Friday, April 1, 2016

One Life to Live so Live It Well


I've held back with some vulgarity and, unfortunately, some of my personality with many of these blogs 'cause you know, there are rules. This is where I break that trend.

pictured: me modeling for "breaking that trend"

I had the best experience of my lifetime over the past 11 days and you will see why, but there's a chance you'd never know about it. So to be blatant, I don't give a fuck anymore. People don't, and never will, realize how close we actually were to death that day in Brussel's.

A mistake saved our lives that day... yes a MISTAKE. Had my friends and I not made the mistake of booking the wrong airport, we would have been at Brussel's main airport at the exact time two explosions killed 15 people on March 22.

Traveling to Brussels in the first place was a risk we knew we were taking. Brussels, for those who don't know, is the current hub of terrorism in Europe. I'm not an expert, so I can't say why they'd chose this city, but likely due to its location. Knowing this, taking extra precaution was necessary. And we did that.

A day before arrived in Brussels, the brain behind the Paris attacks this past November was caught. This was worrisome from the get go. Walker, Herman, and I briefly discussed not even going. The conversation only took two or three minutes for us to rule out bailing on Brussel's, but the thought was there. We knew.

We arrived to Brussels in the afternoon and could immediately detect the tense attitude of the city. Not so much from the people walking around, but more from the soldiers donning full armor while shouldering deadly assault rifles. It was certainly striking enough for any regular person to think to themselves, "Okay, I see you".

Continuing on the streets, we arrived to our hostel, which was, by the way, much more like a hotel than your standard "backpacking around Europe" kind of hostel. No one expected it. Unfortunately, they booked us in a room that had apparently already been booked. So after a long night of drinking at Delirium, the best bar is Brussels, with over 2000 choices in beers, we were ready for some serious sleep. Upon entering our room loud, drunk, and you know...we noticed a family of five, including two children under 6, sleeping in what we thought were our beds. There is really no way to describe this interaction, just picture three drunk twenty something's walking into a room with a full family sleeping and everybody looking at each other like "what the fuck?". Interesting experience.

view from undaa

After settling that nonsense, we started the next day checking out all the sights. If you are ever in Brussels, which you probably shouldn't be right now, check out the Atomium. It is simply one of the most interesting and unique pieces of
 architecture I've ever seen. If you get the chance to see it, go inside and check out the views it has to offer. You also learn about it, too. Apparently, this piece of work was viewed by the experts in the architecture community of the time as a failure, something that could have been much greater. But the people of Brussels were like "screw you, this shit is dope". And it is. Nothing quite like it anywhere else in the world.

Another must see in Brussels is the town hall. This building is what you'd expect when you think of old European architecture, and then more... There are probably around 60-70 different individual people sculpted onto the hall. Each individual sculpture is its own, there are no repeats. Take a second to think about how much detail and time go into that. The sculptures were the size of a regular humans and contained equally, and sometimes more, detail on their bodies, clothes, faces and accessories. Some were men holding swords, some we blacksmiths, some were women holding babies, some were religious figures, and more importantly, some were just regular citizens. I have a immense amount of respect for mason's, in present and the past. They work hard, laborious and stressful jobs. They've been doing it since the beginning of time - the oldest living profession. The original experts, in my opinion.

that'd be him in the middle

One of the best things about this town hall is it has my man Saint Michael at the forefront, stabbing Lucifer to death. Talk about BADASS. Though I'm not a religious person, I go to a Catholic College. I feel pretty blessed that my Saint Michaels in Vermont is named after the saint that killed Satan. No other saint can top that shit, let's be real.

Up until this point, as you can see, nothing had been sketchy. In fact, everything seemed normal. There were tourists everywhere, performers, vendors, it was all normal.

The last night we rode the metro around to get back home. We thought this would be a relatively easy way to get back. It'd be efficient, we said.. Turns out the metro is far more complicated in Brussels than expected. Took us roughly three hours and much consulting to finally make it home. And it so happens that the exact metro line we rode for hours is the one that got bombed only 12 hours later, killing more than 13 people.
8:45 A.M. March 22nd: about to board a plane unaware of the attacks currently happening. just me n my dad bod chillen

Brussels was great. A beautiful place to see, especially at such a young age. The nightlife is great. But this was unlike any ordinary traveling experience. This one changed my life tenfold compared to all the other traveling I've done, including my extravagant adventures to Antarctica and Asia. And it's because I've never been so close and, what I believe, involved in such a significant tragedy. The morning of the attack, we woke up at 4:30 A.M. to catch the train. We were walking through the main street of Brussels, the street where we'd walked for two days and others lived for years. The street that was all over CNN, BBC, ABC, Fox and every other news source hours later. And we were that close to terror - real terror.

