Friday, December 27, 2013

The 3 Rules of Amsterdam

 So class in N.I. ended on Friday, December 13th, after taking one final exam for anatomy (which I aced), an exam for genetics (which was basically a final), and writing a 7 page paper for psychobiology on the methodology and ethics of animal testing. Basically, that was the only week I was stressed over school work the entire semester, which goes down as a success in my book for sure!

On the 14th of December, Gavin and I travelled to Belfast in the afternoon and caught the last showing of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. I must say, we both thoroughly enjoyed it and agreed that it was better than the first one. I’m not sure that was the fault of any directors or actors, but more so of Tolkien just having better adventure scenes further along in the story. It was also cool that James Nesbit has a key role in the film, considering I met him in Belfast at the beginning of the semester.

We then tried to sleep in the Belfast airport until our flight to Amsterdam at 7:00 in the morning; tried being the key word there. When they finally opened security, we sat in Starbucks for a while where I snapped some lovely pictures of Gavin in his natural state before we promptly boarded the plane and slept the entire 50 minute journey. 

Then running on less than an hour of sleep (and me less than that due to late night essay writing), we arrived to a full day in the crazy, wonderful Amsterdam, Netherlands!

A funny story from the plane: A group of Irish women were also flying from Belfast to Amsterdam, and I think it was one of their 30th birthdays since the flight attendant announced that. They talked, actually more like screamed, the ENTIRE flight back and forth across the aisles to each other. Then when we landed one of them screamed “ARE WE IN AMSTERDAM?! I ONLY BROUGHT BIKINIS TO WEAR IN THE ISLANDS! WHO BROUGHT ME HERE?!” She then proceeded to interrogate a Dutch man beside her about how to say key phrases in Dutch, like hello and thank you. When he told her how to say them, she promptly announced that his language was just totally weird and useless… and I thought Americans were bad.

So what was the first thing we did in the infamous Netherlands? Drink coffee, of course! No, actually we went to McDonalds. Then we drank coffee, then we wandered around aimlessly trying to get our bearings of the city layout. We found that it was somewhat easy to get lost there due to all of the canals looking pretty much the same to us.


We also found that the day was proceeding along the slowest time line possible since we started out around 8:30 a.m. So we spent some time on a bench, watched a swan in the canal with its little ugly ducklings, a pigeon who thought it would be nice to poop in front of us, an albino pigeon trying to blend in, and swarms of sea gulls landing on the boats.

Like all of the other European cities at this time, Amsterdam also had a nice Christmas market just off the main Dam Square; which is a square with a name that makes a lot of sense in a city with a name that makes a lot of sense. Amsterdam was formed when a dam was put in the river Anstel. Ansteldam… Amsterdam… Pretty close.
War Memorial
Royal Palace
Me posing for a picture while trying not to get hit by bicycles

We also found out that the local buildings, churches, beer breweries, etc. are all named very practically. The Dutch are very practical people. They have the Old Church, the New Church, the War Memorial, the Royal Palace, the Windmill Brewery, etc. and all of them are exactly what they say they are. They also ride bicycles. Lots and lots of bicycles, which is also very practical when you live in one of the flattest cities in Europe where the highest canal is only about 1.3 meters above sea level. I’m pretty sure their motto is “Keep it simple, stupid.”

Old Church
By the time evening rolled around, we were really tired, so we booked a room at the White Tulip hostel, ate a waffle covered in chocolate and bananas, and passed out around 10 o’clock, which believe me, is really early. ;D

Now, we found in Sweden and other places that the best kept secrets of European cities are found within the free walking tours from hostels. The guides are all history buffs who live solely off of tourist tips, but they thoroughly enjoy their jobs, so you always get a great bucket of information about their city. (It also becomes the best way to know how to get from point A to point B when you are on your own later that night.) Our guide was Mark McDaid, and would you believe it, he was from Northern Ireland! It’s a small, small world, my friends.
Irish tour guide Mark

He was a very energetic little man who bounced around a lot while he spoke with his pinkish umbrella guiding the way. He taught us the following:

1. How the name Amsterdam came about.
2.  The red light district has been around for hundreds of years. It used to attract sailors, but the sailors were still Catholic and believed if they didn’t pay indulgences and confess sins after visiting a woman and a local pub, they would go to hell if their ship sank on the next voyage out.
3. The Old Church built many additions using indulgence money…
4. Catholics were once banned from the Netherlands, so they had secret churches.
Secret Catholic church
This is where the 3 rules of Amsterdam come into play. You are allowed to exist peacefully in Amsterdam if: 1) You are quiet, 2) You create no harm to others, and 3) You are good for business.

