This blog post perfectly captures what it’s like to be torn between different places around the world that you call home. It is a bittersweet thing, but one that we have to embrace as being beautiful in order to accept that we can’t be everywhere at once.
A week ago I was ready to leave. The holidays are a natural time to want to be with your family, which makes going home seem normal and easier. But once my finals were finished and I resurfaced from the books, it began to hit me that I only had two days left here in Dublin. You would think the more you move, the more you get used to goodbyes. But you always leave a little piece of your heart in each place you fall in love with, so you can’t help but feel a little bit emptier leaving.
Most of the time goodbyes aren’t really goodbyes. You keep in touch through Facebook and social media and there’s plenty of time ahead to meet up in some city in the world. But Azar Nafisi once said, “You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place…like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way ever again.”
All cheesiness aside, she gets it. Never again will I be studying in a foreign country, using my youth and cultural inexperience as excuses for my mistakes and learning valuable lessons along the way. Never again will I be surrounded by people from all over the world, each one just as eager as the other to make new friends and explore a strange city. Maybe I’ll return to Dublin some day, maybe we all will, but it will never be quite the same.
I’ll be honest; I didn’t think I would learn much from this experience. Everyone always said that studying abroad is this life-changing time where you learn so much about yourself and the world. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel and live abroad before, so I didn’t think it would be much different. I never thought I would feel as intimidated as I did moving to a country I’ve never visited before, where I knew no one. I never thought I would get homesick for family and friends. I never thought I could do independent, adult things like book an entire trip on my own. I never thought I would actually crave a cold pint of Guinness. And I never thought that I would actually feel like a different person when I left.
It feels like a lifetime ago that I got to Dublin, unsure of where my university was, of which bus route to take, of whom my roommates were, of what “grand” meant, and of the memories I was about to make. Nevertheless, this semester has flown by. It’s been a rollercoaster to say the least, but I’m sad to see it end.
It’s going to be weird going home, but I didn’t think I would miss Austin as much as I did. I can’t wait to see all of you beautiful people in a few weeks! First stop is Singapore so I can go home with a tan.
Anyway, thanks to everyone who kept up with my global blogging adventures these past six or seven months. Pretty soon it’ll go back to my somewhat normal routine of covering concerts and such in ATX.
Cheers Ireland, it’s been grand.
London is a modest city. Physically, it doesn’t have as much to offer as other European cities I’ve visited. Its streets don’t boast the obvious architectural beauty of Paris and it doesn’t have the quaint waterfront of Copenhagen. Unlike say Danes, Londoners aren’t obviously identifiable as being Londoners. For those of us who have never been before, we often think of London in terms of stereotypical images like red double-decker buses and Abbey Road. Which is probably precisely why locals tend to stay away from typical tourist traps like Buckingham Palace or Portobello Street.
So what is London really about?
You’ll find it hidden among its eccentric neighborhoods, and for me, particularly in East London. Bearing comparisons to the hipster boroughs of Brooklyn, it’s where the young scenesters congregate — and where I spotted Russell Brand walking his dog — at weekend vintage and food markets. Maybe it was the people watching, the colorful street art, the cheap Japanese food stands or the abundance of used-vinyl stalls —I found a £5 George Michael record, enough said — but I could have stayed there forever. Sorry New York, when I grow up I’m moving to London.
I’m not sure if it’s the writer or the 20-something in me, but I’ve become more and more averse to busy touristy areas. I was told to visit Camden Market, which was so cheesy and crowded that I did a lap and left. I much preferred the culture of vibrant local areas like Broadway Market with its fresh food and live music or Shoreditch with its maze of art-filled walls.
Believe me, I tried to be a tourist. I walked from the shopping district of Oxford Circus to the entertainment hub of Piccadilly Circus but immediately felt super disoriented. The buildings are reminiscent of Paris, dotted with theatres and moving Times Square-style ads. But as I turned the corner I immediately got lost in Soho. Once known for its red-light district, it’s now filled with quirky cafes and shops. I passed by a place called Hummus Bros which I was so tempted to try, but was too filled up on fish and chips from a nearby joint. I wandered inside a vintage magazine store and a record shop. Those are the places that I would visit if I lived there, and perhaps that’s the appeal.
