Thursday, June 26, 2014

Exploring Galway, Part 1

If so far it seems like all we do here in Galway is eat delicious breakfasts and go to class, I understand why it might seem like that. And, honestly, that would be a pretty sweet life. But we do more than that here in Galway, like exploring the city and discovering Galway culture. Here are a couple snapshots (literary) and snapshots (literal) to give you an idea of what we've been up to.

The city of Galway itself is more like a town, especially to us 'Muricans who are used to the word "city" meaning New York or even DC. It's really not very big, with a population of around 75,000, and it only takes about twenty minutes to walk from one end to the other (the short way, probably double or longer the long way). The River Corrib runs through the center of the city, and canals spring off from the sides, irrigating the area around the city and controlling the water flow, which changes dramatically with Galway's frequent rains. Here are some pictures, courtesy of Sarah.


Cathedral of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven and St. Nicholas


The Eglington canal.


Houses on the canal.


Flowers on the canal.


Galway has a surprisingly vibrant graffiti culture.


Shop Street.


Low tide by the Bay.


Beach art.

***

One of the first things we did in Galway was locate the grocery store and go to buy some food. The grocery store everyone told us about was about a thirty-minute walk from where we were staying in Corrib Village. We set off along the road , across the river, to a small shopping center in a suburb of Galway (to the extent that Galway has suburbs. Wikipedia says that of the 75,000+ people living in Galway, 315 live in the suburbs of Galway). Along the way, we saw some cool stuff.

A ruin on the way to the grocery store. Just chillin' there on the side of the road. The steel support beams in the picture appear to have been added later to keep the shell from collapsing.

The River Corrib, with a view of the University on the other side of the river.

Crossing the canal.

In the grocery store, everything was stacked in low aisles. Almost everything that could be fresh was fresh, and everything was cheaper. Apples, for reference, cost 7 pence each (about 10 cents). We also found this gem:


That's right, folks. People in America eat hot dogs out of cans. All the time.

***

One of my favorite things we've done here so far is go to the Little Cinema at Kelly's Bar. On Tuesday night, we went to a little venue with a big attic, along with the rest of the William and Mary students in the program, for an event called "the Little Cinema". It's a monthly "film festival" for independent filmmakers in Galway, who can sign up to have their short films shown at the events. Last night, we saw nine short films, ranging from avant-garde French films to goofy horror sketches. Apparently, Galway has a thriving indie film community, and we got a brief look inside last night.

***

So that's a little taste of what we've done so far. And we'll do a lot more. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Breakfast and Literature

Now, as I am writing this, we have just finished our third day of classes here in Ireland. But the first, second, and third day of classes were all very busy, and I was very tired yesterday, so I hope it isn't out of line for me to talk about the first day of classes now and not two days ago.

Class in Ireland is great. We are only in two classes, Irish Literature and Irish Geology (those are not the official course names, but I don't remember the actual course names because they are long and strangely specific, so I just use these names when I think about them in my head), so we are only in class from 8:30 to 12:00. Lately we have been starting to develop a schedule which has worked well: wake up at 7:45, meet with the rest of our literature class outside at 7:55, and get to breakfast at 8:00.

If you have not ever had an Irish breakfast, you are missing out. Of all the meals, the Irish seem to know how to do breakfast the best. Let me just preface this by saying that virtually all food tastes better in Ireland, especially the dairy products. The locals tell you that when in the grocery store, as a rule, you should check where the dairy products (milk and butter particularly, but also eggs) were made, and if they aren't Irish, to just put them back. Irish milk is creamy and frothy, and even adding it to something as simple as cereal makes the cereal (by my estimation) 148% better. Eggs are thick and rich and stick together in the pan, and the fried eggs here are never more than three inches across because they coagulate so spectacularly. The butter is... well, the butter is something you will just have to taste for yourself.

A full Irish breakfast. Not my picture. I'm usually too busy eating to bother with taking pictures.


