Monday, February 15, 2016

Quite an Eventful Week and I Didn't Even Leave Dublin

For most people in Ireland, the GNIB, or the Garda National Immigration Bureau, is the place to get your official card that allows you to stay in Ireland for a certain amount of time. For me, it was the GNI(Best way to waste a beautiful day in Dublin). This place made PennDOT seem like a vacation. It was a long day to say that least and I'm more than excited that it is over and I'm officially allowed to stay in Ireland until June 1st. It was a day that started bright and early at 6:30am before the sunrise. Our appointment said 10am but from hearing about our friends' experiences, it was worthwhile to get there as soon as possible. My roommate, Laurel, and our friend, Erin, caught the 39A Dublin bus at 7:15am. We got off near the GNIB and walked to it only to find that 110 other people had the same idea as us...the line was wrapped around 2 corners...sighs could be heard from all of us....just when we thought we were on top of things, it was still going to be a long day. We finally made it through the line and were handed a number upon entering the GNIB...#112...they said to come back in about 3 hours.
My friends and I walked around the city centre a bit, got some coffee, breakfast, and took our grand old time. We arrived back at the GNIB at about 11am to find out they were only on #47....3 hours had passed and they were only on #47...we were in for more of a ride than we ever thought. We went back towards the city centre to find a spot to set up camp and do school work for a while. Upon hearing from another friend who was there that they were on #91 a few hours later, we went back to the GNIB. We got our paperwork ready and finally I was the first of my friends to go at about 2:30pm. After the lady looked through all of my paper work and I paid the hefty fee of 300 euros (I'd be willing to pitch 320 euros if they added 20 other employees to speed up the wait time haha). From there, they had to process everything which took about 30 min for my friends. Some how, given that I am a white American 21 year old male, I seemed to have posed some threat to the citizens of Ireland because I didn't get my paperwork back for another 2 really GNIB...come on? I thought smiling while the lady was reading my papers would help things go smoother, not substantially worse. Finally I got my little card and that frown turned upside down. After getting in line at 7:30am, I was finally leaving the GNIB office at 5:00pm.
It was sunny for most of the day which is something we haven't seen in what feels like a week but instead I spent my day indoors hoping everything would be processed smoothly....which barely happened. Upon arriving in my apartment, I cooked a great chicken and broccoli stir fry only to be followed by my new best friends Ben&Jerry who let me indulge in some scrumptious Peanut Butter Cup ice cream.

Back track a week and we're back to Super Bowl 50, where the Broncos and Panthers battled it out in a great matchup. My friends and I went to a well known club in Dublin called Dtwo. They had an outdoor heated area with a 20 ft screen along with numerous other projection screens broadcasting the game. No matter which was you turned, there was a screen which was nice. Carolina failed to show up to play like they had been all season but it was still a fun game to watch. Given that the Super Bowl commercials cost $5 million for 30 seconds and being friends with a lot of marketing majors, the hype for commercials this year was significant. The very first commercial that was played was for Ford although in the car that was driven, the steering wheel was on the right side of the car...from that observation I knew that the commercials were European ones and not Americans...needless to say, we were all pretty bummed out we couldn't watch the American commercials because of all the hype that goes into them. All in all, we ate about 5 baskets of chips (known in America as French fries), enjoyed a lot of brewskies, and  had a great time with fellow Americans and a lot of Irish lads....despite that with the time difference, the game occurred from 11pm-4am so we were all a little...okay maybe a lot....tired the next morning.

When people think of Irish music, what comes to mind is something along the lines of a fiddle, maybe a flute, a guitar, and of course people on their feet singing and dancing to the music. On Tuesday night, I had the fantastic opportunity to experience a three course meal along with an Irish band in small bar like setting for the price of $free.99....yep, that's right...a three course meal for free! The International Student Society at my school, University College Dublin, does a great job of providing free events to students and this was one of them. Not only was the food delicious but the band was a lot of fun and had a great sense of humor. In between songs, one of the band members would tell a tale or explain what the upcoming song was about. Given that I've played piano for about 8 years, I had a lot of fun listening to all of the instruments collaborate together in a non traditional sense since the three instruments were a guitar, a flute and the traditional Irish musical instrument, uilleann pipes. One member of the band would start playing their instrument and soon after, all of the others would join in to form an upbeat rhythm that made you want to tap your foot to the beat. All of the musicians were incredibly talented, so much so that after their concert, I bought a CD of theirs...more or less a souvenir.  Afterwards, we continued the night by going to a pub downtown recommended by fellow UCD Irish students and ended the night with a bang.

