Monthly Archives: May 2016

Nothing Sweeter Than Sweden

The first time I met Oskar was November, 2014. Thanksgiving Day night, actually. It was a very cold night, and I was home from school for the holiday. He had come to the U.S. for a few months, all the way from some place called Gothenburg, in Sweden. I met him through some of my friends, and we all spent that night talking and getting acquainted. He told us about his home only a little bit, and I would have never guessed I’d be on the plane to see this foreign land a year and a half later. I had told Oskar I’d be abroad while we were both still in the States, and in what felt like no time at all, I was on my way to spend one of my last weekends abroad in Sweden.

I sort of snuck up on Oskar as I came through the pearly gray airport terminal. I spotted him looking down at his phone, and tiptoed up to him slowly. My first view of Sweden was the gorgeous evergreen trees that guard the highway from the airport on the way toward Gothenburg city. It was drizzling when I arrived, and the scene reminded me of coastal Oregon. The darkness, dampness and weathered rocks nodded to me as we sped by, on our way in search of kebab pizza, a Swedish specialty. It was the best pizza I have had in some time.

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While it was still light out, Oskar gave me a bike that was too big for me and we biked out to the ocean, which surrounds his neighborhood. This was one of my favorite places. Though it was a weekend, there didn’t seem to be anyone around for miles, and the misty, thick air surrounded us as we glided on the rain soaked blacktop. There are extensive bike trails along the water that I really liked to tread on; I honestly liked them more than the bike paths we have back home. They are flat, easy, and have way better views than the underside of an ugly overpass in and around Washington. It was also so quiet – something that I need every now and then when things get too loud. At one moment, we both stood in silence on a rock that overlooked the water that appeared so still it looked like a sheet of glass covering over the rugged earth, cut sharply by the jagged islands and wet, wooden docks that littered the waters.

Oskar invited two of his friends over that first night and we played board games into the early morning. They’d go back and forth between Swedish and English, and Oskar kept apologizing to me for it. I didn’t mind in the least, and I honestly wanted to hear more of the strange, pointy language that sloshed around in their mouths. It was not like I could pick out a word or phrase that sounded familiar, or like I could decipher anything that was going on between these three Swedish men. That didn’t bother me though; Swedish, to me, is too interesting and rare that I would complain about them only speaking English to me.

Oskar’s friend Ben told me his favorite English word that really embodied it’s meaning was none other than the word greed. Throughout our night of board games, dares and cider, he kept yelling “GRREEED!” just to make me laugh. Though I had felt a bit out of my element when I landed in this Scandinavian land, over the next few days, I slowly began to feel more and more at home. And it was little things like that that made the difference for me. I think that uncomfyness comes from being put up in a friends house, and feeling like a nuisance no matter how many times they tell you to make yourself at home. You still always feel obligated to be on your absolute best behavior. As I have said before, travel causes you to be off balance sometimes, and this was one of those times for me.

Dawn came and I woke pretty early, slowly taking in the morning through my window. For breakfast, I ate a very particular Swedish delicacy: Reindeer heart. It was quite an experience, and if an opportunity to eat the heart of a reindeer every comes your way, I’d reach out and take it!

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Oskar, Andreas and I walked through the Slottsskogen, which was a huge park/nature center, right across from the botanical gardens, right outside of Gothenburg city. We saw elk, penguins and, to our humor, doves. Andreas left us to take the tram into the city, and Oskar and I jumped off at the stop not far from Haga, (pronounced HOGA) a beautiful neighborhood/section of the city that I had briefly researched before coming to Sweden. We took a beer at a little shop beside Järntorget, a square that was filled with people. The bar tender was from Greece, and he was delighted to hear that I’d be going there the next week. Oskar and I sat outside in the sun for a while and talked about life, travel, and our mutual friends. I had so many questions about Swedish people, culture, and the city, and throughout that day, I began to see and know the world Oskar resides in.