5. The Dutch have a phrase that means “looking through your fingers,” where we would say “turn a blind eye.”
6. The Dutch looked through their fingers at Catholics because they followed all three rules, especially the business one with all that indulgence money.
7. Marijuana is illegal in Amsterdam, but it follows the three rules, and is therefore kept around.
8. Prostitution was legalized in Amsterdam in 2000.
9. The Jewish sector that used to be a ghetto during the war was destroyed by the Amsterdam people themselves when the Jews were forced to camps and the city had its coldest winter on record. They even took the wooden poles that held up the foundations of the houses in the canals to burn for heat. This is the same reason that all of the trees in the city are relatively young.
10. In the 60’s, the Jewish sector became the playground for budding hippy architects, so it has a rather funky look to it today. They call it Lego Blocks on Acid.
11. Mark’s motto was “hear a bell, run like hell” meaning the bikes will run you down. He wasn’t kidding!
12. Capitalism was started in Amsterdam with the VoC company in 1606. Their building is now part of the University of Amsterdam. They were the ones who turned the swamp into the country of the Netherlands, which was once the most powerful city in the world. They created New York, New Zealand and a whole bunch of other places Mark listed whose names come from Dutch words or cities.
13. The Dutch once had a new king from France or somewhere. He learned Dutch in order to speak to his people, but the only phrase he learned was “I am your King.” Then the day he was going to announce this, he actually said “I am your rabbit” because the two words are similar in Dutch. He was known as the rabbit king.
14. The Dutch gave us cookies.
15. Every year, 20,000 bicycles are cleaned out of the canals.
16. The canals don’t smell because they are filtered every 3 days.
17. The Dutch LOVE ice skating, and when the canals freeze over, they skate to work! How cool is that?!
18. The houses are all wonky. They lean to the side and actually lean forward on purpose! Mark said it’s because their staircases are too narrow and when they move house they use a pulley system from the top window (every house has one), but it’s rather windy there, so when you start pulling things up to the windows to bring them in your sofa starts swaying in the breeze and breaks all the glass! So if your house leans forward, there is more space for the mattress, stove, or washing machine to swing without hitting anything. Simple, yet practical!

Pulley systems
Wonky windows and skinniest house
 19. Dutch staircases can also be called ladders because they are so steep and skinny.
20. There is a very humbling Pink Triangle Homosexual monument behind another church in the city, representing the pink triangles the gay people had to wear during the Holocaust.
21. Amsterdam was one of the first places to be okay with homosexuals. They really seem to accept everyone, actually. The whole place was just live and let live. It truly was refreshing to see such acceptance!

Other random facts I learned while there included:
Amsterdam is in the Netherlands, which is home to Dutch people and also known as Holland. I guess all of those labels were kind of jumbled in my head before.
The Red Light District is always open, no matter what time of day. This was one thing that truly disturbed me in my travels. I guess they make a decent living from prostitution being legal, but I felt bad for their quality of life. Gavin and I talked about how interesting it would be to give them all questionnaires on their psychological welfare.
The crime rate is actually very low there! I thought I might be at risk for kidnapping and God knows what else, but apparently their highest crime rate is from tax evasion. The next highest crime rate is illegal parking, which is saying something since hardly any of them actually drive cars!
Amsterdam dogs are all so tame that hardly any of them need leashes as they trot next to their owner’s bicycle.

