A Bull in Both Directions

The thing about hiking the PCT, the thing that was so profound to me that summer – yet also, like most things, so very simple – was how few choices I had and how often I had to do the thing I least wanted to do…There were only two and they were essentially the same.

I could go back in the direction I had come from, or I could go forward in the direction I intended to go. The bull, I acknowledged grimly, could be in either direction, since I hadn’t seen where he’d run once I closed my eyes. I could only choose between the bull that would take me back and the bull that would take me forward.

And so I walked on.”

Cheryl Strayed, Wild

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A Little Dose of Reality 

Writing the majority of this blog after it all happening, curled in my own cozy bed in the States, has me remembering most of the exciting times: the ones I obviously first think of with clarity and boundless pictures.

However, a dear friend (handsome, smart, kind… Okay yeah my boyfriend) earnestly reminded me that I needed to write about it all: including the day I completely fell to pieces at how much I wanted to leave Cork and never, ever come back.

One of the nights there we all went out to get drinks and dance. No one could decide on a place to go, and we wandered until finally deciding on a place. Very cheap drinks, but also all people our parents age and above. Trying to push past all of the older adults, I was shocked to have unwanted attention by a 50-something year old man – one of my friends had to literally push him off for me to glare and step away (more like run).

I’m sorry. Passing by you in a crowded room with a drink in my hand doesn’t exactly indicate an open invitation, sir.

And so it began.

Another place and at the back of the line to get in, I was one of the last to go and pay the entry fee. One of the girls in my group was denied entrance, and instead of just leaving her there, a couple of us left with her.

A few more clubs and pubs and basically anything open wouldn’t let her in at the age of 19, and I was getting really frustrated. Some days the age is 18, probably even 12 who knew, yet tonight was the night the bouncers all decided 21 was the magic number. I was starving, and when we passed by a McDonalds I was begging them to go in with me.

There was security guarding the place, for food. I tried not to worry why, but realized immediately when I stepped in.

I’d never been more nervous and afraid my entire time abroad. Every person there gave me the heeby jeebies, and looked at us, well, like teenaged American girls – all alone and not exactly dressed for a classy evening. I ordered a sweet tea and fries, and ended up getting hot tea with a pile of sugar packets and cold, hard slabs of potato. So gross in fact, that one of the girls with us, still drunk, loudly claimed that “After the potato famine you’d think they’d know how to properly prepare potatoes” (even more scary death stares, as you can imagine).

As we tried to high-tail it out of there, a not-so-nice homeless man blocked our way to talk to us, and continued to give us reason to want to leave.  When we finally did, we quickly and quietly started walking back to our apartments. As we were rushing and talking about what a weird night it turned out to be, we passed by a dark window with no blinds or curtains. Here a woman decided it would be funny to dress in all black lace and a black curly wig to hide and then completely slam herself against the window from the inside and shriek. I’m not kidding, shriek at us, like a bad Blair Witch Project and we all gasped and screamed and stopped and knocked into each other so hard that one of the girls snapped her shoe apart, and then had to walk the rest of the way home half-barefoot.

Unfortunately, I’m the kind of person who laughs when they’re overly uncomfortable, so of course that’s the moment I just giggled at the whole situation, which pretty much made everyone more agitated.

We all got home just fine, and I tried to shake it off as I went to bed. The next day though I just had a grudge against Cork. I expect something like that in big cities like New York, but where was the famous Ireland hospitality? All I found that night were drug addicts and creepy men, mean bouncers and weird witch women, and bitterly complained about it the whole next day, not wanting to participate in anything.

Thing is, that’s a whole day I can’t have back in Ireland. We were in a city, and any city is bound to have areas more sketchy than others. It just so happened that everything that could be bad happened at one time, and the rest of the trip wasn’t remotely anything like that night.

In fact, the reason we kept going out at all was because it was so different from the States. People here just wanted to dance, meet new people and have a great time. I kept thinking wow, getting overly sloppy and gropey must be an American thing in clubs.

I was shocked to have had so many bad experiences in one night, but I wish I didn’t let it ruin my view of Cork for the following day. I like to believe that I wasn’t naive enough to think that this trip would be all rolling hills and happy times.