If I took days and days, maybe weeks, I could probably put into words the beauty and magnificent features and feelings the architecture around Amsterdam and Brussel's gave me, even though it is one of those things I say "there's no way I can put into words". Let's be realistic, I can put them into words with thorough effort.

Stepping off of the plane in Budapest and hearing from my friend only one minute after entering the airport that we had just avoided a terror attack - this is a feeling I will NEVER be able to put into words. Safe? Not a fucking chance. Scared? Maybe. Confused? Absolutely. But that's about it, man. Relief was not a good feeling. That was our first day in Budapest and it fucked me up. We got to our place and I laid in bed with my eyes open for two hours saying nothing...just thinking "what if?". "What if's?" are usually unrealistic situations a person imagines in their mind, but this was far from that. It was a real situation. It was a real, honest mistake that saved us. If we were more diligent, aware of what we were doing, our flight would have been out of the airport attacked. But since we were so excited to even take this trip, taking notice of which airport to select was not on our minds. And this lack of diligence saved us. We knew the danger, we knew it. But when the danger became reality, it was scary

There are over hundreds of people currently dealing with trauma I could not begin to fathom. Let me tell you something, you can hate the fucking hell out of America for everything it stands for now a days - a greedy capitalistic society run by the wealthy for the wealthy - but you best thank the fucking lord for the safety we are blessed with. Brussels is a main city, Paris is a main city. We haven't had a significant terror attack like this on our soil since 9/11. Mainland Europeans have to think every day about their safety because the threat is real. This is something American's do not have to do and won't, at least for the foreseeable future.

I haven't felt so strong about something in a while. Death is real and it is close whether you want to admit it or not. Never think you're more powerful than anyone else because you will be caught off guard. The consequences will be detrimental.

Again, I need to thank every one who reached out that day. All my buddies back home, my family, especially my showed me that I'm far more loved than I thought. It showed me that I mattered to some people just like the people who died mattered to others. I was just lucky, I guess. My condolences go out to the families and victims. I can't comprehend what you're dealing with, just know that I was there too. Mankind stands together.


Now, if you've made it this far into the blog, you care enough. Love yaaaa. So read about some of the GOOD shit that happened on this absolutely CRAZY trip across Europe. 'Cause it was nuts.

First off, for anyone who has or hasn't been to Europe, this is a tip that will help all: pretend you are in the middle of a heist movie. It might sound a little unusual yes, but let me tell you, it adds to the excitement. 

Think of all the heist movies you've seen (or should have by now). The Ocean's movies, The Italian Job, Inception... a lot of them take place in cool cities. And mostly in European cities. We traveled to many of those cities! So, why not pretend to imagine one of those heist movies going on around you. Try it out, it works. 

(Walker, Peter and Herman)
The first city was Amsterdam, the backdrop to the film Ocean's Twelve starring George Clooney, Matt Damon and Brad Pitt. Amsterdam, ladies and gents, is the place to be. The culture of the city is unlike nowhere else in the world. Yes, many drugs are legal, but I am referring to the general cultural attitude. Its laid back, friendly, unique, and simply amazing. And its NOT because everyones stoned all the time. Common misconception. The Dutch people are this way. They make Amsterdam what it is - not the drugs and red light district, its the people. 

First night there, we stopped at a small restaurant, finished what we could and took our leftovers back to the apartment. I was holding my buddies box of spaghetti with Alfredo sauce on the very bumpy bus ride home and unfortunately, I spilled this every where. You have to really picture this scenario in your head, being that we were in Amsterdam, probably doing 'fun' things, and this happens. Not the ideal start, but it was funny. Ask me about it sometime...

look at all the different way's to escape here, c'mon
The next three days in Amsterdam were filled with walking, walking, walking, and...walking. With the help of Herman's Fitbit, we figured out that we walked a total of 35miles in Amsterdam, in three days. Simply said, "Fuck it, we'll save money without the bus". It worked out well. Since we decided to walk from our place, which was about a one hour walk hour to the center, we got to see so many things that would've otherwise been missed. Like Erasmuspark. A small little park that was on our way to the center. There is not a chance we would've found this little guy had we not walked. There was a canal running by it (which is by the way, a perfect escape plan in any heist movie), this long stretch of grass and trees, and ballin' old Dutch guys feeding the birds. Tranquil. Check it out if you're ever there because its not something that'd be on the "things to do list" here. Always worth it to endeavor the unbeaten paths, I promise. 