After the walking tour, our next stop was a tour of the Ann Frank house. The experience was unreal. Standing in the same room she did. Looking at the wallpaper where they marked the children’s growth. Seeing the pictures Ann herself had glued to the walls. All of it was overwhelmingly sad, as we knew it would be, and I think we both left with a greater determination to keep such injustice from happening among us like that again. And yet, places like North Korea still exist and we find it relatively easy to push from our minds since they aren’t in the civilized Western Europe… just some food for thought that I have also been munching on lately.
Ann Frank house

I know I also said earlier that the tour helps you find your way around the city, but on that Sunday night, Gavin and I got pretty turned around. We bumbled our way around (but found out the next day we were only a block away from the hostel, it just looked different in the dark). We started the night with some coffee, then meandered into a McDonalds where we had another chocolate waffle and a milkshake, then some kebab for dinner, and finally wound up in a pub watching Australia’s version of Jersey Shore. I’m not sure if it was the typical Amsterdamian night life experience, but we had enough fun just wandering around without any particular place to go. 

On our last day there, Monday the 17th, we visited the local, large flea market in Waterlooplein. It was a very interesting place where we probably would have spent a lot of money if we had had the capacity to bring it all back with us! There were quite a few Christmas presents bought, however. 

That evening, we decided to go to the Windmill Brewery (Brouwerij 't IJ in Dutch). We kind of got off the tram at the wrong stop, but it was okay because we saw some flamingos from the zoo on the way! It was kind of the most random thing that has possibly ever happened to me, to just come round a corner to a flock of flamingoes.

We missed the brewery tours for the day, which we regretted since the windmill is the only one still functioning with a purpose in the city. However, we weren’t all that sad since we did get to sample the different beers that they brew there.

Dinner that night was a pizza in an Argentinean grill where we were served Doritos instead of regular tortilla chips as an appetizer, and a very white, friendly cat came to visit our table inside the building. I’m not sure that would fly back in America, but I was quite okay with it!

On Tuesday morning, the day we were leaving anyway, I woke up in my top bunk of the hostel fearing for my life!          … Okay that might be an exaggeration. But I was still pretty certain that a drill was about to break through the plaster and possibly come straight through my skull as well! We had noticed that some construction was being done on the building, but that morning they decided to do some drilling opposite my bed before they started scraping and painting again. At least we were headed out to the airport fairly early anyway.

In hindsight, Amsterdam couldn’t have been any better than it was. Our only complaint was that every straw we tried to use there had at least one hole in it, or the end of it looked like a rabbit has chewed it off! If anyone can figure out why the Dutch fail at straws but succeed at most everything else, Gavin and I would like to know.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Time flies when you're having fun!

I sit here at 2:55 in the morning, high on life.  Don’t worry, I promise I’m not actually ‘high.’

Tonight was the last night at Kelly’s, the largest dance club in Northern Ireland, and the last night to be in Northern Ireland at all for a few of the internationals.  The nostalgia of the memories from the semester are starting to kick in, and it was painful tonight to realize these people will soon be out of my daily life.

 We also took a group picture today at 1:00 this afternoon. Even then, as I saw everyone coming in from different directions, it was impossible not to smile and feel the electricity of our friendships with each other. Of course with our large, crazy, clearly not Irish group, we attracted quite a bit of attention on the university steps, but I like to think it was because they were all envious that they didn’t get to know the coolest people in Ireland.

I haven’t filled in much since Thanksgiving time, so I have a lot to catch up on!

For Thanksgiving, we had a huge dinner organized by a few American students and the residential services of the school. The food was made by cooks from the university, but they had turkey, stuffing, ham, green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, corn, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, and all the rest. The only thing lacking was pumpkin pie. It was a great night of celebrating America and educating friends on how to cope with the inevitable food coma.

Everyone is quite confused as to why we make it so big, though. They all ask why it is so close to Christmas and I never know how to respond! I think the best part of the night was when Stan (Dutch) commented whole heartedly that the meal changed his opinion of America. He never thought of Americans as being good cooks, but we completely changed his mind! He was totally serious!

The second best part of the night was the music. The organizers of the dinner also booked two musical acts, and the second guy was just a solo guitar player/ singer. He could play just about anything we asked him to, from Billy Joel to Train. I am fairly certain he is the best guitar player I have ever seen.
We also got to play with bubble wrap after most people left for the evening…. That actually might have been my favorite part.
Ben and Peter

The only good pictures of Gavin had my head cut out, so I picked the nice picture of me!