I will however, say that Big Ben, the Tower of London and the London Eye are particularly nice at night, and Chelsea, while expensive, is also lovely. But I spent the majority of my time in the less-populated areas. Unfortunately though, the rumors are true. London is extremely expensive. As in, I’m scared to check my bank account, expensive. But I still love you anyway.
As much as I saw in three days, I won’t pretend to have even the slightest grasp on what London is all about. There’s an infinite amount of places to be explored. Some people ask me why I chose Dublin instead of a place like London, which I also would have loved. And part of it is exactly that: even if I had studied in London for four months, I would have left probably just as overwhelmed as when I arrived; that there’s still so much that I didn’t see. Dublin is a smaller city that I can actually grasp, and every time I come back from traveling, it feels like returning home.
Albeit, a home that I’ll be leaving in less than a month — yikes.
“In Spanish there is a word for which I can’t find a counterword in English. It is the verb ‘vacilar’…it does not mean vacillating at all. If one is ‘vacilando,’ he is going somewhere; but does not greatly care whether or not he gets there, although he has direction.”
While the word “vacilando” might be a slang term for many Spanish speakers as meaning teasing or flirting, John Steinbeck focused on a deeper meaning of the word. Anyone who knows me knows that I have a fascination for words in other languages that don’t have direct translations in English, and the word “vacilando” is no exception. It means that one is more concerned about the journey than the destination, and it couldn’t be a more accurate way to describe the last six months that I’ve spent traveling.
Last weekend I had the opportunity to re-visit one of my favorite cities in the world. Having lived in Paris as a baby and later returning for Christmas when I was in high school, Paris has always held a certain magical air for me. After sitting down in July and planning my concert schedule for the semester, I had known I wanted to go to Pitchfork Paris for months (as if the lineup weren’t great, it’s a music festival. In Paris). I planned four days in Paris alone. Having seen all the tourist attractions, I was more interested in exploring the city: its bookshops, record stores, cafés and back alleyways. I should have realized by now that life often has its own plans, so my casual weekend got off to a rocky start. (Note to self/everyone: if it’s before 5 a.m. the day after Halloween, set 10 alarms, including one human.)
By the time I had re-routed, I ended up arriving exhausted, in a rainy Paris late Friday night. I set off early the next morning, determined to see the Eiffel Tower across town from my hostel — because you’re not really in Paris until you see the Eiffel Tower. The sun came out just as I rounded the corner, and then magically everything was okay. I was in Paris.
“They say that when good Americans die, they go to Paris.” - Oscar Wilde
Fueled by a bout of spontaneity and a fun night out with friends, my roommate booked a flight to join me just two days before. It would be her first time in Paris, but aside from a couple of main sights, she was interested the kind of exploring that I was. And I must say, it was one of the greatest weekends. Without a clear agenda, we stumbled upon a quaint hidden neighborhood, wandered into bakeries, strolled along the Seine and perused Shakespeare & Company. We stopped at a local café for a three-hour dinner where we made friends with the French waiters and scored some free wine. We danced at a music festival for 10 hours, mastered our navigation of the subway system and ate our weight in crepes.
“A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of life.” - Thomas Jefferson
At the rate of sounding super cheesy — Paris can do that to you — if I’ve learned anything from these past few wild months (other than that people often become hostile when you Instragram travel photos while they’re at work), it’s that the journey is more important than any destination you reach. It might not be the easiest, and it might be filled with screw-ups and life lessons learned, but I’m definitely going to have some stories to tell the grandkids.
In the words of Audrey Hepburn, “Paris is always a good idea.”
I’ve had the travel bug all my life. Those of you who are infected know that it’s both a blessing and a curse. And when you strategically plan your schedule to have a three-day weekend, why not use it your advantage, right? Not to mention that only a couple of hours away lay an entire continent and a multitude of countries waiting to be explored.
My first trip out of the country was to Copenhagen, Denmark. One of my best friends from high school in Brazil moved there to attend boarding school and then university. Seeing her after three years and for her 21st birthday was a blast, not to mention that I got a tour of the city by a quasi-local.
