Austen in Ireland: Reflections of my Semester Abroad

June 9, 2014

After being back in the USA for two weeks, I figured I would finish up with some reflections from my semester abroad.

Looking back at my first blog entry, I’d hoped to really assimilate myself into the Irish culture.  I feel that I was able to do this to a certain extent, as I became a member of the UCD softball club and made good friends with many of them.

The UCD Softball Club

The UCD Softball Club

There was a mix of Irish, American, and Canadian, so I was able to meet Irish students as well as other Americans.  It was a really great choice to join this club and I enjoyed the social aspects of it too–the tournaments and the nights out in Dublin.  I also was able to enjoy the Irish culture outside of Dublin by visiting the cities of Galway and Cork.  These cities had a very different and more local feel to them than Dublin and were a nice change of pace.

However, I didn’t hang out with my Irish apartment mates as much as I had planned to at the beginning of the year.  I did spend a decent amount of time with them the first couple of weeks, getting to know them and such, but it seemed that they were very different from me and we did not have much in common.

Although we all got along very well, other than saying “hi” to them in the common room or the kitchen, I did not spend much time with them.  I played video games (FIFA) with the guys sometimes, but that was about it.  This is one of my bigger regrets of the semester.  However, I really was able to bond with most of the Irish people I met and they really were some of the nicest and funniest people I have met.  Their ability to enjoy life is really remarkable.

Another goal I had was to compare the different learning environments between the Irish universities and American universities.  Overall, I would say my classes at the University of Richmond were more challenging than the classes I took at University College Dublin.  The small class sizes at Richmond really require you to pay attention and not get behind in learning the material in class.

The larger classes at University College Dublin were held in lecture theaters and solely consisted of lecturing and very little class participation.   As for grading, there were very few assignments throughout the semester, and as a result, they counted for a fairly large portion of the class grade.  Through the whole first month, I did not really have much work at all.  Most of the classes had a sort of midterm essay assignment worth about 30% of the grade, and then a final exam worth about 70% of the grade.

However, there were some variations between the classes–one class had a couple of group assignments during the semester, another class had one large journal (7,500 words) for its sole assignment, and my Irish class had smaller continuous assignments as well as an oral exam.

The only stressful time during the semester was finals because there were so many exams occurring at the same time and they counted for a much larger portion of the grade than finals at Richmond.  It mainly consisted of essays so writing for a full two hours could definitely be demanding and intimidating.  Although I felt that I have learned many important things at UCD, my closer relationships with the professors at Richmond have allowed me to acquire more knowledge than when I was at UCD in Dublin.

Gaining my independence was also an important aspect of my study abroad experience.  Being an only child with somewhat sheltering parents, I felt that this would be a great experience for myself.  Although I did study abroad the previous summer as well, that was only for a month and this was for four months.

This study abroad experience definitely did help me become more independent, from planning trips across Europe by myself to cooking meals.  I definitely did miss my parents at times being halfway across the world from them but it was a great learning experience.

Also at the top of my list was being able to travel throughout Europe.  On my first blog post I made a list including the Cliffs of Moher, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, and Rome.  Although I did not make it to Prague and Rome, I did go to the Cliffs of Moher, Amsterdam, and Berlin!  Also other places I was able to visit included southern France, Munich, Liverpool, Newcastle, Belfast, Edinburgh and various places around Ireland.

Although I did not make it to some of the places I had hoped to visit (mainly Eastern Europe) I did travel a great amount and it was nice being able to visit some less-touristy cities such as Liverpool and Newcastle. It was nice meeting locals there too since they apparently loved Americans there.

Being able to travel and see new places has ultimately become more of an interest as a result of this trip and I hope to be able to do a Euro trip of some sorts next summer after I graduate.

Although I was very nervous and anxious about the semester I felt that I navigated along very well.  I was homesick at the start, but once I got acclimated and made friends the time flew by so quickly.  I still cannot believe how fast those four months have been.  I was really able to experience the Irish culture and all that it had to offer and I am sure to be there again in the near future.

Overall, saying I had the most memorable semester abroad is an understatement.  I not only had a fantastic time but I also was able to learn a lot more about myself from becoming more independent to also being more outgoing since I was in a new country and trying to meet new people.  It was a fantastic experience and I would most definitely do it again if I could.  The places I saw, the people I met, and the experiences I had contributed to the great memories I have of this semester.  Although I look forward to my senior year at the University of Richmond, I will always have an Irish part of me from these past four months.

