hello: part two

Vienna. Let me tell you. Every classical musician should go to Vienna. Not only is there a wealth of concerts and historical sites, but the entire city celebrates music as a worthwhile profession. There are plenty of people in the world that don’t see music as a useful career, but in Vienna, musicians and artists are the life breath. Statues of composers are sprinkled liberally around where other cities venerate politicians or rulers, and Renée Fleming cds are proudly displayed in the main street shops.


While in Vienna, I visited the Shönbrunn palace and Tiergarten zoo, the Wien museum, Vienna State Opera, Mozarthaus, The Spanish Riding School, the Vienna Art History Museum, Stadpark, Karlskirche, the Haus der Musik, and a fantastic wurst stand. (Lesson 4: A little research goes a long way. I had a list of 14 things I wanted to do in Vienna which gave me a lot of options in how to spend my time. Before I left my hostel for the day, I circled them on my map to make sure I used my time as efficiently as possible. This worked really well because I had flexibility to add a ballet at the opera house, but kept me from spending all day on the underground – not that that wasn’t an adventure in itself.)

I loved the Shönbrunn palace and zoo. The austere, symmetrical beauty of the palace and grounds was highlighted by the light snow and grey skies. It was mighty cold in Vienna. There was a Christmas market at the palace, and I was grateful for the warmth of an orangepunch as I walked through the marble sculptures and frozen trees. The Tiergarten zoo is one of the most highly rated in Europe, and I was not surprised. I see myself as somewhat of a zoo connoisseur thanks to my family travels and found Tiergarten to be absolutely fantastic.

Nothing like watching a lion rip flesh off a bone to get you ready for church.

Another highlight of my trip was the opera house. I went on a tour of the building for 3.50e and returned three hours later with a hot bratwurst to get a standing room ticket to see Verklungene Feste for 3.00e.



My favorite museum was the Haus der Musik. The first floor has the history of the Vienna Philharmonic and a display of conducting batons from the likes of Mahler and Bernstein. The second floor is the Sonosphere which had fascinating exhibits such as a room that mimics the sounds of the womb. The last part of the Haus de Musik were rooms dedicated to several great composers including Haydn, Beethoven, and Schönberg. They even had a set of cards Schönberg used for writing 12 tone music. Two of the interactive exhibits were really entertaining. They had a serialist approach to creating a waltz where you’d role two dice that represented different voicings and use the resulting numbers to create a melody. The end of the museum is a chance to virtually conduct the Philharmonic orchestra.

Vienna was nerd heaven.



re-entry thoughts

  1. Wow, those streets are straight. No wonder I always get lost in Galway.
  2. Snow.
  3. That must be a one way street. Oops, no, wrong side.
  4. Americans are loud.
  5. And friendly. Yay, customer service again!
  6. Hello, diversity.
  7. Southern accents? Yes, please.
  8. Jalepenos didn’t used to be this hot.
  9. The outlets are so small and convenient!
  10. Seriously. Security again. How many people need to see my snowflake socks?
  11. Americans are much more business like than I remembered.
  12. Baggage claims are just the grown-up version of pooh sticks.
  13. I have been awake for 20 hours and still have at least 8 more before I get home.
  14. How many times can you yawn in a security q?
  15. Did I use a glottal or an aspirated “h”?
  16. I don’t know anymore. I don’t know anything. I’m so tired.
  17. American money is tiny. How is this worth anything?
  18. Why am I getting bills in change? And what is this receipt for?
  19. McDonald’s smells different here.
  20. Lettuce smells different here. I didn’t even know lettuce smelled.
  21. I can text Hannah again.
  22. I miss people explaining when I’m doing something wrong instead of just blinking at me in my stupidity. Thank you, airport lady.
  23. Oh, right. I can’t sit in the bar anymore. But look at all those empty seats!
  24. Why is it bright at 5pm?
  25. Hey! No one thinks I talk funny! Oh, wait, I just said “cheers”. Never mind. Everyone in the ENTIRE WORLD thinks I talk funny.
  26. I’m excited for hugs.
  27. Hug me, stranger! You’re from Texas so you won’t mind.
  28. Should I be early to my gate? Ah, no, it’ll be grand.
  29. Wait, this is America. Late is dead!
  30. Why is there no tea?

hello from the other side: bratislava, budapest, and vienna

Slovakia was cold, dirty, and silent on New Year’s day. I flew into Bratislava late Friday morning and headed for the station. The train station was busy, but unhelpful. I asked an employee when the next train was to Budapest, and she said she didn’t know. Eventually, I figured out that the next train wasn’t for a few hours, so I explored the city a little. (Lesson 1: Check all transit times before you go somewhere without internet)

One of the things that struck me most about Bratislava was the graffiti. The stuff I could read ranged from “Life is Porn” to “Nazis are Losers”. It started to snow as I sat and watched the trains arriving – large soft flakes that looked like they were trying to compensate for the grey, battered city.

View from Buda

Again, I must look more competent than I am because several people approached me to ask questions in various languages about train schedules and prices. I was unfortunately as unhelpful as the transport employees.


Thankfully, I got on the right train in a crowd of Asian tourists with facemasks and matching coats and several hours later I was in Budapest.