A small, quaint city, Copenhagen is modest yet charming. Multi-colored buildings and sailboat masts dot the quays as people enjoy a Carlsberg near the waterfront. Hundreds of bicycles are parked near a popular shopping district as a line forms at a pølsevogn — a hot dog stand literally translating to “sausage wagon” —for lunchtime. Just down the street is a row of cozy cafes, each with its own personality.
In a single afternoon you can pass by Tivoli Gardens — the second oldest amusement park in the world, which unfortunately I did not get a chance to go to —walk through the royal family’s palaces and roam around the cannabis-consuming autonomous neighborhood of Christiania — which sadly doesn’t allow photographs unless they’re pre-approved. Here’s an interesting article Vanity Fair wrote on the community and some photos the Guardian took.
While the city and its people were beautiful, after spending $8 on a Starbucks pumpkin spice latte at the airport, it was almost a relief to return to Dublin. (Although it doesn’t offer much financial respite either.)
However, you don’t necessarily have to hop on a plane to leave the country. On Friday, my friends (here’s your shout out Maureen, Brian and George) and I decided to plan an impromptu trip to Northern Ireland. The next morning, we got on a bus at 7 a.m. and two hours later, groggily woke up across the border. Northern Ireland is a part of the UK, which means they use pounds for currency and words like “love” at the end of every sentence.
We took a day tour along the gorgeous Antrim Coast, ending at Giant’s Causeway, a World Heritage Site which Wikipedia explains as “an area of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic eruption.” Or you can just see the photos for yourself.
After spending the night in Belfast, we ventured into the areas of conflict between Catholics and Protestants in the city, which is really just a fancy way of saying Irish Catholics who want Northern Ireland to be a part of Ireland and English Protestants who want Northern Ireland to remain a part of the UK. It was eye opening to see the separation between the two parts of the city, which still experience conflict today.
The last stop was the Titanic Belfast museum, newly opened for the 100th anniversary of the ship’s sinking last year. As interesting as it was, sadly Kate and Leo were nowhere to be found.
My next stop abroad will be Paris in two weeks for the Pitchfork Paris Music Festival, and I already can’t wait. What? Staying in Dublin is overrated anyway.
One trip to the UPS store, a few packets of salsa and about 90 dollars later and I could have some breakfast tacos at my doorstep in Ireland by Wednesday. They’re a bit hard to come by across the pond. Although currently a month into my breakfast taco withdrawals, my semester abroad has consisted of a rather hearty Irish diet.
Tacos and tex-mex aside, a typical Irish breakfast can be found in many cafes and restaurants. Skipping out on sweets like syrup-coated pancakes or waffles, a plate comes loaded with meat such as sausage and bacon — or bangers and rashers — fried eggs, potatoes and white and black pudding. Not chocolate pudding, but a sausage patty consisting of pork meat and fat, bread and oatmeal. While many restaurant menus in Austin have vegan and vegetarian sections, here, vegetarians would probably get comfortable with the pastry selection.
Breakfast is only one of the many meals that contain the Irish staple: potatoes. From Shepherd’s Pie to Irish stew to potato and leek soup, spuds are easy to come by, and delicious. Even the potato chips taste better here.
One of the primary Irish food groups — or at least it should be — is beer. A student pub just recently reopened on campus, and it’s not uncommon for students to head there after a sports practice or a study session. For not being a beer drinker prior to coming here, I will say that there’s nothing like an ice-cold pint after class. Many foreigners load up on Guinness during their visit, but there are many other domestic and international beers to choose from.
Okay, all of you non-beer drinkers are still unconvinced. If you want to gain street cred at the pub and are willing to part with a little more cash, whiskey is the next best option. If you ask for whiskey, rather than the standard American Jack Daniels, you’ll get Jameson, which is a thousand times better. If you’re looking for an afternoon pick-me-up, you can’t go wrong with an Irish coffee: hot coffee, brown sugar and whiskey topped with thick cream.
While the Irish word for “whiskey” literally translates to “water of life,” the Irish do indulge in non-alcoholic drinks. The British afternoon tea tradition is also enjoyed here, and a bonus is that tiny tea cafes often have the most delicious food.
