before we knew it all...

guys, guys, guys!  look at it!  i just found this.  this is the first picture of me in ireland.  i look relaxed, but i was anything but.  i was in my first bar as an alcohol-consuming human and i knew nothing about what i'd like to drink.  that's peach schnapps in my hand there.  no, i didn't finish it.  i was walking around a new city with a new friend and everything was just...so...new.

"ah, what a long way we've come," she says as she eyes that last cider in the fridge.

what a long way, indeed.  :)


it's the (bear) pits

Rick Steves had a better time in Bern than I did.  I can't actually say that for certain, since I barely remember what all I did there, but a few weeks ago, I had the good fortune to catch his Bern program on a PBS sub-channel, and...yeah, I'm 80% sure I definitely didn't do what he did.

(How much did I drink that night?)

Just kidding!  That picture's from Dresden.  In all seriousness, though, the most probable reasons I can't remember much of Bern are 1) because I had fallen into a hunger-based stupor and 2) I had scrapped my original plan on the train (see: hunger induced stupor).  My original plan, in case you were wondering, was to find a way to stay in Lausanne or Geneva and stalk Stephane Lambiel (or at least go to the Olympic Museum and see his Magical Zebra Costume).  Unfortunately, I decided that the logistics of this trip would be too taxing on my weakened spirits and my much deflated budget, so I stayed in Bern, where I didn't really care to be, and where it did nothing but rain the second day.  That said, it wasn't as miserable as this would make it seem.

From the pictures I have saved and my  June bank statement, I can deduce that three main things happened:
1) I walked around a lot.
2) I spent a lot of money.
3) I painted my nails.

Honestly, aside from the second thing, it was nice to stay in one place.  Far beyond my expectations, Schwiezerdeutsch was incredibly difficult to understand.  In a hunger induced stupor, I somehow managed to stumble into a cute little vegetarian restaurant advertising take-away containers filled with food for 3,70 a Schale.  Without bothering to read the fine print, in proper co-oper style, I mixed tofu with salad with pasta with cheese with beans with rice and ended up with a mass amount of food.  Expecting to pay only 3,70, I was surprised (and embarrassed) when the man at the counter tried to explain to me in Schwiezerdeutsch that the payment is by weight.  I ended up paying 22-CHF for the damn thing.  To make matters worse, the poor lad was forced to get cheeky.  "You can take the bread off for the weighing," he said in Swiss German.  I did nothing.  "You can take the bread off," he repeated.  Again, he was met with my blank stare.  "Do you speak German?" he asked.  The German minor in me, of course, was slightly offended, so I said "Ja!" and looked indignant.  He shook his head and tsked his tongue and said in English, "Take the bread off, miss."

So, having failed to save money and having embarrassed myself trying to understand a language I thought I'd generally become comfortable speaking, I dejectedly took my take-away container to some steps to eat and stew in my own shame.  (Also, don't get a tram pass for more than one trip.  Once you get your bags places, you can generally walk everywhere.  This mistake cost me a good 12-CHF if we're counting, and I'm always counting when it comes to my money.)

since the late 15th century in the city-gates pit.  1513-1763 on bear-square.  (like eyre square!  it rhymes!)  today's cages built 1856/7 by architect friedrich tschiffeli, renovated in 1925. conversion of the pits 1995/6. 

That fiasco over, I set off to see the most memorable part of my trip to Bern: the bear pits, or Bärengraben.  They aren't exactly what they were in the 16th century, but they're still pretty damn cool.  It's basically this habitat for bears that you can watch them playing and sleeping and generally being adorable.  Bears are everywhere in Bern, actually.  Not real ones, of course.  But there are lots of statues.  There's even one across the Aar River that's standing on its hind legs and looks real.  Not kidding, either.  I legitimately thought to call the police every time I glanced across the river because I thought that there was a bear escaped from the pits.  Good thing I didn't.  That bear is a fake!

these bears are not fake

Other things I did...hmmm.  I took a walk along the Aar, splashed my feet in the crystal blue waters, tried (and failed) to find salamanders or snakes, saw a cool cathedral, played in fountains, took pictures, listened to a brass band in a square, saw the Zytglogge (Zeitglocke) do it's thang.  (Sorry for all the links, dear readers.  But I really can't for the life of me remember any of these cool facts [see: hunger induced stupor] and I shouldn't take credit for things I don't remember, should I?)  I also painted my nails and repacked my bags and ate some chocolate and pasta (because grocery stores in Bern were expensive too, goddammit!), watched telly, and splashed in a few puddles.

