We all have those little annoyances. Things that aren’t really a big deal, and shouldn’t bug you but they do. Pet peeves - or pet hates as they are known here in Ireland.
When I’m grumpy, I can write a pretty long list of pet peeves... People who say “literally” when what they mean is not literal. People who sit next to you on public transportation even when there are other seats available. When something I've been into for a long time becomes popular. People who scuff their feet as they walk down the street, especially if they’re wearing UGGs. Passive aggressive cc’ing on emails. People who don’t know how to get through airport security efficiently. It’s been 15 years. You know you have to take your goddamn shoes off and can’t have liquids and get your computer out of your bag.
Case in point: What’s the craic? The Irish’s routine greeting. You’ll hear it in pubs, on street corners, over tea at work. I’m convinced you would even hear it in crèches (aka daycares) so that children learn it as part of their essential Irish upbringing (but I didn’t have time to research this officially). Unfortunately, the word is pronounced just like the English word “crack”, giving rise to potential awkward misunderstandings for tourists, especially those unaccustomed to this Irish turn of phrase.
It is used so frequently, I have secretly wondered if tourists sometimes think the country is teeming with drug addicts, searching high and low in every pub and meeting place for a bit of “craic”. Personally, I would love to use the word craic but when sliding off my lips, it comes across as a nasty violation of linguistics instead of hip greeting. Regrettably, I had to try it once to learn that lesson the hard way.
Perhaps the only beverage the Irish drink more often than beer is hot tea. No matter the occasion, there will certainly be a teapot filled with the caffeinated elixir of traditional Barry’s tea nearby. At Firefly (the company where I’m working in Ireland), my colleagues sit down for a cuppa religiously at 11am every morning. Given the prominence of tea in Ireland and its sacred relationship to cake, it is no wonder I can’t go a day without a sweet passing by my lips.
But sometimes we’ve got as much uncertainty on our plates as we can handle so a mindless tour is the way to go. For a brief while, I just wanted to the a passenger in my own life instead of the driver.
Turns out that was only beginning of the symbolism for the day....
After returning from Spain, I realized my time in Ireland was running out (6 weeks to be precise) and there was still so much I wanted to see. Therefore when the weather forecast miraculously showed a little sun icon, I impulsively purchased a tour to visit the Cliffs of Moher - Ireland’s most famous landmark.
But after submitting my credit card details and hastily pressing Purchase, I was seized by immediate, but brief, regret. Was it a good idea to rush just for the fleeting hope of a little sunshine?
Personally speaking, our Basque Country trip couldn’t have come at a better time. I needed the hard manual labour to calm my mind since it was currently reeling from my disappointing news. Overwhelmed, I allowed myself to put blinders on and avoid facing the fact that I am back to square one: back to pitching this unorthodox idea and trying to figure out where my next mid-career internship would come from. But when you are trying to manoeuvre an unwieldy rototiller (that bolts unexpectedly like a dog that’s seen a squirrel), there is little mental energy remaining to worry that my soul sabbatical isn’t quite going as planned.
Back in January, when Martin spontaneously suggested we organize a work-bee to help Joseba, with his new project Olabe, I had no idea the magic that was waiting for me in Basque Country.
Basque Country, in case you haven't heard, isn't like the rest of Spain. Proudly perched on the northern Atlantic coast straddling the France-Spain border, the Basque region has its own language, culture, culinary traditions, and a distinctive geographic landscape. It has forested mountains peaks that reach for the sky and rolling valleys spotted with farmhouses that are vaguely akin to the Swiss countryside. And then there is the rugged coastline, dotted with surf beaches and battered by mighty Atlantic swells.
After a quick flight from Dublin to Biarritz, Martin, his wife Jill, his cousin Enda, and I hopped into the rental and began our journey to Olabe. Our unforgettable road trip led us through a string of small villages with names we struggled to pronounce, from Gernika to tiny Ea and drop-dead gorgeous Lekeitio.
Without fanfare, we crossed from France into Spain and soon after I remarked to myself “why is there suddenly Romanian on all the signs?” Truth be told, I don’t actually know what the Romanian language looks like but I just knew that this wasn’t French or Spanish. It was like Dorothy saying to Toto, “we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
I’m a nervous cyclist at the best of times (understandable after a six year hiatus in biking) so I was briefly optimistic as I manipulated the bike down my narrow staircase to the street. Google maps had diligently informed that the ride was 8km and would take 28 minutes but I planned to leave myself some extra time so that I wouldn’t be rushed (and would have time to sip a chai latte from Shells Café before class).