On Friday, the only class I had was at 10am and a few other friends were done at 12pm so we decided to make the most of the (unfortunately rainy) day and go to the Dublin Zoo! For an admission of just 13 euros, granted it wasn't a huge zoo, we got to see lions and tigers (and bears oh my!)....unfortunately there weren't actually bears...but there were gorillas and elephants so they can replace the bears. Oh my! was it a fun day though. At heart, I'm still about 12 years old so going to see animals is really what I should be doing all the time...I really just want a spider monkey as a pet honestly. Those things were jumping up and down, over and under bamboo sticks as if gravity wasn't a factor for them. Words on the street is that Jackie Chan learned his moves from them. A very worthwhile day despite it raining to some extent literally the entire time... at this point, we're all just used to rain so it wasn't too big of a deal. And of course going with 4 attractive girls isn't a bad thing :).
If there's one thing Dublin is known for, its pubs and beer drinking. Not only those two but also the fact that the Guinness factory and Jameson Distillery are located in the city as well. And what better way to celebrate being single on Valentines Day than to go with all of my other single friends to a whiskey tour and tasting event. The Jameson Distillery Tour was very informative while also being enjoyable and comical. The tour guide was enthusiastic, humorous, and very personable. At the end of the tour, we got to taste test a bit of Jameson Irish whiskey compared to Jack Daniels Whiskey and Johnnie Walker Whisky. Not to be biased but after tasting the latter and then tasting Jameson, it was a clear winner among us that the Jameson was the smoothest and tasted the best.

And c'mon, who really needs a date on Valentine's Day when you have Jameson...I sure didn't :).


Monday, February 8, 2016

One Could Say We Sword(ta) Had Fun in Edinburgh, Scotland

It's Thursday morning. 4:37am. My roommate Kelly and I are anxiously waiting for the coach bus to come pick us up at the bus stop by campus to take us to the airport. We were scheduled for a 6:30am flight out of Dublin Airport to Edinburgh, Scotland. Now of course anyone in their right mind would avoid a flight that early at all costs....except if the flight cost a little more than the coach bus ticket to the airport...a mere 15 Euros. For all of you reading this that are on the other side of the pond, that's roughly $17. As a college student wanting to make the most of every dollar, or should I say Euro, it was worth the lack of sleep. Neither of us had classes on Thursday or Friday of last week so we knew we wanted to make the most of the free days and what better reason to travel to another country than that. Well that and of course cheap plane tickets; it was set to be an incredible adventure. We had booked the tickets just a week prior and really hadn't planned anything to do while in Edinburgh. Of course they are known for this big castle I think...something slightly famous... so we knew we wanted to visit that. Other than that, we didn't make any plans because we wanted to have the freedom to explore and do what college kids do best: wander around aimlessly.

After an easy flight over the Irish Sea for about a little over an hour, we arrived just before 8:00am. We made our way through immigration towards the airport exit with big smiles on our faces and eager eyes. After withdrawing British Pounds from an ATM, we both looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders, and headed directly for the tourist pamphlets on bus information. Given that we were in another country, neither of us had cell phone service which meant figuring out how to get to our hostel the old fashioned way. I remember a couple of years ago when my mom bought me a map to put in my car and said, "You never know when you'll need this; you can't always rely on your smartphone" and boy was she right. Luckily, I have a strong interest in maps and a good sense of direction so I looked forward to the idea of using maps to get around the capital city of Scotland. We took a coach bus downtown and got off at what seemed like a point near our hostel; really, I had no affirmative idea of where we were. I just knew our hostel was located behind the big ol' castle. We stepped off of the bus and this was our view; the castle is slightly visible just between the two buildings in the distance in the picture on the left.

