so interesting to have religion openly taught and celebrated in schools.) A couple of the stations have included Santa and elf costumes, and it has been so cute watching some of the kids wear a Santa beard and hat - they look very convincing!

I started this blog by saying that I hoped that Ireland would become a home for me. After nearly nine weeks, it certainly has! I feel like I've lived here for a long time, although my time has also flown. I really have a routine here, and it will feel strange to leave it. A few thoughts on how I knew Ireland felt like home...
~ The thought of sleeping in my bed at my host house after a weekend away sounded like heaven.
~ I began to be able to unlock the front door easily, despite the tricky way my key sticks in the keyhole.
~ I started recognizing and being recognized by the people that I see daily on the bus and the walk to school - including a sweet toddler on my bus.
~ I was asked for directions a few times and knew where the places were!
~ I realized that I will be sad to go, even though I'll be glad to be home in Indiana. I'll especially miss this kind of morning:

This weekend my dearest friend joins me here - I'm so excited! - and we will travel around Ireland next week before returning home just in time for Christmas. I will do my best to post one more time before I leave beautiful Ireland, but for now, thanks for reading, and slán leat!