A full Irish breakfast consists of sausage, rashers (bacon), fried eggs, hash browns, white pudding, black pudding, mushrooms, tomatoes, baked beans, and one or more pastries. Of all the ways to start the day, this is the best. I would walk on my hands all the way to the dining hall to get one, if I had to. I wake up at 7:45, but I would wake up at 5:00am if I knew one of these was waiting for me. I would crawl on my hands and knees through a mile-long trough of fingernail clippings to catch a whiff of an Irish breakfast. I would roll down a poop-covered hill with pine needles in my underpants while malicious pixies poured buckets full of gravel along my path to look at a grainy cellphone picture of an empty plate after an Irish breakfast was eaten off it. I would pump my veins full of vats of cholesterol every morning for years if I--oh, wait.

Well, it's worth it.

After breakfast, we pop across the hall (lucky it's so close, because I have trouble walking after breakfast) to Irish Literature. Our professor, Lionel Pilkington, is a delightfully Irish theater historian with a deep knowledge of the Irish Renaissance (the Celtic Revival to everyone else) and a charming penchant for getting distracted and going off on Marxist critique sessions. He is an older man, with wiry gray hair and a scraggly beard, well over six feet tall, bony in an energetic way, and perpetually sweaty. He likes to read the lines we discuss in character, and often overacts them to the point of awkwardness. He is proficient with American slang and loves to learn new phrases. Here is a conversation we had today:

Pilkington: And so Pegeen here says she won't--she doesn't--well, how does she feel?
Lily: She won't settle!
Pilkington: Ahaha! Yes, she won't settle! HAHAHAHA--wait, what does that mean?

This sort of thing happens multiple times a day. It is a wonderful class to wake up to, and if you ever feel yourself drifting off to sleep on account of the early start, Prof. Pilkington's wild arm-waving and often-nonsensical in-character babbling is sure to wake you up.

The class is mainly focused on theater, particularly theater during and after the Irish Renaissance, and so we focus on Lady Gregory and her cronies, particularly Synge, and later on Joyce and other more contemporary Irish authors. The course seems to be arranged chronologically, with the oldest works first, but we are moving at a very fast pace, and I expect we will be well into modern literature in a couple days. So far, I love it. Here is what Sarah thinks about it:

"It's hilarious. It's less literature, more plays and context, which I really like."

Me too.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Across the Atlantic

Two wonderful things have happened since yesterday, and they are, in order: a good night's sleep and a full stomach. I feel much more ready to tackle the subject of our travel today. I will try to summarize the important bits, because it was, on the whole, incredibly boring. You'd think there would be something enlivening about hurtling through the air at hundreds of miles per hour in an airtight piece of steel strapped to two compression bombs, but for whatever reason, it puts everyone right to sleep. Here is what I remember.



When you last saw us, we had passed through the first security check and Elijah had wished us "a great time". We resolved, among ourselves, to do just that. Security in Dulles was a breeze, and waiting at the gate for an hour even more so. In fact, the only thing that happened in Dulles besides our goodbye that I even remember is meeting up with Monica, another student in the Galway program, who was taking the same flight. Everything else is sort of a sticky, cheesy, bacony haze, at least until I digested.

In JFK (not Boston), our layover was supposed to be four hours, but because our flight there lasted about 40 minutes, it was closer to five. We emerged from the aircraft into JFK's terminal 2, a terminal entirely comprised of Delta gates. Great, we thought. We can find a quiet corner somewhere and relax or nap until our flight at 11:30pm.

But the gate number wasn't on our boarding pass, and it wasn't on the screen that showed all the Delta flights and where they were going. This must be, we thought, because we were so EARLY to the terminal, and the flight information hadn't even been DECIDED when we left for JFK, so we were really AHEAD of schedule. We figured the world would probably catch up to us and our superior preparation in a couple hours.