Until next time, sláinte (cheers) Ireland.

The Temple Bar

The Temple Bar

The UCD Campus

The UCD Campus

The River Liffey

The River Liffey


Austen in Ireland: End of the Year – Cork, Liverpool, Belfast, and Finals

June 3, 2014

Right after getting back from Germany, I took the oral exam in my Irish class.  The Irish language was very difficult, but it was a neat experience learning another language.

The next day, I took a train ride to southwest Ireland to Dublin’s smaller sister–the city of Cork (Ireland’s second largest city).  Cork had a very different feel to it than Dublin with a laid-back attitude and with no tourists.  It was set on a nice river and had some beautiful architecture.  I would have argued that there were more pubs in Cork per capita than Dublin, which I thought initially was impossible.

We explored the city of Cork and ended up going to Blarney Castle.  A must while there was  ‘kiss the Blarney Stone.’ Kissing the stone is said to endow the kisser with the gift of the gab (or eloquence and skill at flattery).  The poison garden was another neat attraction at the Blarney Castle, which featured many lethal plants.

The following day, we took a day tour of the Ring of Kerry, a gorgeous attraction in the countryside of Ireland.  There were so many great landscape sceneries and also quaint Irish villages.  Although the weather wasn’t the greatest (fog really hindered our vision), the trip more than made up for it.

Ring of Kerry scenery.

Ring of Kerry scenery.

After getting back from this trip, I had my finals to conquer.  I had three finals in psychology, economics, and Irish.  My first final was a couple days after getting back from the Cork trip.  The whole experience of having to go off campus to an exam hall that fits 3,000 exam takers was intimidating.  I took a shuttle bus that UCD was running to the exam site and it took about ten minutes.

Once I entered the building, there were seat numbers for each exam taker at that time slot.  Once I walked into the exam room, it was overwhelming to say the least.  About 3,000 desks with uncomfortable chairs all lined up in many rows.  A lot different from Richmond, where exams are taken in classrooms.  The exam was fine but there were proctors walking up and down the rows about every ten seconds, which could get distracting.

Since I had over a week in between my first exam and other exams, I had planned a last trip to Liverpool and Belfast with my friends.

The city of Liverpool really surprised me.  It had one of the largest shopping areas I had ever seen and the dock area was very nice.  My friend and I had a jam-packed day.  We went to the Beatles exhibition, since no trip to Liverpool is complete without learning more about the Beatles.  Then, we went to three of Liverpool’s free museums.  We first went to the Merseyside Maritime Museum, where we learned much information about the maritime industry in Liverpool.  We then went to the International Slavery Museum, which explained the history of slavery in Liverpool.

Albert Dock, Liverpool.

Albert Dock, Liverpool.

The third museum we went to was the Museum of Liverpool.  This was a very interesting museum as it really explained the importance of the city, from the city’s large Chinatown to the rivalry between Everton and Liverpool Football Club.  Our next stop of the day was Anfield, the home of Liverpool Football Club, one of the most legendary soccer clubs in the world.  Our tour was fantastic and so was our very passionate tour guide.

Anfield, home of Liverpool Football Club.

Anfield, home of Liverpool Football Club.

We went into the press room where the manager talks to media after the matches, the home dressing room where Liverpool suits up, and the visitor dressing room.  We also were able touch the ‘This is Anfield’ sign which was an iconic part of the stadium.  After this, we went into the stadium and saw the field.  It was amazing being able to see this stadium and also sit right where the manager sits during the games.  It was pouring when we were outside in the stadium, but it didn’t dampen our spirits.  The tour was quite interesting and I was able to really learn a lot more about the history of Liverpool Football Club.  We also went to the museum and saw some of the trophies Liverpool had won.

We got into Belfast early the next morning and learned that there was a bike race going on in the city that weekend (the Giro d’Italia).  We got to our hostel and started our sightseeing in the Queen’s Quarter, which is where Queen’s University, Belfast is located.  This was a very beautiful campus with many historic buildings and nice greens.

Our next stop was the Ulster Museum, a National Museum of Northern Ireland.  It was such a large museum and very expansive.  It covered pretty much everything that had to do with the province of Ulster, where Belfast is located.  We then saw the Botanic Gardens, which had some interesting plants and flowers.  This day was so exhausting and we ended up resting afterward.