From my regular journeys back and forth to Standhill on the bus, I knew the route was flat... or so I thought. Turns out it’s a torturously unrelenting low-grade hill the entire way. A few minutes in, my legs were burning and I was gasping for air – apparently I’m not as in shape as the deluded vision of my “active lifestyle” would lead me to believe. Once out of the town, I kept stopping to rest while pretending that I was taking pictures of sheep to maintain my roadside dignity as cars zoomed past (classy, right?). All the while, their motorized bliss being rubbed in my face.
After 40 minutes, I nipped into a driveway and checked my phone. Surely, I was almost there. Peering in disbelief at my phone, Google was telling me I had another 11 minutes to go... I was only two-thirds of the way. I feared that I could not make the last 11 minutes, which undoubtedly would be longer given how long I’d already been pedalling. At that moment, I realize that if I got to surf class, I’d surely drown because my legs would be too fatigued to trudge out against the waves or even pop up on my board... let alone carry me back home afterwards. So I nonchalantly texted Eddie (the surf instructor), Something has come up. I’m not going to make it in time today. Is there class tomorrow as well? and then turned my bike around and headed home.
As I sped downhill, I couldn’t help but laugh to myself that of all the trials and tribulations of living abroad, the thing that has pushed me closest to the edge is a bike ride!
Aside from the interesting work, I think I'd fallen in love with the idea of being in Amsterdam for the summer - steeling my nerves for cycling, connecting with friends and a network of THNKers and capitalizing on the airport hub for extreme weekend warrior-ing!
Shortly, I will spring into action and start my outreach campaign to generate new leads but for now, I'm disappointed and need to sit with that experience. Like the Dalai Lama once said, “Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck” so I'm practicing patience, resiliency and drinking wine. After all, my motto for the year (which is not quite as brilliant as the Dalai Lama's) is "if everything goes according to plan, it doesn't go according to plan" so I'm getting exactly what I planned.
Gentlemanly regulars are nested in the snug, reading papers or betting on horses. Gaelic football is playing on the TV but the volume is low, so the conversationalists won’t be disturbed. Irish pubs know that you can't be in a place where it's too noisy to talk, because the talk and the drink go together. The requisite Guinness taps are on overdrive. Locals buying rounds for the entire table; everyone waiting patiently for their Guinness as bartender attends to the almost-sacred two-step pouring process that requires time for the beer to settle. The hum of Sláinte (pronounced: SLAWN-chuh), accompanied by the clink of glasses, rises up over the trad musicians playing in the corner. It is a balanced ecosystem until late when the crowd gets rowdier and periodically you can hear the uniting celebratory roar when a pint glass slips and breaks.
People visit Ireland to experience the pubs. People visit Irish Pub to experience Ireland.
After a month of settling into Sligo and establishing new routines, it dawned on me just how fast four months was going to fly by. With that, I booked a weekend trip to Dublin to making a dent in my Irish must-see list.
At the risk of sounding completely strange, I’m going to go ahead and say it: trains make me a better person. No, seriously. Long train rides remind me to be patient and watching the landscapes roll past my window allows time for reflection as the train chugs rhythmically along to its destination.
Unlike planes, boats, and buses, on trains I actually enjoy the “getting there” portion of the journey. Trains are simple and cut out all of the rigmarole of air travel: you don’t have to show up early, you get lots of space and you won’t be screamed at for forgetting a bottle of moisturizer in your purse.
Three hours of gazing longingly at the emerald green landscape speckled with sheep, I pulled into Connelly Station. Strong literary and political history has coloured this city, so that it shines with the passion of the past, from the physical evidence of the 1916 uprising at the General Post Office to the banter of Oscar Wilde, quoted many times over on Dublin’s streets and stages. From Guinness and gruel, whiskey and Wilde, there’s plenty to experience in Dublin – but sometimes it isn’t all good ‘craic.’
