Belfast + Belgium + Horse Races

I haven’t posted in a while because I’ve been lazy getting ready for exams next month. However, I have been doing some really cool things since my last post. Here’s a short rundown of all of the happenings.

 

Belfast

Please don’t tell anyone I’ve said this, but I absolutely love Northern Ireland. Maybe it’s because it’s more of an adventure to explore the area for me, as I’ve been in Ireland quite a few times? Whatever the reason, I love it. The North is a really funky blend of some of the best and worst qualities of Irish and British culture, and to me that’s really neat. I also happen to love Northern Irish history, and find their politics very interesting. And one of my favourite poets, Seamus Heaney is from there.

Visiting Belfast has been on the top of my 50 page bucket list since high school, and finally being able to experience it first hand was incredible. I went on a class trip, and not only did we get to see the peace walls, but we also got to meet and talk with the people who lived behind those walls as well and experienced the Troubles first hand.

 

Favourite thing I saw: The peace lines. It’s crazy that these are still needed to some point to keep the communities safe from each other. There’s tons of great murals, and the walls themselves are gigantic.

 

Belguim

A few weekends back I went to Belgium, and was lucky enough to stay with the parents of my childhood friend who live in Brussels. I had a great time catching up with the Garkov’s, and I find it’s always much more enjoyable to visit a foreign country when you have locals to point you in the right direction of things to do/see.

My first full day I went to Brugge, which is about an hour train ride from Brussels. Brugge is really cool because it’s like the Venice of Belgium. It was full of cobblestone one-way streets, elegant bridges that sloped softly over canals, and gold pleated cathedrals and medieval halls. I’m sure there’s plenty of things to do in Brugge, however I just saw the museum of Brugge which had some artefacts and details about the city, took a canal tour (a great way to see the city), and walked around eating chocolate.

My favourite thing about Brussels was not the fusion of old vs new architecture or the scent of waffles in the air, but probably the Manneken du Piss, which is this fountain with a statue of a little boy peeing. It’s image is everywhere, and it is both disturbing and wonderful at the same time. Another nifty thing about Brussels is it is know for it’s comic strips, so there are many comic book shops throughout the city and murals from popular comics painted on the sides of buildings. Brussels reminded me a bit like DC, as it has tons of great museums throughout the city and pretty nice public transportation. My favourite museum was the Museum of Costumes, where they currently have a wedding dress exhibition.

The strangest thing about Brussels though, was the heavily armed military men walking about the city, and the military checkpoint that was in front of the airport. It was pretty ominous, and from what I understand this is very standard since the terrorist attacks. All of the soldiers were pretty attractive though, so I’m not complaining.

Favourite thing I saw: I took a trip to the Parlamentarium, which is the museum about the European Parliament in Brussels. I’m a nerd, and I thought it was really neat.

 

Horse Races

Let me just say, the Irish are so fucking weird. The local racecourse in Dublin hosted on a Wednesday a student’s race day for NUIM, DCU, and Trinity. Now, I’ve been to many a polo match on the glorious vineyards of old Virginia, so I know how to dress appropriately. Both my roommate Kim and I were wearing our cute sundresses and we thought we looked nice for the races. However, here the Irish dress to the nines to go to the races. I’ve never seen so many fancily dressed people in one place. I’ve also never seen so many men wearing perfectly tailored suits in real life. At this race track they also had a ‘silent disco’, a lot of betting, “best dressed” competition, and apparently there was a rave after the races had finished.

It was definitely an experience that I was not prepared for. However, the actual horse racing was really neat and so was the people watching.

If you ever go: Dress like Kate Middleton and pretend your rich

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So fancy

So that’s what I’ve been up to these past few weeks. I’ve also visited Giant’s Causeway with Maynooth Student tours, and it was a lovely warm day. I also went into Dublin to see a film “The Secret Scripture” this week. And the incredible thing about that, is if you have a student card you can pay 8 euro which includes your ticket, a medium popcorn, and a medium drink. This is unheard of back in VA. 8 dollars maybe buys you half of a ticket, or a small popcorn.

This weekend is Easter and kicks off the second out of three of my week long breaks that we have this term, so I don’t plan on doing much other than homework, because on Monday I am flying to Malaga, Spain for four days of sangria drinking and beach bumming. Right now my phone says the high is in the 70s, with partial clouds, which is good because I am so pale that if even a tiny ray of sunlight hits my pasty skin I will catch fire.