The best park, maybe the best I've ever been to, is Vondelpark. This is a place that would be on "things to do in Amsterdam" and deservingly so. Massive in size, but cozy at heart. There are people everywhere playing frisbee, walking dogs, exercising...and my favorite, hippies doing hippie things (i.e. dancing around with hula hoops, streamers, and blasting Phish. ahhh, Burlington, where are ya?). The park has some particularly beautiful areas to check out. The tree carved into a hand saving another tree was particularly interesting. To me this represents that we as a human race aren't doing anything to save our planet while earth, pictured here, literally grabs the problem full force. This was an iconic image for me.

We finished up in Amsterdam strong. Got inebriated, ate some fire food, walked the canals at night, and pulled off the perfect heist. Get at me, Clooney. 

Brussels was our next stop. Waking up at 7 A.M., walking for over an hour while lost, and arriving at the train station just in time was not a great wake up call. But hey, there was another train leaving only 30 minutes later. So we goooood. We made it to Brussels by the afternoon and got to check out some of the city. This city is unlike anywhere I've been. There is chocolate flowing from the Brussels baby's dick on top of some Belgian waffles. That's the best way to describe it. This is something Jerry Collins would enjoy very much. And y'all should do some reading on the pissing baby, it has quite the interesting back story that I'm not going to tell you, figure it out. 

there he is, pissing chocolate onto your waffle...
This is a place worth seeing when the time is right. Illuminated at night by strategically placed lights, it warms your body.

the beer i paid for but only got to drink half of
So they have fancy beer stores in Brussels. You know those wine cellars and special collection shit you see on TV, well theres one of those on every corner...for BEER. Walker, Herman and I went in and marveled at the selection. Mind blowing. For all my buds in Vermont, this is your heaven. It took me a good ten minutes to decide which beer I wanted. Excited to finally try it, I bought it ready to go back home and drink it. But before I could leave, the girl at the cash register said, "would you like a bottle opener?". A little confused at first, it struck me that "yes!" it is legal to drink on the streets here. I felt like a little kid. I grabbed the opener, cocked back my wrist and BANG! The beer started spewing every where. You see, it seemed that I'd forgotten I was walking around with it in my hand, shaking it up and unknowingly creating the most recent nuclear bomb strike.  The beer was brown. The brown beer spilt all over the floor. The brown beer spilt all over my WHITE shoes. Brown beer be good, but brown beer beware.

Caused a ruckus, we did. Made it outta Brussels, we did. Regrets about putting ourselves in a dangerous city like Brussels, we don't. The city is beautiful, deal with it. Fuck terrorism. 

Buda, buda, buda...the city I knew nothing about yet takes da mothafuckin cake for best damn place around. Holy shit, this place is equally as fun as it is beautiful. And perhaps the best part: cheap. There are so many fun things to do that you actually CAN do. Amsterdam was great, but museums there were 20-40 euros for entry. Here, in Budapest, you pay seven euros maximum. Great news though! If you don't want to pay cause you're a cheap ass, the sight of the city is worth it alone.

A special little hill overlooks the whole city in all directions. Its the most perfect spot to just wonder at life, especially right after such a serious event in Brussels. The hill is peaceful, no other description needed. On one side there is the old city of Budapest, and on the other, remnants of the USSR. A dynamic not many places in the world can understand. 

There is really no way to pin "the best part" of the city because it is all so great, but then again, Parliament might take the cake. If you look up things to do in Budapest, Parliament will surely be at the top. Never have I seen archtiecutr quite like this - so grand, so fresh, so clean (Outkast). but for real, just look at some of the pictures. It's right out of a fairytale. If you do go, make sure you hit the place at night because that's when the beauty really comes out. It does make you wonder though...the Hungarian currency is so weak and it must cost so much to keep all those lights on. All the people making decisions for the country are in that building. You'd think they would utilize money elsewhere instead of you know, illuminating this building for 12 hours a day. But hey, I can't complain 'cause it is so cheap in this city. So cheap, in fact, you might end up spending more money just because you think you're saving some. That kind of cheap. (kids, learn to budget)

Also, side note. This is the perfect place for a heist movie. There are probably some really important documents in there that need to be stolen and sold on the black market. Official government documents...that's where the money is, baby. 

Hungarians are proud people. The USSR controlled their country for years and they remember that strongly. You can notice a real sense of culture there almost unlike anywhere else. I've met people from all over the world, but the attitude of the Hungarians is unmatched. Happy people down to have as much fun as possible and eat Goulash soup. If you don't know what Goulash soup is, figure it out. I cannot wait to go back to this city someday. Without a doubt my favorite stop on the 11 day adventure. 