The Titanic Belfast exhibition was our main sight of the next day.  The Titanic was built in Belfast and the exhibition was amazing.  The exhibition had many interesting parts, including a ride (to see what it was like to work on building the Titanic) and also a virtual tour of the interior.  It was overall an excellent attraction.  Walking through the port of Belfast, it is apparent that Belfast had and still has a very large industrial part to it.

On our final day of the trip, we went on a tour to Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge and Giant’s Causeway.  Our first stop was the rope bridge and it was a somewhat frightening experience walking over a very shaky rope bridge, but the views of the sea from the island once you got across were really great. The main attraction was Giant’s Causeway though.  Giant’s Causeway is an area of about 40,000 basalt columns (mostly hexagonal), which are the result of an ancient volcanic eruption.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Walking all the way out to the tip on the coast was magnificent but also tough as the rocks were quite slippery.

I found a nice rock at Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland.

I found a nice rock at Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland.

This was really amazing and we walked back up top on the cliffs and were able to really appreciate the Giant’s Causeway Coast from up above.  When we got back to Belfast, we saw the Belfast City Hall, a marvelous building, before eating dinner and then heading back to our hostel since we were both leaving early the next morning.

Once I got back to Dublin, I studied pretty much the whole time before my last two finals.  It was a long day but I got through it and I soon realized that my time in Dublin would be coming to an end as I had to start packing.

I spent my last day sightseeing in Dublin.  I went to get my last fish and chips, to the Trinity Book of Kells exhibition and the Long Room, to the Science Gallery at Trinity College, to the Chester Beatty Library (religious history) and Dublin Castle.  I also just walked around the city, admiring the Irish atmosphere one last time.  I walked around O’Connell Street (I got souvenirs for many people), Grafton Street, and I ended up at pretty much where I started in Dublin, St. Stephens’ Green, a beautiful park right in the center of Dublin, and took some time to think of the great adventures and memories I will have from this semester.

I soon went back to the university and started packing.  Packing started off easy, but got more challenging when I slowly started running out of space. The next day (my last day in Dublin) was very much a relaxing day and I spent it packing and saying bye to friends I had made.  Although I had to get up early the next morning to leave, I figured I should spend one last night with the UCD Softball Club, as I made some of my closest friends in that group.  I ended up not getting to sleep until 4 a.m. that night and waking up at 6 a.m. but it was all worth it.

Saying my last farewells to the people, the campus, and the city of Dublin was challenging, but I know I will be back at some point in the future.  It was my most memorable semester so far and I would say the decision to study abroad (I decided last minute) was one of the best decisions of my college career.  It really opened up my eyes to another culture.  I am currently sitting at my home in the USA relishing the memories and wishing I were in Ireland.  I can’t believe I sometimes wished I were back in the USA when I was in Ireland.  I must have been crazy.

 


Austen in Ireland: The Deutschland Expedition

May 29, 2014

After finishing up the last week of classes and final essays, I went to Germany for five days with a friend since we had a “revision week” between the final week of classes and final exams.  My friend and I decided to visit Berlin and Munich, the first and third largest cities in Germany.  Our trip began with my flight to Munich and meeting my friend at the Munich airport.  It was surreal that the airport had a tennis court and an outside area in between the two terminals.

From the airport, we decided to explore, marveling at the magnificent Bavarian architecture around the city of Munich.  We went in the Residenz, the former royal palace of the Bavarian monarchs.  It was a very regal.

Marienplatz, central Munich.

Marienplatz, central Munich.

We also saw the English gardens, a large park in the city center.  It was an amazing sight seeing everyone enjoying their time on a weekday and not worrying about work.  We also experienced a beer garden, one of the must-sees when going to Munich, which was a fantastic and truly authentic German experience, including the food and beverages.

The next day, we took a day trip outside of Munich to visit the Bavarian castles of Linderhof and Neuschwanstein.  We first visited Linderhof, which was modeled after the famous Versailles chateau.  It had a similar hall of mirrors and the gardens around it were fantastic.  The castle was in such a picturesque setting in the mountains.  Our second stop was the very Bavarian village of Oberammergau.

The main attraction was Neuschwanstein Castle, one of the most famous castles in the world. Ludwig II of Bavaria commissioned the palace as a retreat.  The setting of the castle is absolutely breathtaking.  The climb is thirty minutes up a steep hill, but it was very much worth it.  The castle was unlike anything I had seen before and the views of not only the castle but the landscape were magnificent.  The bridge overlooking the castle from above was such a great spot to see everything.