Me, Victoria, Jenny and Kristin
I was also thankful on Thanksgiving to skype my family for the first time since I have been here! They were all at Grandmother’s house and Andrew was able to effortlessly connect me to the living room in Georgia. That absolutely made my night, getting to feel as if I were actually there with them in the comforts of home.

But as if the food coma hangover from Thursday wasn’t enough, Friday evening the international families put on an equally as big, but also much fancier, Christmas dinner! We had about the same food: turkey, ham, stuffing, potatoes, carrots, bread, etc. And good conversation with all of our Irish families. The other surprise of the night was that Victoria and I got up and sang. Linda Nevin (my Irish mother) asked if I would want to get a friend and sing a Christmas song for everyone that would represent Christmas in America to us, so we picked Winter Wonderland. Victoria’s Irish dad, Peter, is basically the Irish version of Teresa McCoy. He had the music and easily played the piano for us. I think it was a hit, but you’ll have to ask my friends for an honest answer!

THEN, as if we hadn’t had enough of the parties, that same Friday night we had a birthday party! But it wasn’t just any birthday party. The internationals rented out the night club in Portstewart called Havana to celebrate the 10 or so people who had their birthdays in November (aka The November Kids party). It actually turned into quite a fiasco because we were all supposed to have wrist bands to get in, yet they didn’t give the organizers enough of them to facilitate the international friends. Long story short, some people (including myself) didn’t get in at first because we didn’t have wrist bands. What ensued was a mad dash for one of the November Kids who could tell the bouncer that yes, we were supposed to be there. All in all it was a good night, even though it didn’t go as smoothly as planned.

Ballywatt Presbyterian Church, where I go with the Nevins.

So the next weekend, the 7th of December, I went with the Nevins to see Oliver: The Musical with their son Christopher as Fagan and daughter Charis as one of Fagan’s gang. It was a marvelous school show with a fantastic cast and crew. It truly made me miss being either on the stage or in the orchestra, but I suppose “all the world is a stage” anyway, right Tomas Nevin?!

I spent the day with Linda and Thomas and all 6 of their children, 3 of them with their lovely spouses. I had to ask them what it’s like to grow up and have a family of your own, and then go visit your sibling and their family…… At this moment in time that seems like a very strange phenomenon. They simply said you don’t even realize it’s happening and it becomes normal quickly. I’m still fairly skeptical…
I also spent Sunday with the Nevins and that was truly a gift. Their home is so comforting, complete with a kitten, warm food, tea and biscuits, and a Christmas tree right next to the comfiest chair in all of Northern Ireland facing the magical, mindless television. Oh, what a great day of love and laughter!

Unfortunately, after a great Sunday my last week of Irish class has turned into a stressful one. I had my final exam for Anatomy and Physiology today (Wed. Dec. 11) at 2:30 (which I passed with flying colors), I have another Genetics exam tomorrow afternoon, and a final paper due on Friday (which I only have 300 words on). Somehow I have still managed to squeeze all the farewell parties in… but yes mother, I have still studied and feel fine about my test tomorrow.

Besides Kelly’s tonight, we also had a huge dinner cooked by Laura (a fellow American)! That reduced much of my stress because it was all homemade, southern, American food. Stan yet again said it changed his opinion of us even more for the better, and I must say the mac and cheese, fried chicken and potato salad were out of this world! It was quite a last supper.

My future plans now include traveling to Amsterdam in the Netherlands this Saturday with Gavin, then up to Edinburgh, Scotland to meet Dad and Andrew and maybe Brian, and back to Coleraine, N.I. with the family to show them the wonders of where I have been. Be on the lookout for the next travel blog, and people of America, be on the lookout for me on December 23rd!

P.S. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire was the best movie I have seen in a long time.

P.S.S. I really wanted to go to Germany before I left Europe, but actually it might be better this way because I will be forced to return and visit very soon.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Somewhere over the rainbow, skies were actually blue!