Let me finish by saying this was a once in a lifetime opportunity on so many levels. I am more than grateful to have partaken and I gotta give a huge thanks to my Dad for it. Without his help, this trip would've been unachievable. You were right there with me man, the whole time, and I'm safely back in Ireland, away from any kind of danger...just in case you were wondering. I love you. 

And to all my friends back in Burly who weren't physically on the trip with me, you were there with me, in spirit. I thought about all of you guys every step I took, thinking about how much you guys would've loved it. And it would've been great to have you all, but we'll carve out our own adventure someday soon. 

I'm a changed man because of this trip, and specifically, my time in Brussels. It is not something I'd expect other people to understand, but I do expect them to realize there was a reason for it. There is always reason, good or bad, it exists. The reason I was over there, at this time, with my good friends, was to change me. To make me see the world as a different place. A real living, breathing and feeling world. We got on life to live so live it well.


Keep it real, people.

stay tuned...

(soundtrack to this blog: GO:OD AM by Mac Miller & Multi-Love by Unknown Mortal Orchestra)

(love you)

(if there are any typos in here, don't tell me 'cause idgaf)

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Rastafari, jah

This week, starting on the March 16th, I am going to Amsterdam, Brussels, and Budapest - and I'm doing it in 11 days.

I cannot begin to say how thankful I am for this opportunity. Studying in Ireland is itself something to relish in, but adding a trip like this makes it that much more valuable. Before coming here, traveling around Europe was a major goal of mine and my friends. It's simply inexcusable to be so close and not, at the very least, try to see more of Europe. I'm lucky enough to be going forth and executing this plan with good people.

Amsterdam is a place I've been to before, but not for an extended period of time. Everyone knows about the hype Amsterdam generates and deservingly so. I intend to indulge in the cities canals, parks, museums, heineken, my fullest abilities. There will be no regrets.

gonna have to check this place out in Brussels, for sure
Brussels, Belgium is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The city is home to the greatest beer selection anywhere, and yes, I'm very damn happy to say that. There are around three bars with over 2000+ choices of beer. Not going to lie, I'm am going savor every last drop. As an obligation, and not a bad one at that, I'll be checking out St. Michael's cathedral while I'm there. The architecture in old cities like this one is out of this world and not taking a look would be a great injustice.

Budapest is the only city we are all somewhat unsure about. We don't know what there is to do or see other than the typical tourist attractions. This, in my opinion, is a good thing. Going in blind means no expectations and plenty of intuition - from my own experience, this yields more fun results. Oh, and there currency happens to be pretty week, so we'll be living like kings. King of the Castle (in my Borat voice).

stay gorgeous, Galway
Last weekend we went to Galway for a night. Galway is unlike any other place I've been to in Ireland, though it does fit the typical Irish stereotype. Very, very small city with an overwhelming amount of pubs and plenty of tourists walking down the streets. Perhaps the best thing about the city was it's street performers. They were on every corner. Singers, bands, guys doing soccer tricks, sculptors, name it and they probably had it. Also, I got a burrito there. I needed that burrito. I love burritos. If you love burritos, I love you. If you're ever in Galway, check out The Quay's Pub.

Anyway, this is just a brief update on what's been happening. Remember, always be thankful for every thing you get to experience - it makes you, you. When I get back from this trip of a lifetime, I'll have more to say, but until then, be jealous :)

stay t(l)u(i)n(t)ed...

(soundtrack to this blog: Night Nurse by Gregory Isaacs)

(and March Madness starts this week. you bet your ass i'll be watching UCONN no matter where I am)

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A Trip Back in Time


Edinburgh was the experience of lifetime. There's no other way to put it.

I've wanted to go to Scotland since I was a kid. My grandmother grew up there and questions me every Christmas about it, "When are you going to Scotland??"

I never had an answer until I chose to study abroad.

The sight of the city is worth the trip alone. Going to Edinburgh is, literally, like going back 300 years in time. There are many cities like this round Europe, each with their own pizzazz (add that to the "dope words" list), and Edinburgh is no different. The Edinburgh Castle, The Royale Mile, and St. Mary's close are just some of the great, admittedly touristy, options.

The Castle is right out of a fairytale. It's actually like it's own little city once you're inside, that's how big it is. There were some cool exhibits inside, like the War Memorial and War Museum, but most of it was trumped by the views around the edges of the Castle itself. Placed on top of the entire city, you can see miles in almost every direction. The New Town, the Old Town, the ocean...all of it is visible and spectacular. Walking thru the prisons and old towers is an eerie yet refreshingly new feeling. Only 150 years ago this Castle was active with people shuffling around.

