By Maria Heines
I am writing this second blog while treating myself to a hot chocolate at a café across the river from Ireland’s immigration office. Today is the day I will (hopefully) officially be able to call Dublin my home away from home! Despite not having the official paperwork, yet, Dublin has certainty begun to feel like home as I have gotten into a rhythm of classes, sport practices, chilling at Binary Hub, and wandering around town with friends.
A classic Irish activity that arose from this dilly dallying around Dublin was watching the unfortunate Ireland vs. Denmark World Cup Qualifier match in a pub filled to the brim with Irish spirit and pint glasses. Since, I know next to nothing about the professional world of soccer, I was able to still enjoy my night despite the devastating 5-1 loss. Other, less gloomy adventures, included watching an artsy film in a cozy theatre squeezed into one of Temple Bar’s side streets and checking out the NCAD art exhibit. This week I also started my freshwater hydro-biology course, which consists of a wacky Professor and about fifteen students. The students all seem very close because they are in the same small environmental program. This can be quite intimidating, but overall I am excited for this course. It includes going out and sampling river water and, hopefully, more anecdotes from the Professor. One of these crazy anecdotes, that didn’t surprise the Trinity students in the least , was his mentioning of the time he broke his leg in the middle of nowhere while taking river samples for his Ph.D. and then he proceeded to drive hours home using a stick to work the gas pedal. The other staff in the environmental department are just as quirky, like my economic botany professor who hosted a fava bean beer tasting night to wrap up our course.
Now I have moved writing spots from the quirky café to the sleek, butt-numbing wooden benches in the immigration office’s waiting area. It seems like I will be here for a while, which gives me plenty of time to recount my travels with two close friends during last week’s reading week. The night before our 6am flight to Milan, my flat-mate hosted a couple friends over to try her infamous fudge brownies. In addition to brownie baking, I supervised the chocolate chip cookie assembly line. Due to the extreme amount of sugar in my bloodstream from this chill night with friends, I was not able to sleep a wink that night, which ultimately created a sluggish start to our reading week adventures. Tired and starving, we landed Monday morning in Milan barely making it to the hostel where we dropped off our bags. After a cup of coffee and a quick bite to eat we took the metro to the center of town to peek inside the cathedral and crazy expensive outdoor mall with only designer brand stores. Here we wistfully window shopped and twirled on the infamous bull’s ball in the floor mosaic for good luck.
For dinner, we each ate a whole pizza at one of those fancy restaurant that refuse to serve free tap water, so like any reasonable individuals we ordered
the cheapest wine on the menu to wash down our eventful meal that included me getting stuck in my winter jacket because the zipper broke and the entire restaurant glancing at our table to disapprove of our sleep deprived giggling. After ruining the atmosphere of this restaurant, we thought our best bet was to head back to the hostel to figure out our buckets lists for Milan and get a good night of sleep. With renewed interest in the living after sleeping in, we completed our time spent in Milan with a trip to the grandiose Sforza Castle, adjacent park, and took a train to Lake Como, which seems to be a summer vacation spot for millionaires.
Next we took the train to the Finale Ligure train station on the Liguria coast of Italy. Here, the owner of our Airbnb and her adorable little dog, Pepe, took us on a quick informative tour of the area and dropped us off at our flat in the small town of Varigotti. Since this town is mainly a summer vacationers spot, we had the beaches and hiking spots all to ourselves except for a couple of confused locals who watched us swim for hours in the middle of November. In this deserted state, the only place open in Varigotti was a bar that served beer and delicious ham Paninis. So, to vary up our diet we were able to hitch hike to the main coastal town to pick up groceries that kept us going for the two days we were there.
At the end of this relaxing and outdoorsy visit to Varigotti, the Airbnb owner drove us back to the train station where we headed towards Nice, France. In Nice, we stayed at Hostel Smith, which was run by students and other people looking for free housing. This created a lively atmosphere with constant chatter, a little bit of personal drama, and a few jam sessions. Highlights of this final reading week destination included going to the Picasso museum, taking advantage of an all you can eat sushi deal, soaking in the sun and swimming at the Promenade de Anglais, buying almost half my Christmas gifts for people at a small market, and watching the final sunset of reading week on a beach with gelato and plane tickets back to Dublin in hand. And in case you were worried, I finally made it through immigration smoothly despite the fact my insurance policy has the incorrect birthday written down.