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Giant’s Causeway
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Edin-Go-Bragh: St Paddy’s in Edinburgh

I have dranken?/drunk?/drinked? Five cups of coffee in the past hour and I feel like my brain might literally explode. I feel like Chris Traiger, but instead of thinking about health and exercise I just keep thinking up a million crazy ideas at the same time. Such as; can a baby have homicidal thoughts at such a young age? Or is my dog secretly depressed that I am not at home to annoy him? Anyways, this is all just a disclaimer to apologise for the sloppiness of this post.

We had a “study week” this past week where we are off of classes in order to “study”. However, it is of no consequence that this study break took place over St Paddy’s and that the next one takes place of Easter. Basically, we get the whole week off of classes because the administration realise (at least in St Paddy’s case) that half of the student body will not be sober enough to attend classes for the week. I know you all are probably on the edge of your seat now thinking, “finally a juicy post about Sav’s crazy debauchery on St. Paddy’s!”. Alas that is not that sort of post. Because I am culturally and socially handicapped by being Polish-American, I forgot all about St Paddy’s day and instead booked an exercision over that time to go to Edinburgh, Scotland. I’m very glad I did this instead though, because I was able to meet one of my longtime internet friends in real life! Back in the early to mid 2000s, I befriended a group of people on FanFiction.net. There are four of us in total, and all four of us wrote Animorphs fanfiction, involving a particularly underrated character Erik- who was part of the Chee. The four of us became internet pen pals and even collaborated on a story together. Crazily enough, one of the group, Liz, happened to be in the UK and we both decided to meet up and travel around Edinburgh together. It was super cool to be able to meet and hang out with someone who I had been in contact with via internet for so long, and we had a great time.

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Scotland has been on my bucket list for quite some time now, I had spent some time in the UK previously in England, and ever since it has been on my but to visit every country within the British Isles (I just have Wales left now). Whilst the UK doesn’t seem like the most exciting place in Europe to travel to, let me explain why I love the UK and Ireland so much.

  1. Tea. I love tea. I love tea parties. I love small sammies. I love tea cakes. I love biscuits. I like pretending to be fancy AF.
  2. Rain. Most days, I love rain. I love being able to wake up and feel like my nose has frostbite. I love wearing five ugly sweaters at the same time. I love splashing around in puddles in my Docs. And most importantly, rain is great for staring out the window brooding while the Downton Abbey theme song plays in the background.
  3. History. ‘Nuff said.

Alright to the actual trip.Edinburgh is magical. It’s where JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter, and walking through the old town, and the creepy cemeteries off of the Royal Mile, you can see how it must’ve not have been too hard for her to imagine a magical world of witchery. On our first night we took a free ghost walking tour through the city. The tour was really cool because it told us of the dark history of Edinburgh which I love. My favourite stories involved the Nor Loch. The old Loch is now a lovely garden below the city that also encompases a train station. However for over 200 years it used to be an old Loch turned cesspool. For a really long time, Edinburgh did not have a sewage system, meaning that the inhabitants of the city would dump their excrement out the windows of their homes. The old city is situated on top of a hill, so naturally a small river of turds and vom would flow down the hill into the Nor Loch. Edinburgh was really into punishing people for crime and suspected witchery (everyone was a witch those days). A common form of punishment was to sit the “criminal” on a dunking stool, and dunk them in the Loch of stools (see what I did there?). As a 12 year old boy, I find this very amusing, and to be honest I was really disappointed when we walked down to the gardens were the Loch used to be and could not even find a solitary turd.

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Here is a picture of an actual turd in Scotland

Speaking of turds, another great story we heard on this tour was about the origin of the word “shitfaced”. Since Edinburgh is in Scotland, everyone was drunk all the time (also because drinking water at the time was not sanitary). And since sewage systems were not a thing, the city established laws when people could empty their chamber pots into the street. The more popular hour was at around 10PM each night. However this was also a popular hour for the drunken folk of Edinburgh to stumble home from the pub. Whilst there was a warning that the chamber pot emptiers would shout before they threw their turds into the street, sometimes the citizens below would be too drunk the head the warning in time, and would therefore get a face full of shit. Hence, the name “shitfaced” was born.