When I explore places like this, going off the beaten path is something I always want to do. Why the hell can't I go past the roped off areas? The ones that lead to the bowels of the Castle where there are probably even cooler sights - sights that not many have been able to see, ever. I'd give anything to go check out the "real" Castle, the parts you can't see because of preservation or some shit...give me a break. I don't bite, I promise, I just want to explore more! That being said, there is nothing to complain about, the Castle is still a wonder with what is available. Without a doubt the most beautiful one I've ever been to, and I've been to many in Germany.

for Connor Murray
"Cemetery for Solider Dogs"...badass

Exploring was great, but going out into the city with friends was just as fun. The Scots are interesting people. The accent is thick, the kilts are distinguished, and the scotch is culture. I actually forget about Scotch Whiskey till we arrived. Personally, Scotch is far to harsh for me to drink. It's smokey, it burns, and it's well...unpleasant. But when in Rome (Edinburgh), do as the Romans (Scots) do...

Honestly, the Scots are more fun anyway. One wouldn't expect such an old, cultured city like this to have such a lively, young and vibrant nightlife. The first night saw the crew trying out some local bars and pubs very reminiscent of the ones I've found in Ireland. My personal favorite pub was called "The Worlds End", which took it's name from some interesting history. Apparently where this pub is located was the town line for the city years ago, and once you crossed it, the chances of coming back were not likely. Thus, "The Worlds End" is a fitting name. There was a local musician playing the night we went and he was KILLING it. Pink Floyd, The Strokes, The Stones, The Beatles, The Smiths (Jerry Collins, how are ya?)...I mean the guy didn't play a bad song and nailed every one. Definitely check this place out if you're ever there.

The second night we decided to check out the college scene there. The Scots...can drink... This is a reoccurring theme over in Europe that is unfortunately not the case in America. It is honestly strange going out into the "college" part of town when it looks like we're in 1850. The music, the vibes, it just doesn't sound like it would fit, but it does. To be straight up and direct, the night was late and fun...we'll leave it at that. (if you can't laugh, stay the f**k home)

On the final day we took a small hike to Calton Hill. This was again a place with a 360 degree view of the whole city. Unreal. After the hike, we went back to the Scottish Market where, personally, I saw one of the most unbelievable generous actions of mankind...

We went into the market to kill some time before our flight back, so we sat down at a long table and chatted. Eventually we noticed this homeless man making strange noises, not really being a bother, but more a nuisance to the market. He wasn't loud, he wasn't cursing, but he was certainly being "sketchy". A few minutes later, the owner of the market went up to him and told him to take a set and settle down. First off, it is outstanding that he didn't kick him out in the first place. I didn't think much of it - I went back to browsing the market. This guy had a really cool stand set up with punk albums from 1977. The collection was around 50 CD's, quite impressive. I finished chatting with the salesmen, who was from England and suggested some fun bars, and went back to the bench to kill some more time. All of a sudden, I noticed the owner go a grab a scone, one being sold to customers, and wander back towards the homeless man. He gave him the scone. Every one had left at this point so I was the only one to see this. I thought, "Wow, that is a real human being". But it wasn't over. The owner went back to his stand. I thought he was going to continue on with work so I stopped paying attention. Three minutes later I saw him walking towards the homeless man, again, this time with a hot cup of coffee. Now, I understand that this might seem like something every one should do, but that's not our reality. In today's society, we do NOT see generosity like this, especially towards the homeless. I could care less about the social experiments we all see online...the feeling that overcomes you when you physically witness an act such as this is overwhelming, to say the least. Obviously I didn't, but it's the kind of feeling that makes you want to cry happiness. And I wanted to so bad. It is hope that humanity still exists in this disgustingly cruel world.

I went up to the owner after. I felt compelled to. This man deserved recognition that I knew no one else would give him. I talked with him for about 10 minutes and I learned a lot about this homeless man. Apparently he comes into the market, which is by the way located in an old unused Church, and sits down to look at the stained glass portraits of Jesus, Saint Mary, etc... That day, he was just a little more out of whack, but it became clear to me that this owner knew this homeless man, but the homeless man did not know him. Mental problems? Likely... Does that mean he should be treated like an animal? No. Not at all. This Scotsman actually changed my life and I'm not just saying that. I was honestly speechless when talking to the owner.

He said to me, "Look up there, boy", pointing at Jesus in stained glass, "do you know who that is?"
I said, "Jesus".
He said, "That's right. And if he were standing here right now, what do you think he would've done?"

Awestruck. I'm not a religious person and believe that religion is the root to many of our world's problems today, but this man proved to me that religion still has the potential to do some real good. By no means will I become a religious person, but this man is an exceptional human being. As crazy as it sounds, with all the sights - the castle, the pubs, and the architecture - this was the highlight of my trip. For others, it might be different, but they did not see what I saw.