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We went through Haga first. It was so lovely, with its cute stores and coffee shops on every corner, and the golden sun baking the cobblestones under my feet. They were not black and uneven like the ones in Edinburgh; they were sleek and supportive as my shoes beat and kneaded the ground. We got ice cream cones and walked up the long, harrowing staircase that led to the Skansen Kronan, a watchtower that oversees the city. The view of the city was lovely. There were red roofs everywhere, and the sun blazed in the clearest blue sky I had seen in a while. The cold raspberry ice cream made the experience that much more lovely. Oskar pointed out his church from the hill, and we walked through it briefly when we came down from the tower. We walked beside the canal that threads through the city like an indigo piece of fishing line, passing the Feskekörka (fish market). It was closed, so we went on towards the harbor.

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We walked along Kungsportsavenyen, or what Oskar called “the Avenue,” which is a huge street that is lined with shops and restaurants, beginning down by the harbor and ending further up with a huge fountain (the Götaplatsen) and the figure of Poseidon. I recognized him as the god of the sea right away, which made me happy in a nerdy, academic sort of way. He was magnificent; Oskar told me that after students graduated, they’d jump into the fountain and swim about in the water, and hoped they wouldn’t get caught. To prevent this from happening, the city would drain the water from the fountain just before graduation.

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While we had been walking down this major street, we encountered a large mass of people marching down the street, chanting things I couldn’t understand and carrying banners. One major banner I photographed read “Kommunism.” Oskar had mentioned the traditions of the first of May for Sweden before we had gone into the city, and it was really interesting to see the protesting people up close. More or less, May Day is a day for demonstrations and called the International Worker’s Day in Sweden. Oskar explained the extensive political parties of Sweden, but I will not go into that because I honestly don’t remember even the most basic aspects of Swedish political structure, and I’d rather not get it all wrong.

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It was pretty comical, honestly, comparing Swedish May Day with American May Day. The way I grew up, my mother would (and still does!) make little bouquets of flowers straight out of our garden to deliver to our neighbors. I remember the roses weren’t in bloom until June, so my mother had us take sunflowers and lavender, tied with vibrant bows. When I was very young, I fancied myself a flower fairy, like the ones I read about and believed in, as Carrie and I would skip gleefully from house to house. That was May Day for us in America.

Oskar took me to his favorite coffee shop after, and it was nice to sit for a while. I didn’t notice how much walking we had been doing until I had sat still for a while. I barely felt tired, though. There was so much to see, and I was having a blast with Oskar, a true local Swede, showing me everything. We talked more about life and Gothenburg, catching up on where we were both at.

I met several of Oskar’s friends as we roamed the city. When he took me inside Göteborg Centralstation, the major train station in the city, I met Christine, who was working at the coffee shop inside the station. I’d see her later that night when Oskar and I came back into the city for a few drinks and a walk in the dark city. After, we walked across Götaälvbron, a major bridge that hangs over the harbor with a clear view of the Läppstiftet, or the Lipstick Tower the city is famed for. It was windy and refreshing. I saw the opera house (Göteborgsoperan) from where we stood across the water, and I felt pretty small, seeing another sun soaked, gorgeous angle of the city from so high off the ground.

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Oskar suddenly remembered a huge candy store he used to go to, and we combed through all the rows and rows of candy. After, Oskar suggested we go on the Paddan Sightseeing tour. He had gone on it with his family when he was really young, and was embarrassed to be going on one of the most “touristy” things you could do in Gothenburg. Though he didn’t like it much, he stuck it out, just so that I could see the city by means of the waterways and harbor.

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Prometheus statue!

We took the bus back to Oskar’s neighborhood, and his mother and sister made us dinner. I loved the food; I realized how long it had been since I had a home-cooked meal (since I have never considered myself skilled at cooking at all). I asked Emilia, Oskar’s sister, all about her life and what it was like to go to school and live on her own. She reminded me a bit of my older sister, Mandy. Oskar’s mother was so gracious, making me coffee after dinner and asking me about what Americans do on May Day. Later, Oskar’s father came home and I was able to see a very authentic Swedish family, all under one roof.