We walked around the city a bit in hopes to find the best breakfast in Scotland....and I'm happy to say we got close... well at least the hospitality we received made it seem that way. We asked a local for a good breakfast joint and she directed us to a small café called The Coffee Mill. My friend Kelly and I both enjoyed a full British breakfast because I mean come on, we were in Scotland to enjoy gobs of good food from the area, not a McDonalds McMuffin. The café owner himself served us the breakfast and we had a great conversation with him about places around the city to check out. When we asked for the bill, he brought it out, placed it on the table with a pen in his hand and explains in his enthusiastic Scottish accent, "Although the cost of the breakfast for each of you was 7 Pounds, I'm going to give it to you for free and all you have to pay for is the water; it is the finest water available in Scotland!" Kelly and I look at each other with smirks and agreed that this was in fact a fantastic deal and we would take him up on it :). He was a great sport and we had a lot of fun at that café talking to the owner amidst being stuffed with food, the first of many times on this trip.

If there is one thing Kelly and I shared more than anything, its the love of food. Given that we are both athletic humans with good metabolism, any opportunity for food was a highlight in the trip. Not to say that there wasn't a lot of other things we did in Scotland, just that food is pure happiness. From the oven roasted pizza to salmon to fresh pulled pork BBQ and beyond, I think we got close to eating our weight.

Amidst all of these good restaurant experiences, we did have a rather interesting one. Kelly had heard that this place called The Witchery was one of the best restaurants in Edinburgh. We looked at the menu and upon seeing that the average meal cost about 30 Pounds ($45), we wanted to figure out another way to experience the restaurant. I walked up to the hostess and asked for a table for 2; the manager in charge gave us slightly odd looks as if we didn't know what we were about to get ourselves into...well at least we thought we knew.  We were taken to our table and upon arrival, the hostess pulled out my chair, I sat down, and  he unfolded each of our cloth napkins and placed them on our this is happening, Kelly and I look at each other both with wide eyes and shocked faces thinking the exact same thing...what in the world did we get ourselves into....all we wanted was some coffee and tea and maybe dessert; we had just eaten pulled pork sandwiches and were in no mood to eat another meal...oh boy how are we gonna get out of this situation without making a scene or being rude...we were doomed. The waiter brought the menu over, showed us all of the meal options, the cheapest one being 18 Pounds ($26), and left. Kelly and I, feeling very uncomfortable while trying to keep our pose, continued to awkwardly smirk in hopes of this situation working itself out. When the waiter came back, we asked if we could see a dessert menu instead of the lunch menu; to our dismay, he said we'd EACH have to buy at least a one course meal before we could order dessert. I politely asked if we could talk to the manager about it and he came over. After a slightly awkward and stressful conversation, the manager said he would make a one time exception and allow us to just get dessert. Long story short, we each got a dessert and headed out. For a fancy rice pudding, mango sorbet, and the fanciest water I will ever drink, the bill was 20 Pounds, a whopping $30...we were appalled but just happy to get out of that situation. Once we were well away from the restaurant, we had a good laugh about it and thought about all the food we could have gotten for $30. We definitely learned our lesson from the scenario but looking back, it's something we can have a good laugh about since we made it out of the dark realm of The Witchery alive (pun intended).

Although so far it seems like all we did is eat delicious food on this trip, we did actually visit some fancy places and take snazzy pictures. The Edinburgh Castle atop the hill was incredible to see; it looked absolutely massive from the street below. We purchased general admission tickets and saw a lot of the exhibits...yadda yadda yadda...felt like a middle school field trip to a history museum. In all seriousness though, we had a great time walking around the inside of the castle and reading our way through a variety of different rooms pertaining to different events in Scotland's history.
And of course we did take some fun pictures....

It was great to be able to walk around the town and truly explore a whole new city with a different culture than what we are used to. That's the glory of study abroad; making a ton of new experiences and taking trips like these where you don't know what you're going to do until 30 minutes before hand. Kelly and I were great travel buddies- we were up for whatever life was going throw at us, even a character from Braveheart! This was the first trip out of the great land of Ireland and it sure won't be the last.