All in all, Scotland, you were great. Beauty, awe, friendship, fun, and gave it all to me. I cannot wait to go back someday. I can assure you that I will. All I can say is, thank you.

Next up we got Amsterdam, Brussels, and Budapest. Bring it on spring break.

see you again soon


(shoutout The Donation Foundation for all the dope benches around the city)

(also, Walker McCandrew has never heard of a shower beer. to say the least, i lost a little respect, but hey, still love you. Evidenced: this wondrous picture...)

stay tuned...

(soundtrack to this blog: The Slim Shady LP by Eminem)

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Other B(e)urly

Ah, Berly...

No, not Burlington, Vermont. I'm talking about Berlin, Germany.

Damn, that place is fun!

For my birthday I hopped off the Emerald Isle to go see my buddy Jack who is studying in Berlin. Who would've thought two roommates would study abroad at the same time? Not only that, but actually make an effort to see each other? Perfect timing I suppose..

inside the clash
I landed in Berlin on Friday night after an incredibly turbulent flight (which I was not a fan of, by the way) only to see Jack standing at the train station waiting for me. Bro-mance indeed. We quickly got ready, headed out to the city, and drank some good (and very, very cheap) German beer at a cool bar called "The Clash". I highly recommend checking this place out if you're ever in Berlin, especially if you dig the punk scene. The bar has an atmosphere I've never experienced before - it was loud, lively, smokey, and the walls were filled with posters from famous punk shows and bands. True definition of being "free". That's how the punk scene is and always has been - anarchy.

I met some Berliners who'd been living there for about 10 years. I say Berliners even though they were from Australia and the States because if you have lived in the city for a certain amount of time, you are considered a Berliner. And they certainly were by evidence of knowing all the best places to go.

They spoke both English and German just about perfectly. After traveling to Germany for many years, yearly actually, I've noticed this trend. The Germans ability to speak English is astounding. Not just in Berlin, but small towns and cities. It is a trait I respect because learning another language is no easy task (ask Jack).

hops & barley: the micro brew
They took us to a cool micro-brew bar that instantly reminded me of, yes, Burlington, Vermont. Vermont is home to some of the best microbreweries not just in the country, but the world. Visiting a place like this truly felt like I was at home, so to say. They had a variety of different beers, all brewed in the basement, ranging from very dark beer to a lighter beer. If I recall there were about 7 different types of beers. I tried the Dunkelbier and Pilsner. Dunkelbier simply means a dark German lager and they vary from region to region. In Möchengladbach, the city where my family resides, the dark beer is Alt-bier. Great beer, but it is certainly an acquired taste. This Dunkelbier was much lighter than the Alt's I was used to, but still very good. The Pilsner was unlike any Pilsner I've ever tried. When you think of Pilsners Pilsner Urquell or Becks probably come to mind, both of which are terrible examples of Pilsners. This one was unfiltered and had MUCH more flavor than the mass-produced versions. Overall, it was probably the best beer I had all weekend. Oh, and mind you, we were playing German card games and getting to know one another. It was great craic.

The night was long and I learned that Germans, in Berlin anyway, stay out till 4 or 5 in the morning at the very earliest. It is quite a different culture in that sense. But still, the late night didn't deter us from getting up the next day. I mean, we kind of had too because we were about to go experience a real German soccer game, and not only that, but one that mattered significantly to the standings. As you could imagine, the place was ROWDY...

Hertha Berlin vs. Borussia Dortmund. Hertha isn't a team used to winning. They usually place in the lower half of the Bundesliga, but this year is much different, they are #3 and battling to keep their spot. I cannot put into words the way fans are at soccer games in Europe; it is just something you have to experience yourself (check the video out).

At night we went a laid-back bar, seemingly only for those that "know" about it. Luckily Jack had some great connections so he found out about this place pretty quickly. The bar had a relaxed atmosphere. I sipped my gin and tonic with ease.