This past weekend, Gavin and I went on a trip down to the Republic of Ireland. It was by far one of the best trips I’ve taken this semester thanks to the people we met and the places we saw.

We started things out right on Thursday (Nov. 21) by taking a double decked bus to Dublin and sitting in the front on the top! We had a fabulous view for the two hour drive.

When we got to Dublin, we booked a room with Isaac’s Hostel, which was a really cool old building that used to be a wine cellar. They have the basement all set up with each little cellar as separate hang out spots; one is a library, then a computer room, a sauna, a pool table, and a tv/movie/playstation room. The main thing we did that first night however was the Guinness Factory. We hopped on Dublin’s tram system (which is an above ground subway, basically) and it was very easy and clean to use. Actually, all of the public transportation here has been awesome. But we almost missed the last entrance time to the museum at 5 o’clock as we speed walked to find the big Willy Wonka looking gate to the factory.

Obviously, we made it in time. The ticket got us into the storehouse, which was shaped like a giant pint of Guinness that would have held 14.3 million pints, but they brew more than that in 5 days! We walked quickly through the brewing process information. It was interesting, but the same basic stuff like here is the clean water we use, then the barley, then the hops, then the barrels. We also went through the tasting room where they tell you exactly what you taste and smell when you enjoy a pint of Guinness. It was a bit theatrical, but I do feel like I know a wee bit more about how to enjoy a good “pint of the black stuff.” The more interesting facts were about the history of Arthur Guinness himself and the factory.

In 1759, Arthur Guinness signed a 9000 year lease for the same land the factory is on today, for an annual rent fee of £45. A little ambitious you might say, but Guinness is guaranteed to be around until the year 10759. Arthur and his wife Olivia had 21 children, but only 10 of them survived.

Guinness was one of the first in the world to provide their employees with a pension and give paid vacations. Records from 1860 show pensions being provided, and on average, salaries were 10-20% above the rest of Dublin jobs. If a man died and left a family, Guinness would pay for the burial, provide money for the family and give the wife a decent job. Free medical care was also provided for employees starting in 1870. Free dinner was served for young boys of Guinness families to encourage them to attend school. Guinness would also loan money at low interest rates for employees to buy houses, and most importantly, each male employee would receive a beer allowance of two pints of Guinness daily.

I can’t find the actual quote from Arthur on his employees, but even recent chairmen of the company have been quoted saying things like ‘[Guinness] always felt that it was not only the duty, but to the advantage, of the company and its shareholders, that the company should bear its part in serving this civilization and this way of life in which we all believe.’

Truer words have never been spoken, and Gavin and I were both thoroughly impressed by their humane corporation philosophies.  

On Friday our actual planned trip began. We booked a tour with Paddywagon Irish touring company meant for backpackers like ourselves. We were supposed to meet and leave at 8 a.m., but our bus had a flat tire so we waited an hour for another bus to be driven into town. Altogether, there were 6 of us on the three day tour through Galway, Killarney and Blarney, and I would say all 6 of us are pretty good friends now! There were 4 Americans: Gavin and me, Jessica from Washington D.C. studying in London, and Meagan from California working for the Scottish parliament. The other two were from Australia, close to Melbourne, named Scott and Ben, and both had been traveling around Europe independently. Because of them, I have deemed my favorite accent to be the Australian one, FYI.

We also accumulated many inside jokes and random facts along the way, which I will add in occasionally.
#1: Marc, our guide, told us not to wear seatbelts on the back roads of Ireland. It would be more fun that way.
#2: Marc told us they let the sheep go paintballing on the weekends, and that’s why they come back with paint splotches on them to work during the week.
#3: They have mussel farms in Ireland. 

 Once we got on the road, we stopped in a little village called Cong. Anybody know what it’s famous for? I didn’t, but Gavin knew that John Wayne filmed The Quiet Man with Maureen O'Hara there. They have a statue of him and everything. We walked around the old monastery they had, as well as some beautiful wooded areas. There was a restored castle back in the woods on the other side of town, but we didn’t want to pay to get in, even though the guide showed us where we could hop the fence to take a free tour. Apparently Brad Pitt and Angelina have stayed there before so it must be nice. We also saw a sign on a large, green industrial fence saying not to climb it because it had been painted with anti-climb paint… Does anybody know about that, either?