Just for your information, I keep coming back to the fact that I painted my nails because I left my nail polish in Bern.  I left my towel there too, but it's not as important as my purple nail polish.  It was a conscious choice to leave it, but just a word on how great it was... I got it for prom my senior year of high school because I wore a purple dress (PURPLE!!).  Painting my nails became a great way to bond with one of my really close friends sophomore year of college.  Then I went to Ireland and painted my Very Cheap Mobile so it didn't look like everyone else's.  Then I gave the nail polish one last huzzah in Bern when my nails were looking especially good.  And, in case you were wondering, I do kind of miss it.

Oh, yeah, and speaking of Rick Steves, I definitely thought I saw him in Bern.  I'd just finished making a fool of myself taking a dozen awkward self-timer pictures with a bear statue when I stood up and saw a man with blondish hair, a blue collard T-shirt, khaki pants, and glasses.  It goes without saying that I ditched my planned route to follow him.  I kept wondering where the cameras were, if this really was Rick Steves, but I'd somehow convinced myself that he was on a real vacation and didn't want to be bothered with all that travel show nonsense.  So I followed this man for about twenty minutes until he met a girl at a cafe and began speaking flawless Schwiezerdeutsch.  By then I was lost, and he probably though I was creepy, but it lead me to cool fountains and a neat spider sculpture.  So it's all cool.  (And, since I typically followed nuns for fun, I suppose I am creepy?)

 awkward self-timer pics, ahoy!

And on that note, I will leave you.  Final destination: London.



Much to the surprise of my pre-planned travel itinerary, I found out in Florence that I was going to be spending a night in Milan on my way to Bern, Switzerland.  Now, this is probably gonna be the hundredth time I've said it, but I could not wait to get out of Italy.  My diet there consisted of the occasional apple, Kinder Bueno bars, and gelato, though I did have toast one or two times at the hostel in Venice.  The language barrier was tiring, especially since I was alone and didn't even know how to say "excuse me" on public transportation.  I hated getting lost, and I was running out of money.  This is not because Italy is a miserable place to travel.  It's actually incredibly beautiful and worth every bit of suffering.  I'd do it over again in a heartbeat.  But that's all retrospective.  While I was there, when I wasn't busy being awed, I was busy being miserable.

So an extra day in Italy was sounding pretty dreadful when the man at the train station told me there was absolutely no way I could get from Florence to Bern on Monday morning.  Much to the surprise of my doomsday fatalism, everything was fine.

There's really not much to say about Milan.  They have a nice tube system.  For some reason I had to borrow fifty cents from some really nice tourists to get to the hostel.  I eventually found it.  It was run by a surprisingly unwelcoming Irish bloke and his friends (from various other countries) but I got a room to myself for mos of the day.  It rained a lot.  I got a slice of pizza from a fast food place because I decided I'd die without it.  I followed a nun, found, and went inside a cool cathedral.  It rained some more. I passed a lot of cheery-looking flower stands and contemplated buying some.  More rain. I met a nice woman from New Zealand who, in exchange for the use of my iPod charger, gave me some really delicious chocolate.  I called my mom from a balcony and it continued to rain.  I had peanut butter for breakfast the next morning and left.

And that is literally it.

Thank god I plan trips as neurotically as I pack for them.  I left two blank days on my EURail Pass for those just-in-case emergencies (or whims if you're an optimist).  20 euro (for the hostel) + 10 euro (for the ticket reservation) + 3 euro (for the pizza) = a minimal amount spent in exchange for a valuable learning moment.

One word of serious advice, though, to anyone traveling with a EURail Pass: The trains in Italy are not as mind-blowingly awesome as the trains in Germany/Austria/Switzerland.  They are usually late.  They are crowded and the air conditioning is usually broken.  You must make a reservation (10 euro), and I'd recommend making it days in advance.  At the very least, as soon as you arrive in a city, make your reservation to get to the next one.  This is especially important if you are traveling on a busy day, like Monday morning, Friday afternoon, Sunday night, &c.  This last bit of advice can be useful in the other countries mentioned as well.  I made one reservation while in Germany because I was traveling to Munich (a popular destination) on a Sunday (a popular day).  I didn't actually need it even then, but it was nice to have that added security.

Basically, what you're meant to gather from this post is that Milan was neither pleasant nor miserable, just a little unexpected blip where I continued my favorite game of "Follow That Nun!" and spent a ridiculous amount of time just listening to it rain.  Next stop: Bern, the city where I realised things!  What sort of things?  You'll just have to wait and find out!


you've been a long way away

So, I was watching a movie in our college's German House.  Mind you, it was a movie I love about a group I love that sang songs I love, so I was generally pretty content.  I'd spent the day coloring with crayons, reading primary source documents, taking part in tea parties behind the information desk, and chatting with friends.  So, yeah, I'd say I was pretty content.  And then these lyrics happened:

Irgendwo auf der Welt gibt’s ein kleines bißchen Glück,
und ich träum davon in jedem Augenblick.
Irgendwo auf der Welt gibt’s ein bißchen Seligkeit,
und ich träum davon schon lange, lange Zeit.
Wenn ich wußt’, wo das ist, ging ich in die welt hinein,
denn ich möcht’ einmal recht, so von Herzen glücklich sein.
Irgendwo auf der Welt fängt mein Weg zum Himmel an
Irgendwo, irgendwie, irgendwann.