The next day, Sunday, I finally got to see some of the more famous (touristy) sites in Berlin, namely the Wall, the Brandenburg Gate, and the Reichstag. These places were simply unbelievable, especially the Wall. Like the Cliffs of Moher, but different in its own way, you could feel an energy around the Wall. The energy was of angst. This city was tormented for almost 40 years of authoritative separation, all symbolized by street art spread throughout the entirety of the Wall. Some people say that it is just a wall, but it represents something far more than that. It embodies the attitudes of Germans who had to deal with such violent oppression. The art is their way of saying, "Fuck you", and deservingly so. I took a slow stroll with Jack down the wall and looked at every piece of art. They all had something to say, but each artist took their own approach to the subject. I could feel their anger.


by far my favorite art on the wall. a perfect representation 

The Brandenburg Gate and Reichstag were also quite beautiful, but nothing could top the feeling I got from the Wall. Although, I should point out that the Reichstag has some of the craziest architecture I've ever seen... (and FOUR German flags, just in case you forgot)

All in all, I cannot deny that this was without a doubt the best weekend I've had over here. I got to see my best friend (which I desperately needed), I got to drink some beers, I got to see some history, and maybe most importantly, I got to eat some Jägerschnitzel. Hallelujah, rejoice.

stay tuned...

(soundtrack to this blog: Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols by Sex Pistols)

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Diary of a Small-School College Kid

Saint Michael's College (though without the best part, North Campus)

I can handle it, don't worry...

Every day since my arrival has been better than the one before (I think) and only recently have my classes started. Yes, let us all remember that I am STUDYING abroad, not simply just BEING abroad. I've been exposed to a life I never knew before...

Since the 8th grade private school is all I've known. The Rumsey Hall School, The Taft School, Saint Michael's College...all private ( institutions. While most kids attended public school during their formative years, that was not the case for me.

The University of Limerick is the first taste of public school I've had in years and while it is in no way similar to public high school because of the obvious difference in curriculum and general Irish educational structure, let me say that I did not miss it. By this I do not mean the school isn't fun because it is...however, the way classes are taught is a completely foreign concept to me. This concept isn't foreign to us all though; many of my friends that I study abroad with from America attend large university schools.

"A class with more than 100 kids in it? Are you kidding me? This has to be a joke..."

These were my thoughts after my first week of classes. I cannot lie to myself, this is what I knew to expect from UL, and after all it is a school with 15,000+ kids. I knew classes would be different, but I did not know how much I would long for the style in which Saint Michael's College conducts classes. Small, discussion based classes that had no more than 30 kids in a classroom that felt much like high school. This is the liberal arts school I've complained about for making me take classes I never wanted to (and still don't, by the and spanish...kill me, I'm an ENGLISH major).

Let me tell you something...while learning about Renaissance Literature or Irish Contemporary Literature one should not be put into a classroom with more than 30 kids. Its true that UL and many other large universities conduct what is called "tutorials". These are smaller groups of kids, maybe 20-30 people, from the larger class put into a more discussion based classroom. I'll give you an A for effort, but please...

I'll tell you right now what's valuable about being in a small classroom, things that I originally hoped to avoid in college, but now appreciate more than ever:

-professors watch you
-it is hard to talk to other students
-not  surfing social media
-attention is required to succeed, not "requested"

When applying for colleges the only criteria I abided by was a large university. In fact, my top three schools were 20,000+ kids. I got rejected/wait-listed by every one of them. At the time, I resented them and my time at Taft more than anything. I mean, why go a private school if you don't find success with the colleges you wanted to go to? That's all I could think, and for that matter, thought until my second year of college. This has changed.

I ended up at Saint Michael's College by accident. That was not the plan. I can tell you right now, with what I've learned and the friends I've made, it is without the best "accident" to ever happen to me. I miss being in a class where raising your hand for a question is encouraged, not DIScouraged. I miss having a teacher watch me, making sure that I'm not on my phone or surfing FaceBook. Hell, half the time teachers won't let you use your computer for notes because they know...they are not stupid...and they care a great deal.

And I'm not saying there is anything wrong with this type of large university education. It has worked for years and produced some of the brightest people the worlds ever seen. I'm especially not taking away from the professors who have dedicated their lives to teaching this way. This is what they know..and most likely what they love. They themselves certainly don't discourage questions, it is the system that does. It is the system, not the professors that have negative effects on students.

But this is not what I know. This is not what I love about education. I like having my professors keep an eye on me. Why? Because I (and probably YOU, too) learn more that way. Sure, you might zone out for a class or two..or three..or whatever...but the fact remains that when you are in a smaller class, it is more conducive to learning.

I will adjust and since I know how to learn thanks to Rumsey, Taft, and Saint Michael's, I have no worries that I will succeed. It will just take some time to get used to. I can handle it, don't worry...

So note to self, others, and especially Saint Michael's College students:

While I understand it can be annoying to have teachers up your ass, emailing you daily, yelling at you to pay attention, CARING, let me tell you that you are LEARNING. And learning a hell of a lot more than many of the kids who attend large schools because it is simply easier for them to disappear in class...when attention is necessary to succeed.

stay tuned...