Breathtaking scenery of Neuschwanstein castle and the Bavarian landscape.

Breathtaking scenery of Neuschwanstein castle and the Bavarian landscape.

The next day we took a great tour through Munich and we were able to learn a lot more about the important history of the city.  We went up to the top of a church with terrific views of the city.

Our flight to Berlin was that night and we landed around 9 pm or so.  Berlin was a completely different city and the difference was apparent immediately.  Munich was a more historic and traditional city, while Berlin had more of a professional feel to it with its large business district.

We started our Berlin stay with a great tour of the city, which stopped at many of the famous sights such as the Brandenburg Gate (the former city gate), the Jewish Memorial, and the Berlin Wall to name a few.  Also, we explored Museum Island (a very nice area on the river with many museums) and the Berlin Cathedral.  The next day we decided to visit the concentration camp of Sachsenhausen, a concentration camp near Berlin used mainly for political prisoners.  It was a very eye-opening experience being able to see this camp, the living quarters, and even the extermination area.

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin.

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin.

On our last day in Berlin we decided to go to the top of the TV tower, which had a height of 368 meters.  The views were great out onto the city and a fitting way to end this epic expedition.  This journey was a neat adventure and also my farthest trip from Ireland.  It was great going to the homeland of my relatives as I have a large percentage of German ancestry.


Austen in Ireland: Animals, Softball, and the Parents

May 6, 2014

After St. Patrick’s Day, I had a week to relax and attempt to start working on my copious amounts of assignments due in April.  Once school started again, it seemed apparent that the second half would be more intense with the large number of assignments, finals worth up to 70% of my grade in some classes, and on top of that, trips to see more of Europe.

The weekend following the break, a friend and I went to the Dublin Zoo.  I hadn’t been to a zoo in about eight or so years and Dublin had a great zoo supposedly so I figured I had to go.  I was amazed by the size of it, as you could easily spend a whole day there.  They had so many different types of animals, but I was disappointed that they didn’t have sloths as well.

After this, we went to a Gaelic football match in Croke Park where County Dublin took on County Mayo.  It was one of my favorite experiences of the semester so far because the sport was really fast-paced and entertaining.  It ended up being a draw with Dublin staging a come-back and also having a chance to win it at the end.  I wish I could see a hurling match (the other sport big here) but I don’t think I’ll get a chance to.

Croke Park

Croke Park

The first weekend in April the UCD Softball Club had their “Intervarsities.”  Intervarsities is a tournament where other softball clubs around Dublin and Ireland come for the weekend and we play.  It was overall some great fun.  I played seven games over the course of the two day tournament, so I was exhausted to say the least.  It was great being able to meet people from other clubs as well as getting to know people from the UCD Softball Club better.  My UCD team ended up losing the third place game, but the UCD 1 team ended up winning the tournament.

The next weekend my parents came to visit me in Dublin.  I really enjoyed taking them around and being able to show off my knowledge of the city was definitely rewarding.  I realized how much I had missed them.  I showed them some attractions in the city of Dublin, such as Temple Bar with all of the pubs.  My dad really enjoyed having traditional Irish food and Guinness while in Dublin.  We also went to the Jameson Distillery that Friday which was a fun experience.

Jameson

Jameson

I showed them the UCD campus and they were amazed at the facilities and the size of the campus.  I wanted to see a UCD soccer game before I left so my parents and I went to see them play Dundalk right on the UCD campus.  Unfortunately, UCD lost but the fans were definitely entertaining.  I showed them around the city and we saw the Dublin Castle. My mom and I also had a chance to go inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a very impressive cathedral.

St. Patrick's Cathedral

St. Patrick’s Cathedral

The next day, we continued our tour of Dublin and I showed them around Trinity College in the city center of Dublin, the National Gallery of Ireland, and the Natural History Museum.  Needless to say, I had a very long weekend.  The last day before they left, they helped me prepare for the long trip back in less than a month and then we took a walk along the River Liffey and then up O’Connell Street.  I wish I had time to show them some of the Irish countryside but it was an overall fun weekend getting to see them.  It didn’t hurt that the weather was beautiful!