On our first full day in Edinburgh we visited the castle on the hill (Cue Les Mis and Ed Sheeran), which is Edinburgh Castle. Like most old castles and estates, the interior design was a fusion of many different eras has it had been owned by three different families and therefore was renovated many times. The castle gave beautiful views of the city, and it also had a memorial to fallen soldiers from WWI as well. We then went to The Elephant House, which is a coffee shop famous for where Rowling wrote Harry Potter. What was particularly cool about The Elephant House was that fans had written Harry Potter quotes as a tribute over LITERALLY EVERYTHING in the toilets. I thought about using the toilet water as holy water in hopes that some of JK Rowling’s talent would rub off on me.

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OHMEHGERD BERTHROOM SERFIE

Afterwards we took a walk through Greyfriars cemetery, another popular place Rowling wrote, and apparently also the home to a local Scottish vampire. We did not see a vampire unfortunately, we did however see some of the locals sitting on a mausoleum drinking beers at 3pm #Scotland. Naturally, we soon after went to the Writer’s Museum, where we learned about some famous writers whose names I probably should know, and Stevenson. I only know of Stevenson because my Mum made me memorise a lot of his poems as a kid. I learned from a very friendly adorable old Scottish man a lot about Stevenson’s childhood. I also learned that Stevenson had a crazy mustache. I really hope that I live long enough to become an adorable old lady who volunteers in museums.

The last museum we did was the museum in the Royal Surgeon’s Hall, where we saw a lot of decapitated body parts and learned about body snatchers. I thought it was disturbingly cool, but I will admit after going through four levels of human remains, I felt a bit queasy.

On our last full day we had pretty much wandered all over Edinburgh, so we took a short train ride to North Berwick, which is a small seaside town. I always enjoy being by the sea, but it was bitterly cold and rainy out on the day we choose to go. However, we had a nice lunch in a cute little tea shop and saw this incredible castle in a neighboring town. Visiting Dirleton castle was really neat because most castle ruins I have been to, you typically aren’t allowed to really explore inside the remains. However, Dirleton had many floors and secret rooms that were intact and perfect for exploration. We also were the only visitors on the grounds that day which was extra cool.

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*An actual Scottish mermaid
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Direction Castle

On my last day before my flight left I went and explored some cool bookshops that my roommate had recommended to me. I made the mistake of only bringing one book to read for fun with me on this term abroad, so I naturally needed to replenish my small library. There’s something peculiar about a Scottish bookshop that I love. I went into three different shops, and in each one I half expected a small troll and or David Bowie as the Goblin King to appear and give me a book of great magical power. I quickly decided before going into the last bookshop (and the most magical) that if I were to be given a magical book of spells that I would first learn how turn invisible so I could snoop on people easier.

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Dance magic dance

Overall it was a great trip across the smaller pond. Tomorrow I’m taking a short trip with one of my classes to Belfast where we will be taking a tour of the peace lines and the Shankill and Falls Road neighborhoods. I’m really excited about this, as this is also something that has been on the top of my bucket list for quite some time.

A Night Portiuncula Hospital: A Story of Survival

On the evening of the 3rd of February I was admitted to a hospital in the exotic and treacherous town of Ballinasloe, Co Roscommon. Friday afternoon I developed serious minor side effects from a serious minor brain injury, and I was informed by my personal school psychican that I must go into hospital for possible brain scans and observation. Needless to say, I was devastated to be YET AGAIN suffering from another concussion. However, my fans back home and abroad were even more worried that this traumatizing injury would lead to the end of my roller/ice skating / dancing / comedic / political career. Obviously, I got this concussion on a night out dancing a mission to save refugees from the mediterranean sea. So it can at least be said that I at least put my life on the line for a cause worth while.

In all seriousness though, let me tell you about my wild crazy Friday night at this hospital. I was lucky enough to have an amazing director for my BCA study abroad programme who took me to the hospital, and he and his wife stayed with me all night to make sure I didn’t die. I was informed that the hospital out in Ballinasloe, whilst further away, would have better service as the Dublin hospitals on the weekends are rough and over crowded. I got there around 21.00 and was informed that I might have to wait a little bit in the A&E, little did I know that when the Irish say “wait for a little bit” they mean 8 hours. When I got to the hospital I was suffering from dizziness and ear ringing that had been around all day, however by the time I left most of it was gone due to the fact I had been there forever. The RD of my programme, Kieran coined the phrase “Portiuncula hospital, where our cure is worse than your sickness”.  Whilst 8 hours is a long time to be at the A&E, some of the other patients had been waiting for over 10+ to be seen by a doctor, so I am pretty lucky I got out in 8.