Only, two cheeseburgers (sorry, Mom) and several hours later, it hadn't. The screens in JFK's Terminal 2 showed flights to every location imaginable, some as far as six hours out. But there was no trace of a flight to Shannon anywhere. With an hour and a half left to spare, we figured it might be a good idea to figure that whole thing out.

I grabbed a passing employee and asked her why we couldn't find our flight information. She asked where we were going, I said Ireland, and she sighed.
"That's Terminal 4," she said.
"Oh? There's another terminal with Delta flights?"
"This terminal is all domestic Delta flights. There's not a single international flight here. That's Terminal 4."

We took this in for a second, blushing, as we recalled that in every single flight listing we had read, there had not been a single international flight. Maybe that should have been a hint.
"So..." I said, "how do we get to this terminal 4? Is it that way," I asked, pointing in a random direction in a transparent attempt to look informed.
"Nope," she said. "It's down these stairs, to the left, all the way down the hall, and out the doors. Walk across the bus and taxi lanes, turn right, and a while down there's a place where a train will pick you up and take you to Terminal 4."
"Oh. We better get going," I said, laughing.
"Yeah," she said, deadly serious. "You got to go back through the main entrance and through TSA again."
"Oh."
We booked it.

Luckily, our layover cushion allowed us to get to the gate with almost an hour to spare. Right on time, we boarded the flight and set off for Ireland.

The flight was uneventful. We watched the Veronica Mars movie. We talked. Sarah slept. I didn't. Finally, we flew into the sunrise and I could look down out of the window and see the sun rising over the Atlantic.


Seeing the cliffs and fields of Ireland slowly come into view  over the horizon was like nothing else. As far as I can tell, the whole country looks like that. All of it. There is no surface on the whole island that isn't a lush green field, covered in dense woods, sea-cliffs, or a nice property with a quaint little Irish house built on it. We got to fly over a nice portion of the west coast as we approached from the south and made our way up the coastline to Shannon. You can't see from the photo, but there are a surprising number of sheep in those fields.

The Shannon airport was our first introduction to Ireland, and Irish culture, and it was a good one. Each sign was written in Irish Gaelic, with an English translation underneath. Customs consisted of a friendly old man who called me "laddie" and barely looked at my passport before waving me through. After getting our bags, we wandered through an empty hall with signs telling us where we should go and who we should talk to and how we should handle entering the country, but no one was there. We just walked through into Ireland. We withdrew some shiny new euros from the ATM and bought a bus ticket to Galway.

You know the great thing about euros? The bills that are worth more are bigger than the bills that are worth less. You feel like you're holding more money because you are. I thought about this on the bus ride to Galway while we passed beautiful pasture after beautiful pasture, and neighborhood after neighborhood populated with unique Irish houses on large, open plots of land.

Once in Galway, we were given these cryptic instructions by our ever-helpful program director: "Once you're in Galway, exit the bus depot and turn left. About half a block down, you'll see the pickup spot for the free shuttle. It's across the street from the building with the glass facade with pink "For Sale" signs in the window."

The bus depot has no entrance; it is just a bit of sidewalk where the buses line up. This makes "exiting" difficult, and turning left even more difficult. Furthermore, the color of every "For Sale" sign in Galway is pink, and it appears that by "glass facade" he might have meant "lots of windows".

We took a taxi.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Arrival in Ireland

And here we are, five timezones, twenty-something hours, and no sleep later. Sitting on the edge of the Corrib River in Galway, Ireland. Everything has been converted: our power from DC to AC, our dollars to euros, our sensible UTC-5 timezone to the slavish, brutal UTC timezone that tyrannizes Europe.

So we are very tired, and I don't have much energy with which to write this. Luckily, I do have pictures. And brief captions.


In Dulles airport in Northern Virginia. How happy we were then.


A single room in Corrib Village.


The view of the river.


The Quadrangle building, where we will learn about rocks and such.

More to come. Goodnight for now.