After dinner, Oskar and I took the bus back into the city to meet Christine. We went to a really cool bar/coffee shop and I had the local beer, which agreed with me very well. I asked Christine so many questions, and we talked travel, politics, traditions, and I felt like I got to hear a wider scope of outlooks and opinions as we sat in the dimly lit, open-air bar. She was originally from Stockholm, and we compared the two cities. Christine was so great to talk to, and I felt like we connected on a lot. I had only wished we had had more time together to discuss life and everything else. Later, we stomped the empty dark streets of Haga, heading towards the bus stop that would take us back out of the city. Oskar pointed to a large university building and quizzed me on it. I was triumphant when I correctly guessed the Business Building of Gothenburg University.

Something I loved about our long walk about the city of Gothenburg that day was the passion Oskar had for the city. What really makes an experience in travel, I have noticed, sometimes is not always the place you go, but the people you go to go see. I kept telling Oskar that I was so happy to be there, and so glad that I came, and I meant it. It was amazing to keep up the relationship we had begun more than a year before in America, and it sometimes felt surreal that we were both in Sweden together.

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The next morning came and Oskar took me to another part of the surrounding area near his house, called Stora Amundön. It was gorgeous out there. Like the day before, the weather was perfect for walking beside the water and exploring the rocky land. The sand and water was gray and dotted with smooth, earthy rocks. Oskar showed me where the popular places for swimming were in the height of the summer.

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Photo by Oskar!
Photo by Oskar!

The rest of that day was spent on a few of the little islands that make up the Achipelago, which runs parallel to the mainland of Sweden and Gothenburg city. A mutual friend Oskar and I had, Axel, lives on Hönö, one of the little islands. It was a lovely ride over there; the easiest way onto the little pieces of land is the ferry, which carries cars across every day. While on the way over, I got out and admired the seaside and the water all around the ferry. It was chilly out there, where the wind whipped about sharply. I was excited as we neared the land, and jumped back into the car.

We picked up Axel at his house and he showed Oskar and I his island. He pointed out places he used to go in his childhood, and we went into the Fiskemuseet Hönö Klova (a local museum). Despite not understanding any of the plaques in the whole building, I was able to study the old photos in one of the rooms that visually depicted the maritime history of the little island. Axel had some experience with boats and whatnot (after all, he does live on an island!), and whenever I saw a strange looking contraption hanging from the ceiling or behind glass, he’d usually know what it was and explain.

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We met up with another friend, also named Oskar. I’m not sure if his name is spelled with a “k” or “c,” so just to not confuse, I’ll write this second Oscar with a “c.” The two islander Swedes took Oskar and I to see a church and graveyard on the island, which I can’t remember the name of. The church doors were locked, so we walked among the graves and read the names. All three Swedes told me about how people are buried, which was actually fascinating. Because the winters are so cold, the ground is too hard to break up and dig a grave if someone were to die in the dead of winter. So, the Swedish people have to preserve the body until the ground warms up enough. Interesting.

We piled back into Oskar’s car and drove a bit more through the little island streets, the sun slowly beginning to sink and turn orange in the clean, sleek sky. Oscar suggested we take his family’s boat out on the water for a ride. This ride became the one of the best memories I had while in Sweden. Oscar’s dad gave me a big coat to wrap up in, as well as a warm hat to keep my head and ears from freezing from the wind. I had been on little boats like the one Oscar’s family owned, yet I still probably looked like a clumsy fool while getting on and off, and Oskar had to help me.

The ride was so amazing! I saw the island from the water, and we sped by in an exhilarating whirl of cold chill and seawater splashing all around us. The water was calm and flat; we only bobbed and dipped slightly while circling the rocky island. Oscar pointed out a tiny island that was isolated from the rest and told me that an infamous prison, “Like Guantanamo Bay,” he said, used to sit on that little piece of rock in the middle of the ocean. He stopped the boat at a little dock not far from his own and told us there was an icehouse, and that if I had never seen one before, I had to go in and look. Axel, Oskar and I trudged up to the little shed that was attached to the dock, turned the knob, and peered in sheepishly. On the other side of the little white washed room was a little hole in the wall with a trap door of sorts. The trap door was open, and I saw a wall of shaved white ice and a metal shovel. All three of us laughed a bit when we saw this, thinking it pretty funny that fishermen could just come in, take what they needed, and leave. That icehouse was by far the most bizarre thing I saw in Sweden.