I know to be cautious, to travel in groups and not get too drunk and alone, especially in another country. These weren’t new lessons for me: what I learned is that good and bad things will happen. Actually, if that’s the worst of it, I can definitely consider myself lucky.

I received a little dose of reality: that you shouldn’t get too comfortable, and feel like you know exactly what to expect of every day and night.

Things happen, and as important as it is to be prepared, I learned it’s almost equally as important to learn when to shake things off.

To make up for the lack of photos and all-around good humor, here’s the woman in the window that night.

   (Just kidding, mad respect for Meryl)

But really who does that??

We Were, In Fact, In a Park

Someone, somewhere, somehow briefly mentioned Killarney National Park, and after a quick Google search the whole group (at least the “leftovers” who did not travel) were sold on getting up early and spending the day there.

Little did we know just how difficult it is to get a direct bus there on a Thursday morning. The schedules online and at the bus stops were completely different, and nothing seemed clear. Standing at a bus stop an hour later, we decided to give up and walked home. Just shy of going up to our apartment, my roommates and I decided to try one more time and picked the brains of a few employees of UCC.

A few hours off schedule and a little frustrated, we were all finally en route to Killarney. Carpe diem, right? Looking back now, it was clear all of us just figured even if we saw a few minutes of that stupid park, at least all of that frustration and fumbling wouldn’t be for nothing.

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As you can see, it was quite worth it. No adventure goes smoothly, and as soon as we get off the bus and asked what the last bus to take us back to Cork was, we were replied with 6:30. That only gave us a few hours to navigate a 26,000 acre park, and there was no transportation from the actual town Killarney to the park.

We were going to see this park, no matter what. We trekked through the town and after about thirty minutes or so, finally started to see some of that beautiful landscape we envisioned. A few of us voiced our worries about just how far we should walk before we get lost and not be able to get back to the bus in time, and as soon as we were getting weary of where we were actually going, we found a trail that deviated from the road and well why not get more lost while we’re at it.

Just a simple trail, nothing too exciting

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And as we round the corner, this is suddenly our view.

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Walk a little further, as if it wasn’t breathtaking enough, there stood a building (feat. Walt, Emily, and Lucas), that we later learned was the preserved McCarthy Mor Castle.

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Literally every turn of your head (and every miniscule alteration of my camera) was a spectacular view, and we were so glad that something told us to go down this obscure trail.

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This being our view from the castle, we didn’t much care about the fact that there was no way we could see the rest of the park that day.

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In case you were wondering if it was windy in Ireland.

So, all was well and all, except for the fact that after an hour or so, I was starting to get antsy. Since walking from the town and seeing nothing but green, green, green everywhere, and then seeing this view I kept wondering when we would actually get to the park. This was fun, but I was going to be so disappointed if we came all this way to see this one spot before even making it into the park.

If perhaps you’re smarter than me, or just catching on to my bitter irony, we were in the park the whole time. I’m not sure if I was waiting on a sign or what (and I still can’t tell you where the park ended and the walk to the town began) but I was completely mind-boggled when one of the guys, after snickering for a good while, finally broke the humiliating news to me.

If you’re a movie geek like me, you’re probably laughing at the fact that this is almost exactly like a scene from P.S. I Love You. When the ill-fated couple met in Galway, Ireland, Hilary Swank was wandering around, asking for directions to a park while actually in the park for a good few hours. I met no Gerard Butler, but I was just the butt-end of many jokes the next few days.

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Another trail, and we find this. Apologies for the lack of focus – I was still getting used to my new lens (Thanks G) but still thought this was a pretty amazing view.

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In all, this is what our beautiful walk looked like for the majority of the day.

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Not to beat a dead horse, but I’d like to point out that at the end of our day, this sign, right here, is the ONLY sign I saw all day that even remotely resembled a park sign, which only says all dogs must be on leashes. Just saying.

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Before heading back, we passed by this beautiful church and graveyard, guarded by a few cows.

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Satisfied and deeply exhausted, we all collapsed onto the bus seats for the ride home. We had walked so much that my sturdy-you’ll-never-get-a-blister hiking sandals had to be peeled off my feet, leaving tan lines, dirt lines, and blister lines sneaking all the way from the loop toe to the heel. I type this happily though, honestly – that’s just how much I saw and experienced that day on my own two feet (and a bus).