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Here is a self I took at 3am in the hospital. Please note the terror in my eyes

The other patients waiting to be seen were interesting characters. If only Yeats had been so lucky to sit in this A&E for 8 hours, I’m sure he would’ve found a muse greater than Maud Gonne to write poetry about. My favourite was probably Clifford. Clifford’s real name is not Clifford, but he goes by that because he used to play a lot of snooker. I don’t actually understand how that name relates to snooker, but then again I also do not fully understand how the game of snooker works. Clifford seemed to be a genuinely harmless character, except for the fact that he was so drunk his eyes were crossed. He had hurt his hand, and it looked broken to my unqualified eyes. I learned a lot about Clifford that night through Annette’s translations of his incredibly thick slurred accent. While I was informed that he was probably part of the ‘travelers’, which are gypsies to my understanding; Clifford worked mainly by clearing bogs for peat.

However, Clifford was probably the most normal person I encountered that night. Shortly around 01.00 many intoxicated old white guys kept getting wheeled in from the ambulance into the A&E. This was annoying because since they came by ambulance they took priority over the people who had been waiting for over 4 hours. This one man came in with a huge open wound on his cheek. His face was red, not from blood but from high levels of booze. Shortly after he was wheeled in, we heard shouting from behind the emergency room doors, and the guards quickly emerged with this man dragging him by the scruff of his jacket. The guards wanted to arrest this man because he was disturbing the peace, but I don’t believe they could because he was injured. The gardí shoved him down in a chair, and after much shouting on both ends they left when they got him to agree not to move until he had been seen by a doctor. About an hour later this man disappeared into the toilets for a very long time, doing who knows what. He was in there for about hour and a half. *I obviously know the estimate of this time because I had nothing else to do*

So it’s around 03.00 now, and obviously I am dying from exhaustion, but luckily some new entertainment arose when the drunken bald man returned from the toilets. Unfortunately Clifford was staring off into space, and his eyes just happened to land on Baldy. Baldy, being the mad bastard he is, stomped over to Clifford (who for the record was sitting next to Annette and I) and grabbed him by the sleeve of his shirt and shouts, “Wut yer fuckin lookin at?!?” I would like to state that at this point Annette and I had cups of tea and biscuits and we looked like two observers in a Shakespearean comedy. After the shouting there was a short argument, and somehow Baldy returned back to his chair on the other side of the A&E partition.

Finally, at around 04.00, I was taken back into the emergency room and left on a trolley until a doctor could see me. During the hour period I was back there, I saw a man strapped onto a gurney being rolled into the ER shouting, “I don’t want a tube up my arse!”. He also was very drunk and shortly after he was admitted I heard more shouting out in the A&E waiting room, and according to my sources ANOTHER crazed drunk man started a fight with the garda and had to be pepper sprayed in the face.

By 05.00 I had been seen by two doctors who had confirmed what I already knew, that I had suffered a bad concussion and there was nothing else dreadfully wrong with my brain other than the fact that I am Polish, but I am told this cannot be helped. I just want to state that when I was first admitted, they told me that they would need to keep me overnight for observation, however I did not realise that when they said “overnight” they meant watching fights break out for 8 hours in the waiting room. By the time they saw me it had been over 24 hours since my injury, and it was actually the morning, so by that point they let me leave.

All in all, it was a memory I’ll never forget, and now I can cross visiting an Irish hospital off my bucket list.

Other new developments in my life include:

  1. My room is either haunted or has mice
  2. I have left the bottle of mustard out of the fridge for far too long, yet I am too lazy to google to find out whether or not it should be thrown away. If anyone has the answer to this, please DM me.
  3. I would like to live in this country forever. But that is old news.
  4. I have lost weight on a strict diet of potatoes, hobnobs, tea, and Bulmers. It is likely I will die of malnourishment, but I’d highly suggest this diet.
  5. I saw a dog a week ago.
  6. My victorian literature professor is literally Peter Capaldi, but if Peter Capaldi was from Belfast.