 

 

 

Sillies
Sillies

 

My favorite Swedes
My favorite Swedes

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After more board games and a quick trip to the ICA (a chain Swedish grocery store), Oskar and I jumped back on the ferry to go home. It was dark by the time we were crossing, so I stayed in the car on the way over the water. We exchanged music during the ride, and as we neared Oskar’s neighborhood, a fox ran across the road. I hadn’t been looking, and was mad I had missed seeing it. Ten seconds later, we rounded a corner and I saw a huge brown hare chilling in the grass by the side of the road. Though I missed the fox, I did see a good bit of Sweden’s wildlife.

Something I did throughout this trip that was very entertaining, exhausting, and intriguing was the guessing game. Every time Oskar, his family, Axel, or Oscar forgot a word in English, usually while attempting to describe something, I’d always try hard to find the word for them. Sometimes it took a few guesses, and sometimes I’d get it on the first try. I always liked when I got it right away because it made me feel smart, like I was some kind of mind reader. A few times I’d also jokingly correct someone’s grammar if the tense or usage was wrong, and Oskar found that pretty funny. “Keep doing that!” he told me. I realized as the days passed that even if two or three people can speak a second language pretty well, sadly sometimes meaning or tone of voice or sarcasm is lost between the two. Though a conversation or two got awkward at moments when this happened, it was a good lesson to learn how to be okay and comfortable despite being lost in translation on occasion.

 

Here, I have compiled a list of the words I picked up while in Gothenburg:

 

Fika – a coffee or hangout time: “Let’s go fika over in the city!”

 

Fisk – fish

 

Tack- Thanks

 

Sadly, that is it. Other than Polish, Swedish is the most eccentric language I have come across. I loved my time in Sweden, and I am sure of this because as I was boarding my flight back to Edinburgh, I felt a heavy, crushing sorrow that remained. If ever the opportunity presented itself to return, I’d take it.

 

I’ll be writing about Carrie, mom and I’s adventures in Greece, next time!

To Scotland: A poem

I love the way you entice me

to walk with you

up, up, up the winding streets

your skin rough and weathered

as you grasp to hold my hand.

 

And you can be more long winded

in your storytelling than I am,

which I thought couldn’t be done.

 

And like me, you can be

dark and brooding, old

and calloused by experience

and history. And like me,

you’ll wake up some days and

radiate the joy that the sun brings.

 

You have so many compartments,

the windows glowing in the

pearly overcast –

each holds a little universe,

only a pinpoint, like a freckle or bump,

on a map of the night sky that covers

all of you.

 

You can weigh down on me

with scolding frigidness, and

threaten to blow me off my feet.

But I know you, and I don’t shiver

when you look at me with icy orbs.

 

I love the way I first discovered you,

in between the lines somewhere when

love was not yet awake in me.

I had only just begun.

 

I love the way I heard you,

before I knew you. I heard

the shrillness in your voice, your

best known feature, and saw

only a glimpse – the wood

and bag were blowing full blast.

 

Somehow you were always there,

a note of music in the distance, a nip

on the ears in the chill.

I love the way I knew I loved you,

even before I had known you.

By the Luck of the Irish: The Wonderfully-Weathered Week in Ireland

I walked out into the sun feeling like I hadn’t even left Scotland. The flight from Edinburgh to Belfast, Northern Ireland, is disgustingly short. We took off and ascended for 10 minutes, leveled off for 10 minutes, descended in 15, and were out the door and onto the bus that would bear us into the city without any difficulty. I knew then that this would probably be the smoothest trip I’d ever experience.

