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!
If you thought that moving to Ireland was going to be all shamrocks and scones, you were kidding yourself. I thought no such thing; some days even an open mind and a world of patience don’t mute the growing pains that come from adjusting to a new country and culture.
Whenever you move somewhere new there a few different phases to settling in. The first few days are a bit overwhelming. The most ordinary things are foreign. For example, I have to get used to "the immersion" in my new flat. Need a translation? The immersion refers to an on-demand water heating system. This heater gets the water blazing hot. I mean hot. In my first shower attempt, I definitely lost a layer of skin. But it trades convenience for efficiency so there are no spontaneous showers here. You must give your immersion a little advance notice that you'd like to be clean. (To better understand, check out this stand up act by Des Bishop). I also have to remember to flip the switch for hot water in my kitchen tap to do the dishes!
Since I'm on a cleaning rant, here's another cleaning challenge: Dryers, as in the kind that you use after the washing machine, are still a new concept here. Some people have them but hardly anyone uses them. With high electricity costs, people would rather hang their clothes out to dry…even in Irish weather (read: cold, wet, and freezing). The one in my flat just eats euros without actually drying my clothes so I’m not sure that’s a win either. So musty towels, it is!
While most things in Ireland are not as backwards as the rumours suggest, cell phone set up is. My work is paying for my cell phone which will also double for home internet. Can you believe its only €30 for 30GB of data? That’s unheard of at home. (And technically, it includes cell phone minutes but no one uses them here - everyone uses calling features from WhatsApp or Viber). Despite the joy of cheap data, the process of setting up my cell phone was not joyful. The “mobile" (phone) shop wouldn’t let me set one up on my own because I don’t have Irish bank details (which seems silly to me since I have a credit card and it's a pay-as-you-go plan and I'm using my own iPhone but that’s how it’s done here).
Since my work will be paying for my cell phone, a colleague took me to the shop with the business credit card. But again, the shop wouldn’t let us set up my cell phone because the card isn’t in her name. A hassel but fair enough so back to the office we went. Then Fiona, my colleague whose name is on the business credit card, ushered me back down to the store for a third time. Finally, we got through the first step of setting up my account (in her name) only to realize that she couldn't use the business credit card because the her name is already linked to her personal phone account and you can use two types of payment for one name... and we can’t put it in my name because I don’t have a bank account here. So we had to put add my phone to her personal account, paid from her personal bank account only to reimburse her from the business. Bah! Could this be any more complicated for €30??!!
Next part of setting up is finding your way to the grocery store. You know you're a foodie when an adventure in a foreign country is going to the grocery store. I honestly believe that the food and eating habits of a country reveal insights into its culture and people. Sligo's shops are not quite exciting as non-English foreign supermarkets (all the all have foreign-sounding names), where you have to guess the contents of each package but size, weight and illustrations, but honestly, the main supermarkets in Sligo are depressing. The produce is jailed in multiple layers of plastic packaging trying to escape. Lett-uce out they scream! The deli counter is bleak and there is tons of pre-made and packaged food. I struggled to find the eggs which are stored on the shelf next to the baking goods - at room temperature. (Can someone explain why do North Americans store eggs in the fridge anyways?). If I had to summarize the Irish based solely on what I’ve found at their food shops, here is verdict: They love beige and yellow food - such as cakes, crackers, cookies, potatoes and various breaded and fried proteins. Silver lining: I love that grocery store sells wine. I'd forgotten how convenient (nay, dangerous) that is! While Tesco can provide the kitchen essentials, I quickly use my inner foodie compass (and mad google skills) to find the farmers market and a proper cheese shop so I don't go into St Agur withdrawal. For the foodies amongst you, Cosgrove and Son Deli, one of Sligo’s oldest shops, is an absolute treasure trove of a shop with all kinds of everything and it won't be long til the shop keeper and I on a first name basis.
Pretty soon, once I was "set up" and no longer got lost on my 500m walk to work, I entered the next phase of settling in: how to spend my free time. My last job was a little bit all consuming and to compensate for the fact that I had many late nights in meetings, I had rammed schedule of friends, family and fun activities so I seldom had free evening to spare making me a wee bit out of practice on the art of doing nothing. Layer on the fact, that I'm now living in a smaller town which translates to fewer options for activities to do. There is no volleyball leagues, I'm not a fan of the gym. I ventured to the community centre pool for a swim and nearly gagged because the water was so filthy complete with floating bandaids and stray hairs (despite the fact that everyone has to wear a swim cap at public pools!). I tried to find a yoga class since I'm from Vancouver, the land of yoga and kale smoothies. Trying to fill the void (and create some zen during my transition), I tried a few classes and found very little inspiration - cold rooms in community centres, other students who can't find their bellybutton let alone their core which translates to classes beleaguered with instructions and me missing my favourite teachers at home. (Apparently, I'm a yoga jerk. So much for zen).
Eventually, I threw myself into surfing since there is an epic surf scene in Strandhill, only twenty minutes from my doorstep. Who knew that in this slightly frigid and northern landscape, the beaches are inviting and the waves are huge? Plus, I've always wanted the ripped muscles and glorious sun-kissed tan of a surfer (although this not exactly true of Irish surfers since they're covered head-to-toe in neoprene).
With surfing, weekends aren't hard to fill but what on earth do grown-ups do in the evenings here? Guinness, that's what. However, going to the pub ymy own feels a little strange where everyone else knows everyone else (like most small towns) so I'd be the only nameless stranger drinking alone. As a 'blow-in,' the nail in the free-time coffin is that I can count the number of people I know in Sligo on my fingers and toes. (*a single tear rolls down her cheek and into her Guinness*). Thankfully, my coworkers are warm and friendly and everyone is reaching out to make sure I don't have to drink alone.
It is these small but kind gestures that help balance out the daily frustrations of adjusting to my new life in Sligo. There are going to be obstacles and I’m sure I will experience a few mini-meltdowns along the way, but I’m living in Ireland! All-in-all, I'm settling in nicely. I know that next phase, homesickness, is yet to come but for now I'm inoculating myself by staying salty playing in the surf and sending Valentine's cards home.
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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