Plus I got a really cool head-shot out of it (thanks again Dan).IMG_3276

It’s been weeks since I was sitting on that rock in Killarney, not knowing we were in Killarney, but time has  not faded the feeling of being in front of a view like that. It makes you feel so small yet so powerful at the same time – you’re there because you got there, and for no other reason than to just take it in and experience it.

A Legendary Night

FullSizeRender-11Oh right, before the excitement of the travel block, I think I forgot to mention that I very impulsively decided to join some of the girls on the trip to see John Legend in concert, and it was an amazing performance.

Just in case you’re interested, (and if you’re not you’re crazy) I’ll share a few of the highlights.

Such as, his body

his style

his smooth moves

and of course his voice and piano playing.

My favorite song of the night was by far Lay Me Down, even sans Sam Smith it was amazing.

Kinsale

After a day or two more of class class, work work, we then had our “travel block,” an allotted time to travel on our own since our study abroad trip was a tad different from most, moving around often on the weekends.

A few had parents meet them to travel in Europe, while others traveled on their own. However a group of us, staring at the prices of absurd train tickets, skeptical  of the few available hostels left, and feeling just how tired we were, we gave up on the idea of Belfast. We decided instead to stay and explore a little more outside of Cork, without having to stay the night anywhere.

While this isn’t quite as exciting as traveling to other parts of Europe, we still had some adventures of our own that looking back now, I wouldn’t take back for a beautiful view by myself somewhere further away. Not to hurt anyone’s feelings who had other plans, but those days really brought the group of us closer together, and more of friends than just travel companions.

DSC_0264So after the disappointment and frustrations of learning (yes, parents, we know) that you really do have to plan things out well in advance to work out smoothly, we didn’t want to let the first travel day go to waste. We got up early (as in before lunch time) and hopped on a bus to Kinsale, a beautiful and historic fishing town in County Cork, just forty or so minutes away from our apartments.

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While we were loving the city life, I think we were all grateful for a change of pace. Kinsale was small and had a completely different feel to it: people were just walking around playing fiddles and drinking outside before breakfast. All starving, we walked into the first restaurant we walked by: Fishy Fishy. Luckily for us, we overheard other tourists in there that the very place we stumbled into is known as one of the top town favorites.

DSC_0272After eating together and walking around some, we divided up between the walkers and the drinkers: half the group stayed to drink at a local pub, while the other half went to explore a historic fort. I decided on the historic route, which at first I deeply regretted: it started to downpour and the wind was atrocious, and after a mile or so, I asked how much longer we had, to which the person who was in a sense “leading” this little walk replied it was a three mile walk there and back. I was drenched and really regretting not bringing rain boots, then a few more paces and I just plain regretted not staying behind to drink, as early in the day that it was.

However, like all things, even walking down the side of a windy road in the rain, ended up being completely worth it. When I took a few minutes to stop being miserable, I snagged this picture of what our walk was like.

DSC_0327So yeah, stop complaining Taylor. We took a few wrong turns, asked a few directions, and climbed upward on a very muddy trail and at the top we had quite the view of Charles Fort, circa 1677.

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This partially restored fort was amazing to walk around, and even had this cute archway, which required a mini-photo shoot of course.  DSC_0385After seeing the fort, because I didn’t realize we were going on a six mile long excursion, I asked a few locals if there was a restroom nearby, since there seemed to be quite a few businesses still open. To show Ireland’s well-known hospitality, one of the locals said sure, and before I knew it keyed me in to a garage with a restroom. As soon as the door closed I thought, well here I go, already getting into sketchy situations all because of my need to use the bathroom. I decided I might as well go before finding out my fate.

Obviously, I’m still here. Sure enough I was able to leave the garage, with the locals smiling and laughing with the rest of the JMU students and then moving on their merry way.