So while all of you Austinites are indulging in your chorizo and avocados, I’ll be in Ireland trying to explain the difference between breakfast tacos and breakfast burritos. And by the time I get back, you might find me at a local Irish pub instead of Torchy’s.
This was originally posted on the Longhorn Life website.
This semester is flying by — it’s already been three weeks since I posted my last blog. I doubt anyone wants to hear about what an expert I’ve become at navigating Dublin’s nightlife scene in the past month, so instead I’ll talk about everything else this country has to offer. Lately I’ve had the pleasure of getting out of the city and seeing the Ireland I had always pictured: rolling, green landscapes; foggy coastlines; quaint towns and inviting pubs.
One day trip included hiking in Glendalough, which just goes to show that a view of “Upper Lake” doesn’t mean you have to hike “up” anything. This realized when you find yourself halfway to the top of a mountain.
Then there was a quick stop in the Wicklow Mountains; which almost doesn’t warrant mentioning because we were pelted with sideways rain and regretted leaving the bus.
But a trip to the town of Kilkenny later that day was bright and sunny — oh, Irish weather.
A short train ride to the southern port of Dún Laoghaire, with its sea of sailboats, was a gorgeous change of scenery from bustling Dublin.
My favorite day trip thus far was Howth, a suburb on a peninsula just north of Dublin, which feels like another country yet entirely Irish at the same time. On a sunny day, walking around its cliffs that hug the coast, you almost feel like you’re in Spain. Seafood cafes line the coast where you can see fishermen bringing in their catch. And it is also home to one of the coolest museums I have ever visited: Ye Olde Hurdy Gurdy Museum of Vintage Radio. Housed in a small, historic tower overlooking Howth, it is an enclave of old radios, gramophones, Irish memorabilia and other vintage communication knick knacks.
On the opposite side of Ireland lies the western city of Galway, a tiny college town. With a single road housing all the nightlife, a pub-crawl was definitely in order. From live Irish music and crazy cover bands to potato challenges and zombies walking the street, it was definitely an experience.
Although the strangest part of the trip was stopping in the tiny town (pop. 300) of Moneygall, which now prides itself on being the home of Obama’s ancestors.
The stunning and ever-popular Cliffs of Moher (which are supposed to look like this) were unfortunately nowhere to be seen the day we went. At least we could hear the ocean through the abyss of fog.
Limerick was rather uneventful on a sleepy Sunday afternoon, but we found some unique spots.
Biking around the Aran Islands lead us to a shipwreck site, a lighthouse and a maze of stonewalls among other things. Although, the boat ride to get there was its own adventure.
People often ask me why I chose to study abroad in Dublin. Why not choose more popular European destinations like England or Spain? The combination of factors that lead me here is quite ordinary and I won’t bore you with my decision making process, but I have a better question: Out of a school of 50,000 students, why am I the only Longhorn studying in Dublin?
It might be obvious that, unlike Spain, there is no language barrier in Ireland. Although that’s not entirely true. I was surprised to see many street signs bearing the name in Irish before English. It would take me years to conquer the extensive list of Irish slang, and in rural regions, people’s accents are so strong they might as well be speaking gibberish. So while I might not be learning a new language, I apologize in advance for saying things like “craic” — yes, it’s pronounced crack, and it means “fun” — and “grand” when I get back.
From my short two-week experience thus far, I’d say that Irish folk are in the running for the friendliest people in the world. Brazilians are hanging onto the spot as of now, and there is actually a large population of them here, but that’s another story. Ask an Irish person any question, whether it be about their culture, or simply for directions, and you’re likely to get a story in response. After Ireland lost to Sweden in the FIFA World Cup qualifying match in Dublin on Friday, you would expect there to be a lack of celebration afterwards. But alas, the party goes on anyway.
I was walking down the street with some American friends when we stopped a man with a soccer jersey on to ask if Ireland had won. He replied simply, “We won in spirit.” He went on to explain that the Irish are so welcoming to foreigners, that because tons of Swedes came to the country to attend the game, the Irish had to let them win. And then everyone heads to a pub.