We only spent about 40 minutes there before getting back on the bus and driving to Kylemore Abbey. The abbey was originally built in 1867 for a single family. Mitchell Henry built it, along with an extensive Victorian style garden for his wife (which ONLY she was allowed in), and a church. It was eventually turned into a Benedictine monastery and later boarding school for girls until 2010, and now it is being restored back to its original home state and run by the nuns. Talk about a BEAUTIFUL place. The pictures just don’t do it justice, but we were also very lucky to have sunshine throughout our entire trip! That NEVER happens in Ireland.

#4: I burned by mouth probably worse than I ever have before gulping down potato and dill soup from the abbey.

From the abbey, we made our way through some never ending, movie like scenery, with the sun shining over the mountains. We also stopped along the side of the road to look at a tree which had all of these things tied to the branches. Apparently, it’s the local car park for teenagers looking to get in the backseat with someone, and afterwards they tie something in the tree. When the tree is full they use the fence, and when the fence is full some unlucky soul takes them all down and they start over.

Our main stop for the day/night was Galway. They had a quaint Christmas market where we enjoyed the music and Christmas punch. We also walked down their main shop street with pubs and stores and enjoyed a coffee with Bailey’s Irish Cream. Dinner was fish and chips in the Skeff Bar right off of the main Eyre Square. The pub crawl for the night started there as well, but don’t worry, we didn’t get crazy. It was basically just a walk around town showing off Galway’s variety of pubs.

#5: I lost one of my favorite earrings in Galway. Gavin also wound up losing his scarf on the trip. The Aussie Ben lost his towel, and I think at least one other person lost something to the black hole of Ireland.

The next morning, we headed out to the cliffs of Moher with a few stops along the way. First we came to Dunguaire Castle. Apparently it is open part of the year, but we couldn’t go inside. It was still cool from the outside, though.

#6: If you walk counter-clockwise around the castle, they say you get your virginity back.

#7: Doctors used to/maybe still tell pregnant women to drink Guinness due to its high iron concentration.

#8: ABC stands for Another Bloody Castle/Cottage/Creek/Church. We saw so many of these places, this is how Marc said people start referring to them.

 After Dunguaire castle, we went on to another abandoned monastery called Corcomroe Abbey. It was built in 1210 and looked like it came straight out of Oblivion the video game.
#9: Marc loved his one liners, and would occasionally tell us to get back on the bus to “make like a shepherd and get the flock out of here,” or “make like a hockey player and get the puck out.” It made life a little more interesting.

#10: The small stone walls and abandoned houses that litter Ireland are called Famine walls or Famine houses. The Irish would go to work for 12 hours a day building property barriers with these stones, no mortar, and receive a penny a day or a small amount of food during the potato famine in 1845.

#11: Across the street from a famine house, we stopped at a fresh water well/spring that was filtered by the mountain it came down. The water was very cold and nice.

The next stop was a frightening photo op at the baby cliffs of Moher. No railings, just a 100 foot sheer drop down to the rocky water below. (Mother Teresa, if you are reading this it was actually just 10 feet).
 We grabbed lunch at Fitzpatrick’s Pub in the middle of nowhere. Apparently their seafood chowder is famous and has its own website. I must say it was pretty good.

Then the Cliffs of Moher! Harry Potter’s scene with the horcrux in the cave was filmed there, along with the Princess Bride. And I said we had a beautiful day before, but we also had the COOLEST rainbow I have ever seen in real life, maybe even in pictures. It came all the way from the distant horizon, straight down to the water below us and made more than a 180˚ curve. Gavin dared to sit on the edge but I was content to crawl.

After the cliffs, we headed out to Killarney. We stopped at a quaint pub with Christmas lights done really well. I have this nostalgic memory of it being the coziest place, but that might have just been because I was asleep on the bus and wanted to keep dreaming.
Also on the way to Kilarney, Aussie Ben looked out the window as twilight was upon us and said very animatedly, “WHAT IS THAT?!” We all turned to look out the right window and I would have sworn that a daemon was in the nearby field. I have never in my life seen something hover above the ground that way. It was two huge black blobs, floating above the grass in characteristic fog, moving very fluidly and constantly changing shape. I mean this ghost was like the size of a tractor and truly looked like a dementor, as Meagan said.