Hannah and I had agreed on a hostel due to its name and free breakfast. Vagabond Hostel was one of the best ones I have ever stayed in. Comfy bed, really friendly people, and amazing location. A nugget of advice from a now experienced traveler: always, always ask the hostel or hotel staff/office person where the best place(s) are to get a meal. They are usually locals that know where the good/cheap/authentic places are, and it has been my experience that when you ask when you first arrive in a new place, you have a much better time than trying to find something on your own.

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Our first hours in Belfast were greeted by a nice walk after dinner beside the canal that runs the length of the city. We had an early start the next morning exploring Northern Ireland, so we turned in pretty early after a cup of tea on the back deck in the dark.

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Our driver pointed out the ruins of a castle that was controlled by the MacDonald clan a few hundred years ago, and we passed through a few tiny villages along our way up to the Giant’s Causeway. In one of the villages we past, a church and graveyard was highlighted. Our guide told us the man who invented the crossword puzzle was buried there.

“Two down and three across!” he told us.

We passed by quite a few Game of Thrones filming locations, as well as a Sons of Anarchy filming site. My favorite views were the baby spring lambs and their mothers that were nestled in the fields in every valley we passed through. They were so little, and as white as porcelain.

When we came upon the more coastal region of Northern Ireland, I remember seeing a lot of salmon and lobster boats out in the water. The day was clear, the water brisk and dazzling. One of the major stops for our tour was the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, which was only a few miles up the road from the Giant’s Causeway. It was a wonderful experience! Heights are not my favorite, but I read one of the plaques and according to it, they check the bridge every season to make sure it is completely safe for all the visitors. That put my mind at ease. The water beneath the bridge was turquoise, and I could see the sand at the bottom because the water was shallow and clear, the sun dancing on the surface, cutting through the greens and blues.

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Of course the Giant’s Causeway was magical. I loved hearing the mythology and geological history behind the site. Hannah and I discussed the humor of the place, and we wondered how a place known for octagonal-shaped rock formations (like the honey comb in a beehive) and myths of giants equaled a tourist attraction. Hannah and I both took turns sitting on the wishing chair, a special part of the causeway. Our guide told us these simple rules for making a wish at the causeway:

  • Keep what you wish for a secret
  • Don’t be greedy

I think I did my best to abide by them.

It was much colder up in that part of the country, but wind tossed hair and chilled skin was nothing compared to the views and experience.

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That night, Hannah and I stayed up late talking with an Aussie (someone from Australia) and a Canadian, both of whom were traveling the world alone. Something I love about hostel culture: most people you meet have incredible stories to tell, and are in turn usually the most fascinating people. I loved hearing their stories; most were funny, some were cringe worthy, and all of them made me more inspired to write some of my own down.

The next morning came quickly, and Hannah and I had a calming breakfast in a sun soaked common room in Vagabond before we stepped outside to catch our 10AM Black Cab tour. This was probably my favorite part of my time in Northern Ireland.

Hannah and called the office the day before and asked for a particular driver that had been recommended to her by another friend who had done the tour. His name was Tom, and he was a proper Northern Irishman. He arrived in a cab with a dinosaur painted across the side, and I knew early on he was a people person, kind and warm.

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He first took us through the main street in Belfast, and past a building that became famous from a photograph someone took in the 60s or 70s of the building as a car bomb was in mid-explosion. That was powerful to see, considering that the building looks exactly the same to this day, and we sailed right past it in the most casual manner.

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“One mans terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter,” Tom told us when we had arrived in the Protestant neighborhood of Shankill in Belfast. I got out of the cab feeling a bit sheepish. I am not sure why. Tom told us about the murals that are all over the city, and about a few of the ones that were in sight of where we stood. The one that I thought was most intriguing was the one of Stephen McKeag, a Northern Irish loyalist and Commander of the Ulster Defense Association’s “C” Company in the 1990s. In the eyes of the Protestants, he was a hero, worthy of praise and a huge mural with his face plastered across it. But in the eyes of the Catholics (who lived less than a mile away from this apparent shrine) he has been a murderer.