Which brings me to the Irish stereotype of everyone being a drunk. While this is not entirely true, pints of Guinness are flowing somewhere in the city every night of the week. Including at noon at the University College Dublin campus pub.
All right, to be fair, classes have only started today, so my experience may be a bit biased. I have had more time to enjoy the finer things — and rare sunny weather — in Dublin without the stress of studying. Even still, regardless of whatever mundane factors lead me to choose this place, I’m glad I did.
So while the rest of you Longhorns are missing out, I also kind of want to thank y’all for throwing me across the pond on my own. Coming here completely alone for the first time, to be on exchange for four months has been one of the most exhilarating experiences. So sláinte to the next three and a half.
What I enjoyed most about Singapore is the ease of flying to other countries in Southeast Asia. Not that I didn’t enjoy Singapore, but I would have gotten bored had I stayed there the entire month and a half of my trip. Every other week I was off to a different destination: Thailand, China, and Indonesia. Singapore was the tame home base. It was nice to come back to a clean, organized space compared to the rest of the frenetic region. In my first blog post, after being in Singapore only three days, I wondered if there was much beneath the surface. Maybe, just maybe, had I really spent more time exploring, I would have that deeper, culture-rich epicenter. But I just don’t think it’s there.
On August 9, Singapore will celebrate its 48th birthday. Compared to the rest of the world, it’s still a baby. It just doesn’t have an elaborate centuries-old history like its regional counterparts. There’s no shortage of things to see in Singapore, that is hardly the issue. From its bustling pockets of bars and clubs, to astounding views atop Marina Bay Sands — I could stay in that infinity pool forever — to an infinite amount of festivals and events, if staying busy stifles your boredom, then you won’t be bored. But I like a city that’s a little rough around the edges. I suppose it’s the journalist in me that’s always searching for the grittier side of things. On the small island of Singapore, where even street food vendors are regulated, I have yet to see it.
For a country that went from being a third-world fishing village less than 50 years ago to the worldly cosmopolitan city that it is today, its clearly doing something right. It’s simply playing catch-up historically.
Culturally, Asians tend to be unhappier than other parts of the world due to pressure academically and at work. This seems to be the case in Singapore as well. Although it does a good job of hiding poverty, many ordinary Singaporeans work tirelessly behind the scenes while the billionaires reap most of the benefits seen on the streets. If you want to know about what really goes on locally, just ask your cab driver. Most of them are used to silent rides when their passengers are Singaporeans, but once a Westerner gets them talking, they’ll tell you more than you want to know. Singaporeans tend to be standoffish with strangers — basically, don’t expect a greeting or small talk from a stranger on the subway. If there’s a place that will make you appreciate Texas friendliness and hospitality, it’s there.
If I sound like I’m being harsh on the place, I don’t intend to. I really did enjoy my time there. On the last weekend in June I had the opportunity to attend Baybeats, a three-day annual music festival that features local and regional bands. It was set up differently than the traditional music festival out in a field with thousands of people. It featured three different stages integrated into this shopping center/outdoor dining area/boardwalk promenade. The backdrop of the bay and the city was fantastic. I didn’t know a single band going into it, but how else would you discover bands from places like Malaysia to Japan? The music stuck to different genres of rock, some surprisingly good. Nothing to Declare, a post-punk band from Japan, was a crowd favorite that put on a really energetic show. I was able to get into the not-blocked-off photo pit until someone figured I wasn’t with the festival and kicked me “out.” But I managed to get a few shots of some of the bands.
Aside from a few different festivals, Singapore is mainly a stop for international touring DJs in the EDM scene rather than alternative bands. Although the xx played two shows there just after I left. It’s cool to see how a music scene flourishes or flops in that corner of the world.
I’ll definitely be back to Singapore, since my parents just settled into their new place there. If any of you friends want to check it out, or use it to jump to other places in Asia, let me know! I know it’s far from the U.S., and it probably takes a backseat to other bucket list destinations in a region like Europe, I highly recommend spending time in Asia. It’s so incredibly different from Western living, and I can now say that I have a much greater appreciation not only for those cultures, but for the U.S. and Texas as well — yes, really. The 20-something hour flight is a small price to pay.