Austen in Ireland: Newcastle

May 4, 2014

So a couple weekends ago I went to Newcastle with a few friends.  I know what most people think when I say this,“Why Newcastle?”  After researching the city and wanting to see an English Premier League football match before the end of the semester, I decided on Newcastle.

Waking up a little after 3 a.m. on Friday morning was how the weekend began–my  flight was at 6 a.m.  I was shocked when I got to the bus stop and saw about 15 people at the stop at 4 a.m.  It was Easter weekend so I assumed that everyone was going home.  It was so crowded on the bus that it wasn’t able to pick up people at the later stops.  The airport was also crowded and I got to the gate right when my flight was boarding.  I landed a little after 7 a.m. and took a metro in the city center and got in no later than 8 a.m.  It was absolutely sublime walking around the city without anyone else around.  I wandered down to the Quayside (Riverside) as Newcastle is on the River Tyne.

Newcastle Quayside

Newcastle Quayside

This area reminded me a little bit of Richmond and the area around the James River.  There were many unique bridges over the river which were quite amazing.  I saw a massive part of the city as I wandered around the historical parts, the Quayside, saw both universities (Northumbria University and Newcastle University), saw St. James’ Park (home of Newcastle United Football Club) and also a couple of parks.

Newcastle University

Newcastle University

My friends from the University of Edinburgh arrived in the afternoon and we went sightseeing around the city, including the Quayside and Newcastle University.  We then checked into our hotel, literally right across from St. James’ Park.  Newcastle had two very large universities, so there was never a shortage of entertainment options during the night time.  Needless to say, we had a good time both nights we were there.  The first night, the place we went to even had a bouncy castle.

Saturday mainly revolved around the football (soccer) match at 3 p.m.  We walked around the city in the morning, got some lunch, and then proceeded to go the football match.  I was amazed by the stadium’s size right when we walked in.  It was a 50,000 seat stadium but right in the center of Newcastle.

Newcastle United

Newcastle United

Newcastle United was playing Swansea (from Wales).  We had a great view of the game from one end of the pitch.  It was such a great experience and the crowd went crazy when Shola Amoebi for Newcastle scored first.  However, Wilfried Bony for Swansea City scored a header and then a penalty kick, thus declaring a win for Swansea.  After the match, we wandered around the stadium and it was just an amazing experience overall.  We then went to the park right behind the stadium and it was quite unique being able to see the stadium while in the park behind it.

The next day we decided to go out to the coast of England on the east side since Newcastle was very close.  We walked around the village of Tynemouth and had an excellent lunch consisting of turkey, beef, and ham.  We explored the castle there and even two of my friends went into the absolutely freezing water fully submerged.  I just felt it with my feet and it was so cold.  We then made the trek back to Newcastle where there was a bus back to Edinburgh in the afternoon.  My flight wasn’t until later that night, so I decided to take a train ride out to Sunderland, a city close to Newcastle.  It was really quiet around, probably because it was Easter.  I walked around a park there and saw a little bit of the city.

This was one of my most memorable weekends because it was off the beaten path.  It was fun making friends with the Geordies (nickname for a person from this region) and they definitely did have a unique accent.  All in all, a fun weekend and I would definitely return back to the city.


Austen in Ireland: St. Patrick’s Day and a Mid-semester Review

April 3, 2014

So once I returned back from France, I met up with my friends who were visiting Dublin for the weekend from Edinburgh. The airport was absolute mayhem for all the visitors coming into Dublin for St. Patrick’s Day weekend. I finally met up with them late afternoon and we went through the Temple Bar area, which was packed, and ate dinner. My friends had three hours of sleep the night before because of their early flight (they got to Dublin early and went sightseeing for the majority of the day before meeting up with me) so we went back to UCD early at night. The next day, we decided to take a day trip with a tour company to Glendalough and Kilkenny. Glendalough is a valley of two lakes, with essentially lakes in a valley right in between two mountains. The one lake in particular is breathtaking because of its beauty. For the afternoon, we went to the city of Kilkenny. It was a really neat city and was packed because of St. Patrick’s Day weekend. It had a castle that we explored that had some pretty regal rooms. All in all, it seemed like a quintessential large Irish town. I even got some shepherd’s pie in a pub while watching a rugby match.

