I swear, I tried to make this blog post a lot shorter than the last novel I wrote. "Tried" being the key word :) My time in Cork is almost up, and today marks one month since I've been in Ireland. One month! I can't believe it. It really is flying by, which is both good and bad. Good because I miss my friends and family, and I'm excited to get home and start a new chapter in Vermont. Bad because I know I'm going to miss this place, and because I put so much planning and effort into this trip that I wonder what I'm going to focus on when I get back.
I was hoping this trip would help guide me into a decision about photography, but so far I haven't had a big a-ha moment. Some days, it's been great to have my camera and discover the city through my lens. Others, the light is so flat and dull here that it has frustrated me and sent me into a "I'm the crappiest photographer ever" tizzy. It comes and goes. I hope to be able to keep doing wedding and portrait photography, at least long enough for me to figure out what my career path will be once I am settled in Vermont.
Cork has been interesting and I'd say the gamut of emotions has been run here. It took me about two full days to adjust to life here, but once I did, the time here flew by and I know it's going to be very hard to leave on Monday. I have really gotten used to life here with Sean, the typical Irish paddy who says "top of the morning to you" to everyone on the street and could make you smile on the darkest of dreary days here in Ireland with his endless stories, and his wife Julia, who transplanted from Germany and is one of the most quietly charming people I've ever met. Dinners here were full of great conversation, and between myself, one student from Taiwan and another from France, Julia representing Germany and Sean the only true "Corkonian"... well it was basically like a meeting of the United Nations on a few occasions. :). It's been wonderful having a "family" to come home to and I know I will miss it a lot.
I will also miss the friends I've made in Cork, who have made my time here infinitely more enjoyable. Within the first couple of days, when I realized how many transplants there are in this city and how hard it was going to be to meet people my age, I joined a few Meetup groups and went to a few events. One group in particular was great for me, as it was a group of expat women, and most are in my age range, so I was thrilled to have found them and gotten to do a few meet ups and get to know some great ladies. It's been really hard having my girlfriends so far away, so it was nice to have other girls to go out with and chat to about big things like life in Ireland, but also little things like the hard water making my hair crazy or how the girls here who wear 7 inch heels on the cobblestone are basically insane.
When I first arrived in Cork, I remember cringing realizing how much of a city it actually is. I have never been a city person and I thought for sure I'd end up lost every day, or I would feel unsafe, or I would just absolutely hate it. Nothing could have been further from the truth, once I walked around and figured out which areas to stick to and which to avoid. On Good Friday, the hop on/ hop off tour was only 5 euro, as opposed to 14 euro, so I spent the day riding around and learning about the city. I did a fantastic tour at the Cork City Gaol (or Cork City Jail, as we would spell it) and I also visited the Crawford Gallery, another great thing to do here and the price is right: FREE. Being a tourist on a fixed budget, free is music to my ears, and I'm trying to soak up as much free as possible in Ireland :)
The English Market is also free and it became one of my favorite places to go while I was here. I would probably compare it to the Seattle Fish Market, if I had ever been there :). In Boston, it's most comparable to Faneuil Hall, although Faneuil Hall has a lot more prepared food, where the majority of the English Market is things that you take home and prepare. Nonetheless, I've found myself wandering it almost every day, just for the sights and smells and sounds of it. I've eaten at the Sandwich Stall and the Farmgate Market upstairs... Both excellent and I find it a relaxing place, one that I'm definitely comfortable enjoying alone, which isn't always the case when dining here.
Just as I enjoyed the best fish and chips Dublin had to offer, I headed to Jackie Lennox's in Cork and enjoyed the best fish and chips this city has to offer. Have you ever watched a food competition, or competitive eating I guess it's called? You know how the competitor starts off strong and then halfway through sometimes takes a deep breath in and you can tell that they actually want to die but instead they just shove another hot dog in their mouth in hopes for the crown, or the ribbon, or whatever it is they get when they win? This process would basically describe every meal I've had in Ireland, only I'm not competing to win a crown; I'm simply trying not to get yelled at by whoever is serving me for wasting food. It happened in Dublin and was quite traumatizing, and so I've been trying to avoid it ever since. At Jackie Lennox's, there was no choice, there was absolutely NO CHANCE of finishing the portion they served me. And I got garlic and cheese chips... My GAWD. Delicious but absolutely gluttonous, and I barely put a dent in them.
Moving off from food, because I have done other things in Cork besides eat.... I took some fabulous day trips from here and Cork is really a great location to explore the southwest of Ireland. I took a day tour of West Cork that included the Gougane Barra in Macroom, the Mizen Head Peninsula, and a few small towns like Bantry and Clonakilty. Mizen Head was absolutely fantastic and the drive there was breathtaking. I almost wished I wasn't on a tour and could have had my own car, because there were plenty of photo opportunities on the drive there. Once we got there, I paid the 6 euro for the scenic walk out to the lighthouse, but I don't think very many of us on the tour actually made it that far. The wind was absolutely incredible and literally made your ears ring.