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“Prevention,” Tom said about the troubles between the two sides, “is apparently better than a cure.” He proceeded to tell us the story of Philomena Hanna, a victim of McKeag. He told us that in the early 90s she had been a young Catholic woman who delivered medicine to patients on both the Catholic and Protestant sides of the wall separating the two communities in Belfast. In April of 1992, McKeag followed her back to the shop she worked at after she had made a delivery on the Protestant side of the wall. He shot her five times in the face and another time in the chest. Tom told us that he had done this with this thought in mind: Catholics usually have an open casket at funerals. There was no way they could have an open casket with five bullet wounds in the face for this young woman. That story really hit me over the head – I kept it in my heart as Tom gave us some time to walk about the Protestant side of the neighborhood, looking over all the murals. We drove past the huge gate between the two communities and Hannah and I both got to sign it.

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I had noticed in the Protestant side of the wall that most of the houses had the English flag hanging from their houses. On the catholic side, the orange, green and white flag flaps in the wind on each residence. Tom explained that this was due to the fact that the Protestants believe they belong to England and are loyal to that flag, while the Catholics believe that they are/ought to be free from England. I thought that was also intriguing, and I got a good photo of the Irish flags on most of the stoops on the Catholic side of the wall.

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Tom dropped Hannah and I off at the beautiful city hall in the middle of the city, and we walked through it before making our way to the train station. On the way, Tom told us this story when I asked him briefly about the history of Belfast and the Titanic:

He had given a tour to a group of people from London, and one man in particular asked him very pointedly about why the people in Belfast praise and honor the Titanic, (putting up monuments and plaques) for a ship that sank so infamously. Tom told us that he responded to the Londoner, very politely, with these words:

“That ship was running perfectly fine when it left the harbor, right? The Irish built it, but the English sank it!”

I laughed with immense glee when he told us that response. I do love the Northern Irish people, and I’d go back to Belfast any day.

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The train to Dublin was easy, and of course I listened to this most of the way:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_KtiPBgyh1Y

We met Morgan at the hostel and we walked the streets, looking for a good pub to get dinner at. We had an early tour the next morning, so we did not have too eventful of a night.

The next morning came quickly and I struggled to get out of bed under the weight of my heavy comforter. I thought it grimly ironic that this hostel bed was more comfortable than the one in my flat in Scotland. That has been the case for quite a few hostel beds, actually. It makes me feel like I was cheated out of something or other.

Our driver took us through Galway first, and of course the lyrics to Galway Girl kept coming back to me, leaping and twirling across my subconscious.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Lcnvd8BNFE

Our driver told us that Galway is known for their “hookers,” (which are not what you think they are).

“They are not in fact the ordinary hussies, but rather the black bottom boats with three red sails, a very distinctive type of boat.”

We came upon an 11th century monastery next. Inside there was a stone alter, and hidden inside the alter are the skulls of four or five stone masons who were beheaded after they made the church, the ruling clan at the time not wanting them to make churches as beautiful as that one anywhere else in Ireland. I thought that may or may not embody the Irish spirit.

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For lunch we stopped in a tiny town fifteen minutes away from the cliffs of Moher, our main and final destination. The town was called Doolin, and it consisted of two little restaurants and a tourist office. There were fields full of cows and a few B&Bs as well as a few lonely, quaint little farmhouses nearby. I love places like that; it may bore some, but for me I find peace in the smaller settlements. It is for the same reason that I love Sperryille, VA or Holmdel, NJ.

Morgan, Hannah and I went to the sandwich place and got the best chicken wraps I have tasted. They came with fresh salad and had been heated in the oven. We sat on a veranda with a covering over us, shielding us from the unusually nice weather. There must have been a wedding the night before because the tables and garden were decked out in beautiful decor. There were yellow, purple and green triangular flags and off-white tents, as well as little lanterns on each table.