The walk back to civilization wasn’t too bad without the rain, plus you know, after finally having used the restroom after hours of having to go. FullSizeRender FullSizeRender-1

After our tired legs finally got back, we decided we really needed a pint. However, we made our way to The Black Pig. They did did not have beer, (plenty of wine) but it was so cute that we decided to stay. We found out later that we really lucked out with this hole-in-the-wall of a place as well, voted one of the top restaurants in Cork.

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Trying to find the other half of our group that split up earlier in the day (the downfalls of having no cellular service and relying on spotty wifi ((pronounced by our professor, weefee)) basically meant zero communication availability,) we went walking to find “the loudest pub possible… the boys will be there.”

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While we didn’t find them, we did stumble into some live music, and locally brewed Kinsale beer.

So, I’d say a success of a day.

We grabbed some fish and chips, coated with vinegar and salt, while waiting for the bus to take us home. We were exhausted and worried about the rest of the group (who was in fact sound asleep and drunk, already back home having caught a bus back earlier) but ended up watching the sun set in quaint Kinsale before crashing in our apartments in Cork.

FullSizeRenderSo we learned the hard way that:

A. It’s extremely difficult to travel in a small town with a large group.

B. Communication is inherently limited in foreign countries. Don’t rely on it for anything.

C. Expectation of meeting back up with that group should be kept at a minimum. Don’t wait up.

No harm, no foul, and unlike the drunkies, at least we were able to see some amazing fiddling… and a drunken local trying to keep pace with said fiddler. Definitely a highlight for sure.

 

A Closer View of Cork

The next few days in Cork consisted of working on CaC projects or screening films. One day, a few of us explored Cork a little more than, well the pubs and clubs.DSC_0044

So here is Cork through the eye of my lens… and not through my drunken eyes late at night or sleepy eyes on the way to class in the morning, desperately searching for coffee on the way

(I think the ladies at bagel box knew us all by name by the end of our time there, thank god for Bagel Box.)

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One thing that really stood out to me on our exploration of the city was all of the amazing graffiti. Offensive and obscene is easy (ignore the giant blue word on the “If I die” wall…) but this kind of graffiti was art. This is just a small portion of what I found – and could be seen in varying parts of the city, wealthy or not.

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It was a long walk from our apartments at UCC to downtown, so usually we either hurriedly scurried or took a bus. Today it was nice to just take our time and really look around at the mixture of nature and city life.

For instance, our simple five minute detour not only took us to the Time Traveler’s Bookshop (picture numerous rare novels dating back centuries ago, picture a blissful Taylor smelling old books that you can’t quite get from a Kindle), but also to a beautiful cathedral. I’d always noticed the tippy top of it, and was impressed enough by the top, but was finally able to see the entire thing when we rounded the corner (and had to crane our necks to actual see the whole thing.)

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The immense amount of detail on the outside alone was astounding, and I can truthfully say that the pictures don’t nearly capture it well enough. While walking around the entire thing, a homeless man curiously came up to us while we were furiously focusing our lenses and taking pictures. He started to tell us yes look, take pictures, but don’t forget to look. It’s hard to see it all through your camera. And while I agree with him fully, I also had to disagree slightly – at first I took it all in, and then I decided to capture it forever, to be able to share it with others and look back on this day because I knew my memory of it would fade.

Both of us were right, it all just takes balance. Often I’m taking it in so much that I forget to take any photographs, and wish I could have something to remember it by. Other times, I take a hundred different versions of the same photograph, and don’t even remember what it was like to be there and experience it. This was only a three-minute conversation with the man, if that, but really had me thinking that day. (Wow sorry for the tangent, I tend to ramble.)

I digress, we ended our exploration at the English Market: a literal hole in the wall of an entrance, but inside a huge food extravaganza: amazing cheeses, vegetables, bread, chocolates, coffee… safe to say I made that trip a couple more times before leaving Cork.

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On the way home one of us pointed out a kebob place, which to be honest was really sketchy in and outside, but had the best lamb kebobs ever. I don’t recall ever having tried that before, and while that’s not necessarily tasting Irish culture, I knew I wanted to try everything I came across, and was really glad cause it was really good.FullSizeRender-3And of course, we couldn’t stay away from the pubs and clubs for long, and thought I’d share that at one of the places, The Bailey, we found a Pringle vending machine. Pringles. From a vending machine.

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