Very roughly this translates to: "Somewhere in the world, there's a little bit of bliss, and I dream about it all the time.  If I knew where it was, I'd travel the whole wide world over, because all I really want is to be happy.  Somewhere, somehow, someday."  Now, I've heard these lyrics a lot, and they've always struck a chord with me.  They're sad-but-sweet, and they're true, and really just...Well, they're fabulous, but they've never hit me quite like they did when I was biking home.  I was honestly just whistling the tune while waiting for the stop light to change so I could continue my commute homewards.  I was looking at the holiday decorations and the war memorial and then, all of a sudden--BAM!  Fernweh, wanderlust, get-me-out-of-here-can't-you-see-I'm-trapped!

Don't get me wrong.  It's not that I don't like it here.  Well, I'll be honest and say I don't always like it here.  I have a very love-hate relationship with Oberlin, but I love Ohio and I've lived here all my life.  Unless someone dashing from another state comes along and gives me a good reason to leave forever, I'll probably live here the rest of my life.  There is a very big part of me, in fact, that enjoys being a hermit Hobbit homebody, which is probably why the prospect of not traveling over breaks this year didn't ruin my life.  But every Hobbit needs an adventure, and I'm seriously Bilbo-ing hard right now.  I want to see mountains, Gandalf!  Mountains! There's a huge big world out there, and it makes me feel tiny, but I'm like those super-flexi trash bags!  I can take it all in, no worries, !  Please, please, please, please, please let me go!

I guess...what I'm trying to say (really, honest-to-God) is not that I'm unhappy here.  I'm definitely some sort of happy here.  I've been down, but I'm on the up and it's feeling good.  But there's still another sort of happy out there that I left behind.  I want to have a plan, a direction.  I want my confidence back.  The past few days, I've been dreaming of Ireland and Germany.  I've been lost in the Dublin airport again, on the trams in Dresden, splashing my feet in the Corrib, sleeping in a creaky hostel cot.  I traveled to Ireland by myself, around Ireland (sometimes) by myself, across Europe by myself, but sometimes, when I'm here, I'm afraid to walk home from the library by myself.  Loneliness here can be crushing.  Loneliness abroad is empowering.

So, yeah.  It's late, I'm tired, and introspection doesn't suit me.  Basically, just know that, yes, I'm going to see mountains again, and--yup!--I'm going to travel the world, and then I'll know how to be truly happy somewhere, somehow, someday...


promiscuous drunks, friendly calls, and humbug resolutions

I'll just start right off the bat by saying that title is a bit misleading.  Sorry.  While I could have gotten drunk and had a jolly old time for NYE, I forgot to buy cider when I was out and there was no point in risking my life on the dangerous drunken roads of the New Year.  (As much as I love making fun of how my dear mother worries, she does often have a point, and this is one of those rare occasions where I actually agree with her.  After 8pm on December 31st, I like to stay put.)  So, the whole not-driving-on-NYE thing takes care of the "friendly calls" part, and I've never been one for keeping resolutions, and I long since resolved not to make them.  So, I guess the title is more than a bit misleading.  It's actually just an outright lie.  If I had to describe my night, it would probably look something like this:  "Facebook, Father Ted, and Blankets"

Which, in all honesty, is not a bad way to go.

When I think back on 2011, it's hard to believe that what happened actually happened to me.  A year ago  tomorrow, I was dropped off at the Columbus airport nearly four hours early en route to Galway, Ireland.  I had short hair, snazzy glasses, and a new (used) iPod to entertain me.  Some hours later, I was in Dublin, trying to keep an amiable look about me and listen as people tried to tell me about what my life would look like for the next five-or-so months.  (No matter how much they told me about cooking for myself, I knew I'd be burning water and eating lots of raw pasta.)   Everyone seemed to be just bursting with tired excitement, but, if I'm to be telling the truth, I was genuinely terrified.  I'd brought more than just the allotted 23kg checked baggage, and planning to work on all my social anxieties in a new country where I knew not a soul was probably the worst (see: best) idea I've had in a while.