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I get pretty unglued when bugs are present. This came to a head at the cliffs of Moher. We finally got there after about 3 hours of bus riding, and I was eager to see the cliffs and walk on my wobbly legs. I kept rolling my ankles the past couple of days and I have found that they have gotten quite weak while studying abroad. The cobblestoned streets of Edinburgh are not very forgiving for a set of muscles that tend to bend easily. We walked up the hill and realized quickly that there were bees, flies, nats and seagulls looming over the edges of the cliffs. They were quite literally everywhere. I was pretty confused as to why they were so evident, and frankly irritated that they were affecting my experience. Hannah and Morgan seemed to ignore them pretty well while I swatted and even put my hood up in the heat to avoid the noise of buzzing wings as they flew past my ears. I got goosebumps and one even found its way down my shirt and into my sports bra.

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I was pretty happy to get away from the outdoors for a little while when we went to the visitor center to use the toilets and to look for a clatter ring (it was the one thing I had wanted most while in Ireland). Morgan came out of her stall as I was drying my hands and she turns to me suddenly and says in a low voice “Alice, can you help me?” She presented her left arm to me, and there, perched neatly on her sweater sleeve was a giant yellow jacket. Its bottom half was striped yellow and black, it’s stinger long and it’s antennas menacingly scratching the surface of the woven material. “Oh my God, no way,” was the initial outburst that escaped me. “No, I’m allergic!” Morgan told me as she stood frozen. “Okay, okay hold on,” I said quietly as I unrolled a generous amount of toilet paper to shield my hand. After an intense silent moment, in one fell swoop, I swiped my hand across her shoulder, knocking the poor winged devil off her arm and onto the floor. I think I did a good job of facing my fear. As a reward, we all got €2 soft serve vanilla ice cream cones and sat outside in the warmth, waiting to board the bus that would bear us back to Dublin.

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On the way back from the cliffs, I saw two young girls standing on the highway round about, possibly younger than me, thumbs out, pointing towards the sky. We swing by them in the traffic circle, and they gave our little bus dirty looks as we passed them by. I guess they thought this was the perfect vehicle to pick up people. It reminded me of the one other time I had witnessed hitchhikers: along the coast, near Nye Beach, in Oregon, USA.

We stopped briefly in a tiny little outpost so that the driver could rest before entering the city. There was a large bar nearby called the Durty Nelly’s pub, and as we were about to get back onto the motorway, we saw a bunch of women leave the bar, one with a fake white veil and tiara, the rest in matching t-shirts. Our driver got on the subject of bachelor and bachelorette parties (which are called Hen and Stag parties in Ireland) and we sped headlong towards Dublin.

“Crack,” according to our driver is not in fact the illegal narcotic, but rather “fun” in Irish Gaelic. We saw it on many pubs: “Music and crack!” and all of a sudden it all made sense. That is more or less in a nutshell how one learns during a study abroad trip. You learn something, usually from a local, then see it somewhere, then understand and it falls into place.

The next morning, our Australian roommate in our hostel told us a “duvet” or “comforter” was called a “dunna” in his country. I loved the fact that there were several different words in every culture for one thing. I asked him about what Australia was like, and of course about the kangaroos. I now know exactly how tall they can grow to be, what they look like when they are about to attack you, and what their method is for killing you. Our roommate had actually killed a few of them in his lifetime, and I looked at him a new, more impressed way after he told us his stories in the outback.

Our flight wasn’t until the evening, so we spent the last few hours in Ireland together roaming the Guinness factory. My favorite part of it was the advertising floor of the museum. I find it fascinating how a major company or product is produced and then sold to people, and how they will psychologically appeal to you in order for you to buy the product. Later, when Hannah, Morgan and I ducted into a very Irish pub down the street for a quick lunch before the flight, I saw a very old advertisement for Guinness that was at least fifty years old, and I was delighted to know the history behind the beer that has been Ireland’s claim to fame.

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There will be another post up soon on my time in Gothenburg, Sweden. I am so excited to share that adventure, so keep up! I’ll write again soon.