Glendalough

Glenadalough

Once we got back to Dublin, we planned to go to some pubs but ran into a random carnival so we had to ride some ride there. We decided to go on this ride called the “Superbowl” (I have no idea why the name) that spun the cars that you are in really fast in a circle as well as going up and down at the same time. It was a pretty nauseating ride (and really long, close to 10 minutes) so I was glad to get off it when we did. We then went to a pub and had a couple pints of Guinness before heading back. Sunday, I showed my friends around the campus of UCD and they were amazed by its size but also its beauty. Then, my one friend and I went to the Guinness storehouse (my second time but I was a trooper because my friend really wanted to go) where we learned more about Guinness and the brewing process before pouring our own pints and drinking them. After this, we went to the National Museum of Ireland-Archaeology, and looked at artifacts from many different eras. We ran into another carnival and decided to go on the Ferris wheel at this one. There were great views of the city and it was great because I had never seen Dublin from up above before. Before my friends left, we had calzones for dinner at a calzone place. They left for their voyage back to Edinburgh and I went back to prepare for St. Patrick’s Day the next day.

St Patick's Day Temple Bar

St. Patrick’s Day crowds in Temple Bar

 

St. Patrick’s Day was insane to say the least. It turns out all the Europeans travel to Dublin so the streets are about four times as crowded as they usually are. I woke up at 8:00 in the morning to catch the 9:00 bus (the earliest one into the city) with my friends so we would be able to get to the parade early. We got to the city at around 10:00 and got a prime spot on O’Connell Street in the second row. There were a lot of weird floats and such but it was an overall good parade. There were many high school and college marching bands. There was even Clover Hill High School in it! (Richmond, Virginia shout out) University of Illinois and LSU also made an appearance in it. Once the parade ended, it took us about thirty minutes to finally move but we eventually found the pub we were looking for (after getting through Temple Bar unscathed somehow). I made a decision earlier in the day that I was only going to have Irish beer (as it is St. Patrick’s Day) and I succeeded. Over the course of the day, I had Smithwick’s, Guinness, and a “Galway Hooker”- the name of an Irish Pale Ale. We went to Tolteca (the Irish version of Chipotle, it literally looks just like it) because there’s just nothing like a burrito on St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland. We then continued our pub hopping and I met up with another friend who then came with us to another pub (our fifth pub of the day). At this point I began to get worn out so part of our group decided to get dinner (chicken shawarma, such Irish food on St. Patrick’s Day) and then head back to UCD. I was so tired that I feel asleep at around 11 p.m. but it was a fun day.

St. Patrick's Day Parade

My view of the St. Patrick’s Day parade

 

Green Building

Dublin ‘greens’ a lot of their buildings for the festivities

So it’s really hitting me that I’m halfway done with my semester abroad. I have less than two months abroad and I’m working on planning my last trips. It’s also hitting me because I’ve been doing housing for Richmond and scheduling is coming up soon too. I have been doing some assignments worth a large percentage of my grade (I had two essays due recently, one worth 50% of my final grade and the other 30%!) However, other than this I haven’t had any assignments due as my final couple of weeks are looking to be stressful with finals coming soon after that. I haven’t been spending as much time on my work as at Richmond, but I’m sure it will pick up in a week or so. I’m just sad to be leaving soon so I’m trying to cross off all off the sights I want to see before I leave! The semester has literally flown by and I’m sure the second half will fly by as fast as the first half did and I still have so much that I still want to do.

 


Austen in Ireland: France for Spring Break

March 21, 2014

So here at UCD we get two whole weeks off for spring break (or mid-term as they call it)!  We got off the weeks of March 10 and 17.  So, the first week I traveled to see my parents in southern France, as they are renting an apartment for two months in the city of Aix-en-Provence.

On Friday, I flew from Dublin to Carcassonne (a town in central France) to meet my parents and we drove three hours to visit the city of Marseille.  Here, we walked around the port and saw some beautiful areas of the city, but our main reason being there was to see my first European soccer match, Marseille vs. Nice.  Marseille’s stadium was stunning with a capacity of around 60,000.  It was probably the largest stadium I have been in.  The match was an intense one but Marseille ended up losing 1-0 to a Nice free kick in the second half.  After a long day of traveling, I got back to my parents’ apartment around midnight.