I've had a few nights sleep in my new home of Sligo. I miss my bed at home already. The mattress in my furnished studio apartment is a bit like a hammock and my back is a bit too familiar with the shape of the springs. I unpacked my bags and then re-arranged all the furniture to make it more livable for a four-months instead of a four-day Airbnb stay. The kitchen is functional although it lacks some basic utensils so I'm recruiting from my colleagues to fill in the gaps (plus they learned pretty quickly that I make cakes so they've all offered baking supplies!). I'm grateful for the three big windows that allow the infrequent rays of sunshine to wake me up in the morning as well as a view of Sligo cathedral (although I'm not totally sure a spotlighted statue of praying Mary needs to be in my line of line every minute of every day).
Sligo is a town of 20,000 people according to Wikipedia and while the town is quaint and unassuming, the surrounding scenery will take your breath away - the dramatic backdrop of Benbulben (a massive table top mountain), glimmering beaches, rolling green hills, and magical woodlands. The don't call it the Wild Atlantic Way for nothing!
After wrestling with my luggage, trying to find the mysterious way it all fit the first time, I readied myself for the strenuous trek back to Newark. A couple long flights sandwiched my 4am stop in Keflavik airport, where I reminisced about my trip to Iceland by indulging in a skyr, salted licorice and an Einstok white ale. And then finally the clouds parted to reveal a green patchwork quilt of fields signalling my imminent arrival in Ireland.
Things that I’m embarrassed to say how long it took me to figure out (serious blonde moments):
Things I still don’t understand about New York:
What’s the deal with ShakeShack?
I would be remiss to talk about my month in New York and not mention a wee bit about the arrival of the Trump era. Stealing shamelessly from Dickens, the most apt characterization of the political climate seems to be: “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
After Trump was elected back in November, my worldview had one more irreparable crack (and unfortunately, Leonard, there is no light coming in this one yet but I’m hopeful). As the reality set in, here is what I wrote to my mom (who was checking-in from her blissfully disconnected vacation in India):
I’m still struggling to make sense of this new reality and to ensure that my glimmer of optimism isn’t lost to apathy. “Who do I want to be in this situation?” is my road map to cope with all the uncertainty, fear and hate swirling about. I want to be open-hearted, calm, and brave. I will fight tirelessly to make sure this wicked weed doesn’t take root in my homeland.
Until this year, I was one of those poor, deprived travellers who have only been to New York once (please read that sentence again with healthy splash of sarcasm so I don’t sounds like a monster). Exactly ten years ago, my best friend Lottie and I did a five-day power-visit of the Big Apple, armed with a laundry list of museums to visit, buildings to scale, stores to envy, and restaurants to fill our bellies (shhhh... truthfully we succumbed to a tourist trap or two due to unforeseen ravenous hunger and a lack of good sense). Our schedule would have classified as a frantic even for a New Yorker. And at the end our last day, after stumbling to the Guggenheim on the only day of the week it’s closed (blarg!), we had to resign ourselves that it is impossible to “see” New York in one visit.
So this time around, I’m making up for lost time...
The premise of improv is simple. Performers don’t know what will happen onstage until they're up there. Each scene begins with a suggestion from the audience. The performers start with that prompt, making up the story as they go along.
I signed up for improv not because I have a burning desire to be the next Amy Poehler or Kirstin Wiig, nor any illusions that you’ll soon be seeing me on the big screen or on Saturday Night Live. What inspired me to sign up for improv classes was the dedicated time and space to play... and also because the skills it builds are great for leaders (and people in general)... but I’m mostly here because of the ridiculous games.
On my first day, the elevator ride to Magnet Theater classrooms on the 10th floor seemed to take forever, adding to my growing excitement. The windowless classroom was half empty; strangers slowly started trickling in. We all sat down in the chairs lined up against one wall of the classroom. The room was silent except for some nervous whispering and then our instructor Rick, who reminds me a bit of Denis the Menace, walks in.
In his warm and exuberant way, Rick launches into his improv introduction concluding with, “if you’re not funny, there’s no real-life consequence. People just don’t think you’re funny. That is not a big deal.” Then he exclaims, “Okay, let’s get two people up there!”
Nice to meet you...
I'm Andi (hence the blog name). I'm a travel aficionado, passionate eater, tireless explorer of internet rabbit-holes, and amateur thinker. Join me as I give it all up (ok, that's a bit of an exaggeration) and go around the world on a mid-career "soul sabbatical" & year-of-learning to figure out what to be NEXT when I grow up. Won’t you grab a cup of chai and stay a while?
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