I also learned my way around the Bus Eirann busing system (no easy feat, if you ask me) and took day trips to Kinsale and Midleton, to visit the Jameson distillery. Kinsale was amazing and if I ever got the chance to come back to Ireland again, I would make sure to spend a few days there. Midleton was a nice, quiet town, with the beautifully kept Jameson distillery right in the middle. I really enjoyed the tour there and got picked as one of 8 volunteers at the end to do a whiskey tasting... So yeah... I wasn't feeling any pain by the time I left there :)
Other don't misses in Cork:
-Ringing the bells and climbing the clock tower at Saint Anne's Church. It's quite a terrifying climb so I don't recommend if you have any problem with heights, but the rewarding views at the top made this one of my favorite moments here.
-The Bookshop Coffee House on Pembroke Street. Housed in the old Cork city library, I fell in love with this place.... HARD. The food isn't spectacular, but it's a perfect place for curling up with a coffee or tea and reading or doing some blogging. There are overstuffed old ornate chairs that look like they came from the original library, and a super comfy couch that I sank right into. Literally if it as socially acceptable I would have taken off my shoes on several occasions and stretched my feet on the couch. Damn social norms, spoiling all the fun.
-Butler's Chocolate Cafe. This place is next to the GPO (general post office... check me out talking like a Corkonian) on Oliver Plunkett and oh em geeeeeeeee.... Their hot chocolate is the absolute best. A friend from home had suggested it to me, and once I popped in it was all over. Have I mentioned I've gained ten pounds since I've been in Ireland?!?! I would attribute 8 of those pounds to how much hot chocolate I've drank at this place. My favorites: the mint and the cookie hot chocolates. Oh and did I mention each drink comes with a free truffle of some kind? THANK YOU BUTLERS FOR ENSURING I'LL HAVE TO ENROLL IN PLUS SIZE DATING IN ORDER TO FIND A HUSBAND SOMEDAY. Appreciate that.
-Scoozi's and Electric. My favorite restaurants in Cork. I went to Scoozi's on a date, and while I didn't immediately fall in love with the date, I did immediately fall in love with this place. The atmosphere is great, the wait staff is friendly, and the food is yummmmm. Same goes for Electric, which is on the South Mall and overlooks the river. I might say that I liked the food at Scoozi's better, but then again Electric did have creme brûlée, sooooooo let's call it a draw.
-Trad sessions, anywhere in the city. My favorite was at the Oliver Plunkett, but basically all over the city they have trad on certain nights. I did a stop at the tourist office when I first arrived, and one of the brochures they have me was for "Lee Sessions", and it listed out bars that had trad every night of the week. So helpful when you came to Ireland to get away from Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber music, and you didn't expect to hear it over here as well :)
-Arthur Maynes. Dude, best wine bar EVER! I'm not even kidding, I'm not that into wine, and I adored this place. It's housed in an old chemist shop, or pharmacy, and the atmosphere is perfect... old apothecary bottles behind the bar, bookshelves filled with old chemist books, tapered candles dripping wax onto the wine bottles holding them. But here's the modern awesomeness part: on the wall, there's about 30 bottles of wine in this high tech machine. You buy a card, put say 20 euro on it, and then insert the card into the machine. You put your glass under the wine you want to try, select how much you want (a quarter of a glass might cost 2 euro, a half glass 4 euro and some change, etc.) and voila! Wine pours from the spout into your glass, and you get to sample as many different kinds of wine as you want without committing to a full glass until you know you like it. I LOVE THIS PLACE. I immediately thought of my stepmom, as she is kind of a wino, and I know she would go nuts for this. I sampled 4 different bottles and they were all delicious.
-University College Cork. Or Harry Potter World, the sequel. Okay, I actually know nothing about Harry Potter World, but walking around this campus, you'd probably be able to tell why I said that. The buildings are just gorgeous and have this old world feel... The architecture is amazing and really gives you the true, old collegiate experience. Of course it started to pour when I tried to take pictures there, but you'll see one of the buildings in one of the collages below. The one that looks like a castle with three people walking towards it... Yup, just another building at UCC. Awesome place!
-Cork Butter Museum. Just kidding. You can totally miss this :)
Two more days in Cork and then I'm off to Kerry! I'll be in Killarney for 5 days, Dingle for 5 days, and then up the coast to Doolin and the Aran Islands. Thanks for reading my little adventures... be back to blog in a week or two!