#12: Flocks of birds can sometimes look like dementors.

Once we made it alive to Killarney, we found some Chinese dinner and kicked it at the hostel for a break before we went back out to meet Marc at the Grand Hotel. It was more like a pub with a club attached to the back and rooms upstairs, but we certainly did have a grand time that night! There was live Irish music in the front room and a live, but not as good, American cover band in the back.

#13: When listening to native Irish language speakers, you find out how they pronounce ‘th’ differently. Tree means three and third turns into turd. We laughed about this for a good while. Urinal is also pronounced ur-anal. That was the one that made our abs sore the next day!

#14: Kiwi jokes were also part of Marc’s one liner repertoire. (Apparently they like to shag their sheep as well as shear them, in case you didn’t know like me). How do kiwis find sheep in tall grass? With a great big smile on their face. We also wanted to get out and pet the alpacas and horses, so Marc commented that it’s a good thing we didn’t have any kiwis because they would want to pet the sheep…

The main attraction on Sunday was the Blarney stone, which I kissed, so watch out speech circuit! How many more of you can say you kissed the same stone as Winston Churchill who became possibly the greatest orator of the 20th century?

The other cool thing about the Blarney castle was the gardens. They didn’t have ordinary gardens, they had poison gardens! Everything in this garden had some kind of hallucinogenic or deadly trait to it. This included marijuana, ricin, wolfsbane, hemlock, poison ivy, and wormwood. The most interesting one to me, however, was the box bush, which I’m pretty sure we all have in our yards!!!

This plant was said to keep witches away from your house because witches know the number of every twig and leaf of every plant. When they get to a box bush, however, they lose their place when they count the leaves and therefore get stuck looking at the bush before they can enter your house. It is also poisonous to eat.

#15: This was our other inside joke, because we frequently say witches be flockin to ____ (fill in the blank, ex. The beach, meaning girls love the beach), and in this case we could say Witches be flockin to the box bush. We thought it was funny =D.

#16: I also got to hear an Australian use the phrase “she looked a bit dodgy” which made my life. Thank you, Ben.

#17: Being hip, meaning cool, comes from opium dens where “being on the hip” meant you were lying on your side smoking, and this was considered cool. I learned that in the poison garden.

#18: Scott and Ben made Jessica and Meagan really excited by telling them they can ride kangaroos. They seem so exotic to us, but for them they are a nuisance like deer. You can’t really ride a kangaroo, but the girls looked up kangaroo saddle anyway…

#19: We also looked up where baby corn comes from, and it is as cute as we thought it would be! Just think of an adorable little ear of corn that you have to shuck. We did this as we ate our Chinese in Killarney.

After we all kissed the stone to get the gift of gab, we made our way from county Cork back to Dublin. We stayed in Jacob’s hostel this time, which was run by the same people with Isaac’s and it was just as nice. But yet another small world story: two other Americans came into our hostel room and we started talking to them. We found out they were studying together in England for the semester, but they go to the University of Colorado Boulder. The girl, Rachel, was from Chicago originally, and when we said we were studying in Coleraine, Northern Ireland she said she knew someone else from Chicago living there.
“Oh really? Who do you know?”
“Kate Pfau.”
It was one of those moments where you’re not sure you heard them correctly because what are the odds this girl we happened to be assigned a room with in Dublin would know our other close friend we have lived with all semester?? But anyway, after we excitedly talked about Kate for a while (all good things, of course) we had a fantastic night on the town with Rachel and David and looked at Christmas lights in the city.

We ended our trip by doing some Christmas shopping in the Belfast Christmas Market and eating Kangaroo burgers in honor of our new Aussie friends. They were quite good!

#20: Northern Irish people are outrageously friendly and helpful. An older man saw us looking at a map in the Belfast train station and offered to walk us all the way through the city to our destination! The world never ceases to amaze me with its plethora of angels.