Saturday, May 16, 2009

Back to the Beginning

Oftentimes the end of a journey will closely resemble the beginning. There’s the same medley of feelings, excitement at the thought of embarking, anticipation of a new adventure, trepidation at adjusting to a different environment, and a little pang of loss at leaving what has been your home for so long. When I think about going home, spending the summer in Ithaca, images of weekends spent at the farmer’s market and nights attending free concerts on the Art’s Quad fill my mind. However, it’s hard to reconcile the idea that after a busy day working I won’t be able to walk to school and swing by the College Bar for a pint of Guinness. I know it will feel unnatural not to have a Trad Session going on when I walk into a pub and I’ll dearly miss the Irish slang of “savage,” “class,” and “grand”. I sat with my roommate Meg on the side of the Claddagh, eating rasberries from the weekend market, and it suddenly hit me, that I wouldn't be doing this again for a long long time.

I’m ready to go home and spend time with my parents. The thought of catching up with friends at school and sitting at the State Street Diner for a tuna melt that tastes more like mayonnaise than tuna and does not include corn it’s a dizzyingly thrilling prospect. However, after a month or two I know the wanderlust will return and I’ll be ready to hop back on a plane to Galway. It will be lovely to be home, but I’m starting to wish that being in Ireland and returning to Ithaca weren’t mutually exclusive endeavors.

During college the concept of home for many students gets turned upside down. For those of us who define home as the place where our loved ones reside, it can become tricky as to where we want to leave our hearts. Loyalties and friendships shift from high school to college, as new bonds are forged over late night binges of Wings Over Ithaca and Insomnia Cookies. However, sometimes, instead of establishing a new place to call hearth and home, you’re left feeling unsettled and stretched, straddling two different locations and sets of families. Going abroad adds yet another branch to the metaphorical family tree. It's as normal to me now to walk down the street and see a pasture as it is to come into close contact with a castle. I walk around my countryside hometown and keep on wondering why the sheep aren't spraypainted in cotton candy colors (something the Irish do to keep track of their flock).

The strangest thing about coming home has been how little effort it’s taken to adjust. After spending the last five months in a continual state of trying to assimilate, it’s an unfamiliar feeling to slip easily into a comfortable environment. It’s both reassuring and disappointing to find my world so unchanged. I feel like I’ve been soaked, put through a blender, and spit back out to make all-natural paper Christmas cards. It’s strange that the internal difference isn’t reflected in the world around me, or in more colloquial terms; it seems wrong that everything looks the same when I feel so different. Still there’s a symmetry to my surroundings here that exudes comfort, something about the winding country roads, each bend of which tells a childhood story, that makes me feel at peace. Thus the story has come to its end, a circular journey in which the heroine returns back to the location of her origin, only instead of the keys to the kingdom, or an ancient royal heirloom, I’m armed with hundreds of digital photos, a couple of filched Guinness glasses, and a view of the world that's a little more stretched than what I started with.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Penultimate Week-long Getaway

Studying abroad is not a vacation. One of the most defining moments during the study abroad experience occurs after the honeymoon period has worn off. Instead of a tourist’s fascination with every new sight, “Man I really need a picture of that gorgeous gas station over there,” a veteran’s weariness seems to set in. The first time I walked home in the rain only to have my grocery bags break 100 meters from my front door I found myself cursing Ireland. The nonstop misting rain that makes it feel like you’re constantly walking through a sponge, the environmental bent that means you need to pay for grocery bags, the temperature that’s only available in Celsius so that I never have any clue what the weather forecast for the day is, all these things suddenly stopped being quaint and refreshing and a “grand adventure.” This was the moment I knew I had ceased to be a tourist. This was also the moment I knew it was time for a real vacation.

Luckily, the past Grace had possessed the foresight to predict this moment. Three friends and I had made plans to venture to sunny Croatia, the new south of France. We found cheap flights to Zadar, the only available airport when you’re coming from Dublin, and rented an apartment for the week. When we arrived, knowing only the Croatian word, “bog” for hello, we were promptly greeted at the airport by the owner of the hotel, carrying a sign that read Aliza, the name of my friend who had booked the apartment. For a mere 15 euros (115 or so Kunas, the local currency) a night, we were privy to the most beautiful lodgings I stayed in my entire time abroad, complete with balcony porch, in ground pool, grill, and garden. A coffee maker graced our apartment and we began the trip by partaking of one of the three free bottles of wine provided to us by the owners.

Croatia was everything I needed in a tropical getaway. We spent our first few days marveling over the cheap prices and purchasing the necessities (which turned out to be a 1 lb bag of almonds and lots of pasta) at the local versions of 7/11s, along with the outdoor market in town. Zadar, the fifth biggest city in Croatia, is broken up into the old and new sectors. The old section of town is comprised of white stone streets, red clay roofs, and outdoor restaurants and bars. However, the most significant places in old town Zadar was the forest tucked away into a corner of the city, swelling to mythical proportions in the pre-dusk light, and the Sea Organ, a testament to nature and engineering which consisted of a series of pipes that were places into the ocean at different levels so that with each wave a new sound was created, often resembling a whale’s song. I finished five books while lying by the side of our hotel pool and finally chased away some of my skin’s reflective paleness brought on by Ireland’s cloud-cover.

The most memorable day by far was spent exploring Krka National Park. From the very beginning we had planned on touring around to see Croatia’s famous waterfalls. However, I had been expecting something akin to East Coast falls, singular entities that plunge in linear fashion from hundreds of feet. Instead the entire park is blanketed in a series of rapidly swelling waterfalls, the width of the entire river. Using man-made wooden pathways, it’s possible to traverse the entire park, weaving over and under these massive falls, spying the local wildlife on the way, which includes such beauties as the human fish (a fish that possesses elbows…creepy indeed).