I'm not going to lie and say it was a sudden thing, that the raging winter winds just up and whipped all the shyness out of me as I crossed over the Corrib to start classes at NUIG.  And I'm not gonna say that I didn't cry once the entire term, because there were definitely times when I was so frustrated and confused that I did sit in my room and wonder what the hell did I think I was doing.  Gradually, though, I began to figure it out.  I actually made friends on my own, and I wasn't afraid to ask people to hang out.  I felt valued as an individual for the first time in ages, like I was involved, engaged, and wanted.  And as I began to value myself again, I rediscovered the courage from my freshman year at Oberlin to not let opportunities pass me by, just because no one else wanted to grab them with me.  There was no shame in going for a pint alone, and there was something so breathtakingly exhilarating in my solitary late-night walks though the city.  Literally, I felt like I could do anything!  And I really could.  I had my first pint, learned to speak Irish, danced reels on the street, met Josh Ritter in Dublin, stayed with relatives-of-my-dance-teacher's-sister in Kilkenny, rode a bike around Inis Mor, saw bog bodies, took archaeology classes, rode a giant swing even though I was sure I would die, watched EuroVision live, found a new melodramatic soap opera, cooked for myself, stayed up past 4am and slept past noon, explored Barna Woods on a whim, spoke German without fear, saw a murder hole in a medieval castle, was followed by a dude in a horse mask, ate corn on pizza, went to mass in an honest-to-god cathedral, and loads of other amazing things.  Oh, yeah, and then I went around Europe by myself for four weeks.  No big deal or anything.

(Just kidding, by the way.  It's a huge deal.  Really...just...what a life!)

Now, loving oneself may seem like such an elementary concept, but it's something I'd somehow managed to forget, and what's sad is that I forgot again as soon as I started back at Oberlin.  It was literally like someone had turned all my memories of Ireland and Europe to smoke and I was clutching madly after them to no avail.  From where I'm standing at the beginning of 2012 and looking back to the beginning of this past semester, again, it's hard to believe that what happened happened to me.  It's hard to believe that I could have felt so deeply alone that I would have to leave movie nights to cry in the bathroom.  It was like I was living in a soap opera where nothing goes right and everyone ends up needing brain surgery and a miracle.  What had been empowering abroad suddenly felt so soul-crushingly terrible that I almost gave up.  After three and a half years struggling at Oberlin but refusing to throw in the towel, and in the midst of writing a senior thesis, I honestly came this close to taking a personal leave and never coming back.  I would have been glad to leave, too.  Lord knows I'd thought about leaving for long enough.

I'm not going to lie and say that I still don't wonder what my life would have been like if I'd transferred after my first year like I'd planned, but that's a different life I'll never lead.  There's no use thinking about it, anyway, and what makes the horrible first half of this semester so hard to believe, honestly, is the fact that the last few weeks were positively wonderful.  I'm not going to try to explain it, because I honestly can't, but for some reason, I started to wake up smiling.  Co-op life, which had frustrated me to no end at the beginning of the semester, all of a sudden began to fulfill me once more.  My wonderful co-workers, who had supported me through all of my (probably annoying) troubles at the beginning of the semester, continued to be some of the best friends a girl could ask for.  I met new people in the co-op and in my honors seminar.  For the first time since I quit taking the viola seriously, I enjoyed going to CCS rehearsal every Tuesday.  I watched (and screamed over) Merlin every Saturday with the fandom friends.  I dyed my bangs purple.  I started up a random e-mail correspondence with a friend who was abroad in Spain, which turned out to be a real highlight.  I played hide-&-seek in the library.  I opened up about being Catholic to people I hadn't really talked to much before.  I decorated my study carrel.  I fell back in love with my thesis topic.  I was invited to a party and I drank rummy things.  I went to the ice-rink almost every week and made an arse of myself on skates.  I cuddled and snuggled and played a mean game of Twister.  Literally, I think one of my best semesters at Oberlin was somehow condensed into a whirl-wind of a month, and it's almost like the first half was nothing but a bad dream I could only vaguely remember when I finally woke up.

So, as I begin to condition myself to write 2012 on all my essays from this point until 2013, I can't say I'll be glad to have left last year behind.  In many ways, I would give all I have to be abroad in Galway again, and I hopefully will be starting my last semester at Oberlin the same way I left--happy.  At the same time, though, I need to look forward.  I said before that I don't like to make resolutions because I never keep them, and there's no fun in being disappointed in yourself.  I do, however, want to take a moment and think about everything I can be (and hopefully will be) be in the coming year.  I will be a second-semester college senior who has never lived in a dorm or eaten in a dining hall thanks to the Oberlin Student Co-operative Association.  I will be teaching an Irish Dance ExCo.  I will get back into shape because I'll have no choice, what with teaching dance and taking a running/fitness course.  I will eat a lot of baked goods, thanks to Professor Romano's kitchen.  I will build snowmen and continue skating.  By April 27th, I will have written a 60-page thesis, and by the end of May, I will be a college graduate.  And someday, hopefully soon, I will be back on a plane, the anticipation will just be too much as the coast of that little teddy-bear-shaped island comes into view, and I'll go on smiling like an absolute lunatic.