Pre-Departure Thoughts and Stupid Questions

“There is no such thing as a stupid question”, is a downright lie. At 21 years of age, I have heard many stupid questions, a lot of them sneaking out from my own lips. Don’t believe me? Once a customer at the gelato shop where I work asked me, “What does butter gelato taste like?” to which I replied “butter”. Another time a customer at the cafe I also work at asked me if “baked potatoes are gluten free?” and when I replied, “yes they are made out of potatoes” then the customer in question ordered a quiche, which we all know is not gluten free. There are so many stupid questions out there, and it is not just limited to the life of a blue collar worker, as I also have heard some really dumb questions at my home university as well. Last spring semester I wrote a paper on PTSD in Guatemala and the effects it has on the cycle of poverty. During the peer review, one of my classmates stated, “You need to stop using that ‘p word’ it’s repetitive. Actually, what even does that ‘p word’ mean?”. The ‘p word’ in question was the word, “psychology”. I hope you all can sense the eye roll I am doing right now while writing this.

All of this is to say, that the most important thing I have learned in my long and tiresome years, is that there are indeed stupid questions, and asking the right questions is key to every good essay and happy life. Last time when I was in Ireland in 2013, I was asking the wrong questions for myself. Whilst these questions were not particularly bad questions to be seeking answers to, they were not the right ones for me. These questions went along the lines of, “how can I get to heaven?” and “how can I get a hot wealthy boyfriend?”. I still do ask the latter, because having a hot wealthy boyfriend is key to a successful life. I’ve pretty much accepted the fact that there’s a 50/50 chance of me going to hell because I say fuck alot and am actually a pretty selfish person. However, instead of asking “How can I get to heaven?”  I’ve realised that it’s much more important to ask the question, “how can I live my life in a way that reflects the teachings of love and equality of Jesus, the values of justice of Mandela, and the badass-ery of Bono and the political revolutionary change of Michael Collins?”. Basically, a lot has changed since I was last in ye old Ireland. Here is a short list:

  • I’ve seen U2 in concert
  • I’ve become a lightweight
  • I have a dope car named Buzz
  • I have realised the great potential my life has for reality TV
  • I finally feel comfortable doing adult things such as calling my insurance provider to discuss insurance, and remember to update my license tags without my mom reminding 12 times.
  • People refer to me as “ma’am”
  • I feel pretty comfortable talking about what kind of tampons I use to literally anyone.

This is all to say that I have changed monumentally since my last visit to Ireland, as illustrated by the list above. Ever since high school, I have been in love with Ireland to the point that my parents accused me of mild treason when I stated that I would gladly give up my citizenship to be Irish, usually with a quick retort such as “why would you not want to be American? This is the best country in the world!” to which I would reply “HOW DO YOU KNOW IF THIS IS THE BEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD? HAVE YOU BEEN TO EVERY COUNTRY?” I’m pretty sure they just said that to get a rise out of me, because I really hate it when people refer to USA as “the best in the world”. Don’t get me wrong, I actually really do love being American. I love cheeseburgers, Virginia, and most importantly the people that inhabit the ol’ ‘Merica. Which is something else that has changed; I would only accept a foreign citizenship if it could be duel. I haven’t ever really felt proud to be American until our country was faced with Donald Trump. When the little shithead that is our incoming president was elected, like every other sane person in the country I was mad as hell. I had spent this past spring organizing and participating in a protest against Trump’s candidacy, and now this awful person became President elect (undemocratically I may add). Instead of thinking, “I hate being an American, I need to move to Canada” I among many others started to think, “I’m going to do everything in my power to stop hatred and Donald Trump from ruining my country, because I am American and we don’t stand for this fresh BS”.

This upcoming weekend I am going to a mass Women’s civil rights march on Washington. It’s supposed to be one of the biggest mass protests in a long time, and I believe that it will make history. Two days after this protest, I am hopping on a plane to Ireland where I will take courses within my Writing major as well as a course on conflict and resolution in N Ireland and the Republic. I think this trip will not only be valuable to me because I will get the chance to meet my future Irish husband Bono (please look for my posts “Stalking Mr Right), but also because I will be learning about conflict and peace during a time when this knowledge is paramount. Also, as a democratic socialist, it will be super dope AF, to be in a country that is more open to my ideals than being called a “damn commi” every time I suggest free universal healthcare as a ~ cool ~ idea.

These are a facts that makes this study abroad in Ireland so unique for me this time. I have different questions to ask, and I hope they are the right ones. What does it mean to be American? How will travel shape my perceptions of nationalism?  Does it really matter where you’re from in the end? And most importantly, where does Bono live?

Please look for some *hopefully* funny and amusing posts such as:

  • A Hedgehog Safari
  • Stalking Mr Right ~ Ireland Edition ~
  • Twerkin In Front of Landmarks

As well as like some serious posts about what I’m actually doing with my life.