(soundtrack to this blog: MTV Unplugged in New York by Nirvana)

(btw its my birthday tomorrow, send me hot sauce and ranch. they don't have that necessary American shit here)

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A Box of Chocolates

atop the cliffs of moher (go vikings)

Life is and is not like a box of chocolates. On one hand, I knew that I'd miss my friends, but I did not know that I would miss them this much. On the flip side of the coin, I had an idea of what to expect from my experience in Ireland, but I did not expect this much fun so fast.

Truth is, the box of chocolates gives you a list of which chocolates are where, but despite knowing this, you're still some times skeptical of the ones you've never tried. Why is this?

Not sure really.

Like I said, I knew missing my friends and family would be an unavoidable emotion, but of course it was not strong enough to deter me from leaving the states. Just because something is known, like the list the box of chocolates gives you, it does not mean I'll jump right in...I already know. I'll be a bit skeptical, but in the end, I'll probably go for the unknown I did with the study abroad experience. My friends and family are without a doubt the most important people in my life. Grateful is a word not strong enough to describe my ability to talk with them still. If I could not talk to my friends, this experience would be much more difficult.

And let me be clear: I am lucky, happy, grateful, excited, curious, and everything in between about my time in Ireland. So far the experience has been better than I expected. I made a great group of friends quickly, which is something I'm thankful for because in the end, we all feel the same: grateful, but still missing home. We go out, we stay in, we eat together, we are a unit that feels the same way about this experience. And it is comforting to know that other people are in the same boat.
for gods sake, just look at this for a moment

The Cliffs of Moher are the perfect example of how incredible this experience has already been. I found it quite unfortunate that many people at the Cliffs were on their phones. There is no doubt that I was a victim of this myself, but all I did was take pictures. I talked with my friends, chatted about how amazing the place was amongst other various things, but for the most part I was silent, taking in what I could. And taking it all in is actually impossible because the sheer might of these cliffs is simply indescribable.
I've seen pictures and videos of it before, having some idea of what to expect, but being there was a totally different feeling. It was spiritual. I could feel some presence there with us all, you know? Don't know if it was a God or...yeah, I just don't know what it was, but there was certainly a higher power there. That's something pictures cannot do; pictures cannot make you feel that way. Only experience can...

So let me clear about this box of chocolates...
Just because you know the list of where each flavor is does not mean it's easy to choose. I just think it's brave to choose the ones you don't know. While choosing the unknown can sometimes make you cringe for a second (like missing my friends & family), you know that you'll save the best ones for last (my experience in Ireland and the eventual reunion back home). Nothing about the choice takes away from the experience, it IS the experience.

stay tuned...

(soundtrack to this blog: Static Age by Misfits)

Friday, January 22, 2016

Know Your Surroundings

one of the two Limerick bus services

Today was the first day I did something alone. I believe that in order to acquaint yourself with another country or city so that you feel comfortable, you need to get your own bearings first.

With the help of our API hosts, Maria and Gerard, I had some idea of how the bus system worked here. In my life, public transportation was never a thing. The only time I ever took a bus regularly was in elementary school (shoutout Barkhamsted Elementary) and even then my father drove me to school often. High school was another story - I lived only 5 minutes away and rode my moped there. Yes, my moped... Eventually I bought a car so the worries of travel were no more.

Now that I'm in a different country and have no car, public transportation is the only way. I'm not complaining...majorities of people in the world use it. It's just not something that I'm accustomed too. The way I see it is if I can figure out how to navigate the surrounding area all by myself, there will never be an instance where I am stuck...because I know how to handle.

Today I took the bus to the city of Limerick for some shopping. I had to grab some food, clothes, and bed linens. I found out shortly after arriving, to my ignorant surprise, that the bed linens they provided me needed to be returned. Shopping around the city is extremely easy here, just like it would be in any city because everything is so close. After roughly 1 hour of shopping, it was time to return home. But since I was walking all over the place with blind glee, not taking in my surroundings, I kind of lost the location for the bus stop. No worries, though, I was up for the challenge.

Sure, I could have easily asked a local for directions, but determination is a strong emotion. If I couldn't find my way back, how am I supposed to live here for four months? I walked around for another half hour, maybe more, until I found the bus stop. The bus was even there waiting...just for me, haha.

Simply put, immersing yourself in another culture is great craic (look it up). Talking to and meeting new people is always an interesting experience - one I greatly look forward too. And it is always great to have help, really. However, doing things by your self tends to be harder so if I can do that, then I should be able to do anything around here.

To be comfortable...take a deep breath, examine your surroundings, and get a feel, because if you don't know where you are, how the hell are you supposed to know where you're going?

stay tuned...