Stade Velodrome

First European soccer match! Stade Velodrome, Marseille’s stadium

On Saturday, we explored the city where my parents are staying, Aix-en-Provence.  I had been there a couple of times, but it was neat to be there as a “local” instead of a tourist and going back to an apartment instead of a hotel.  We explored the many squares and an enormous market that was going on throughout the day.  We also walked down the Cours Mirabeau, the large street in the middle of the city lined by trees.  Another noteworthy site was the gardens in the Pavillon Vendome.  For dinner, we had great Vietnamese food.

Cours Mirabeau

Cours Mirabeau, Aix-en-Provence’s tree-lined promenade

We went to the Musee Granet, the main museum in the city, on Sunday.  It had paintings by famous painters such as Cezanne and Picasso.  It had a variety of historical objects too, from art to sculptures.  The museum is in a beautiful historic building.  We ended up visiting a different building across the city that is also associated with this museum that had even more pieces of art and a great deal of Picasso paintings.

On Monday, we went to Nice, a large city right on the Mediterranean Sea.  It is an absolutely beautiful city with breathtaking views.  We walked around in the historic part of Nice (Vieux Nice) and had a great lunch in a square overlooking a church.  After lunch, we walked up to a park above the city that had amazing views of the port of Nice, sea, and historic Nice.  It was great to be able to see the whole city.  After this, we walked along the sea and the famous Promenade des Anglais before going to the Cours Saleya (a humongous market with many things from food to paintings).  We left Nice and got back to Aix-en-Provence around dinnertime.  At that time, we went to get some falafel, as falafel is one of my favorite foods!  It was a great falafel sandwich.

Nice port

The beautiful port of the city of Nice

Tuesday, we stayed in Aix-en-Provence and explored some other attractions.  In the morning, we visited the Atelier Cezanne, the gallery where painter Paul Cezzane painted many of his paintings.  It was amazing seeing how similar this gallery looked to how it was when Cezanne was alive.  The old building must require a fair amount of maintenance.  After this, we had a great picnic lunch in the garden near his gallery, where Cezanne painted some of his famous paintings of Mount St. Victoire.  It was surreal being able to enjoy a traditional French picnic of a baguette and goat cheese while being able to take the serene landscape and the same mountains that Cezanne painted.  After this, we had a relaxing afternoon and had a Turkish dinner; I had lamb.

We traveled to other cities and towns in Provence (a region of southern France) on Wednesday.  First, we saw the hospital where Vincent Van Gogh spent some of his later years when he was experiencing emotional and mental duress.  After this, we went to the town of Saint Remy de Provence.  It is a classical French town with beautiful buildings, squares, and fountains all around the older part of the town.  There was a large market going on, where I had a fantastic sausage sandwich.  I also learned of a great drink known as a “Tango,” which is beer with grenadine syrup, quite a refreshing and delicious beverage.  After Saint Remy, we traveled to the larger city of Arles.  Arles is a very Roman city with a famous Arena and Antique Theater.  There were so many police officers around and we soon found out why; there was some sort of protest by farmers on a major street in Arles.  There were no less than 300 sheep in the streets!  After seeing this, it become a challenge getting around the streets of Arles, as the cops had many streets blocked off because of the protest going on.  Thankfully we got out of the city without encountering too much traffic and got back to Aix en Provence around dinnertime.  I had an amazing pizza (French pizzas are so tasty) with chorizo.

Thursday was my last full day in France.  We traveled to Cassis, a town on the Mediterranean that gets jammed with tourists in the summer, but was quite peaceful the day we went.  It was a beautiful town with a port and breathtaking scenery all around.  We went on a boat tour of the calanques (inlets near Cassis with amazing rocky structures; they are steep-sided valleys).  These were great to see and the boat tour went all the way into the outlets for us to see the beauty of these rocky structures.  After this, we walked around the port and headed back to my parent’s apartment.  For my last meal, I had a crepe dinner, which was a crepe with beef, crème fraiche, and onions, which was really delicious, as well as a dessert crepe which had apple and sugar.  We walked around the city of Aix en Provence for our last night to admire the beauty one last time.

Calanques

A calanque, an inlet with towering rocky cliffs

Friday, I left to go back to Dublin and got back around 3:00 pm to meet up with my friends who were visiting from Edinburgh.  The next blog post will cover the fun St. Patrick’s Day Weekend!

Overall, it was a great week seeing my parents after not being able to see them for two months.  The awesome weather of highs in the mid 60s (I wore short sleeves every day) combined with the destinations that we visited and tasty food that I was able to eat contributed to one of the best weeks of my study abroad semester yet.


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