Hungary does not use euros. (Lesson 2: check currency). I figured that out from a McDonald’s menu that wanted “900” for a Big Mac. I went to a bankomat to get some forints. I was only going to be in Budapest for half a day, so I decided I would get a small amount of money. I didn’t really have a reference point for forints beyond the brief glance at McD, so I selected “60”. Wrong one for my intents and purposes. Money kept pouring out of the machine. Note after note of strange currency filled my hands. I freaked out at the thought of an empty bank account and an absurd amount of money that would be obsolete to me in 18 hours. I ran to the tourist office and asked them how much money I had because I didn’t have any phone coverage. They counted it solemnly. 60,000 forints. I was rich and broke at the same time. Turns out this was only about 194 euros which was more than I wanted, but not devastating.

Opera House

Gladly I returned to the McD for wifi and food I could pronounce. I looked up directions to my Air BnB and set off down the dark streets.

Budapest is beautiful. The streets are lined with beautiful buildings and parks litter the corners. I spend several hours walking around marveling at the stunning designs.

After a good sleep, I woke early to explore Budapest some more. I like walking around cities in the pale light with no one but the street cleaners around. Because I didn’t know anything about Budapest, I bought a ticket for a hop-on/hop-off bus. (Lesson 3: I had scorned these before, but if you want to see all the iconic places in a city and learn some history, these bus tours are actually really nice. Plus, it was cold.) I rode through Pest and across the Danube to Buda and ended my time at the Old Market Hall with spicy goulash, strudel, and a gypsy band.

Where ever you go in all the world…

The train left from Budapest at 1:30pm, and I got to the station at 1pm. Now, in Ireland, train seats are scarcely, if ever, assigned. The train from Slovakia didn’t have assigned seats. This train did. If you had a ticket without a seat assignment, you were supposed to take any open seat in 2nd class or stand. I didn’t realize this until every single seat on the train was full. I had been wandering up and down the cars looking for a seat by an outlet not realizing that I would have been fortunate to get any seat. I ended up in the aisle by a guy from Australia, a fashion designer from Austria, and a couple from Spain. We sat on the floor or stood and tried to avoid falling over and being in the way for the three hour trip. Vienna was welcome for so many reasons.

Also, I can’t take pictures. Oh, well.

How many selfies?

100 days and 20 years

Today was a day of singular coincidence. My final day of classes at UL, my 100th day in Ireland, and my 20th birthday.

Living cross-culturally in Ireland has been harder than I ever expected it to be. Irish culture is about as opposite to my personality as it gets, but I am pleased at how I have adapted and assimilated. Learning to be people focused instead of time or task driven is very counterintuitive to me, but also extremely rewarding. For example, while I would show respect and interest in people by being on time and performing my work well, Irish people show it by talking to people and spending time with them – even if that means they are late or don’t finish their work. Since I used to plan my day in 5 minute increments, this has been tricky for me, but I am pleased with the progress I’ve made.

Something I haven’t assimilated as well is conversation cues. Irish people give a lot of verbal listening cues during a conversation. “Right, yes, yes, I see” constantly. In America, these cues would signal that the listener was trying to break into the conversation, but in Ireland, it’s how you show someone you’re listening. One of my Irish friends said it was because Irish people don’t like to make eye contact, but such talkative listening still is uncomfortable for me.

One aspect of Irish culture that was  hard for me in the beginning but is now quite natural is calling adults, especially professors, by their first name. This is completely taboo in the Southern United States, but any other term of address is seen as obnoxiously formal here. I’ve adapted so well to this manner of address that I’ve caught myself sending emails to American professors addressed to their first name, so this habit may be hard to shake.

Visiting this lovely lady was a breath of fresh, cold air

Overall, I’m proud of how I have adapted culturally. I’m by no means fluid or flawless in my interaction in Irish culture, but I know I will continue to improve the longer I’m here and the more I travel.

I have gained so much more confidence in talking to strangers. (A necessity when you’re in a foreign country without friends.) Normally, I’d fake it until I made it or failed at it before I’d talk to a stranger, but I no longer have qualms about asking for help or clarification. The worst that could happen is annoying somebody or making them laugh at you, and you can always mitigate that by being polite (according to their customs) or laughing with them. Pants/trouser mistakes are always funny anyway.

I’ve also never stayed at a stranger’s house except for church retreats and such. I don’t like spending the night in a strange place be it hotel, hostel, or home, and I don’t like imposing, but I stayed with then-strangers in Donegal and had a wonderful time. I also invited myself. Together, that is an insecure introverts nightmare, but that’s exactly what I did.

Thank you to the Loughridges and Crossins for a wonderful time with your families in Donegal

I’ve also mostly relinquished my love/need to plan and enjoy being what happens. I’ve nearly mastered the exact amount of planning to make sure I get back for class, but don’t usually go beyond that. Part of that is has to do with my confidence in my ability to think on my feet. The other part is due to the Irish motto, “It’ll be grand”.

And it usually is.

four buses, three countries, two taxies, a train, and a boat

This is how you get to Scotland from Limerick.

Set your alarm for 6am because the bus leaves at 7. Wake up at 6:45 instead, finish packing, and catch the bus at 6:55. Realize you’ve forgotten your passport and Northern Ireland is not the Free State. Get off at a petrol station and call your friend, Derek, the taxi driver. Go back home. Get your passport. Take a bus to Dublin. Walk from one bus stop to another. Wait an extra hour because the busses were on strike that morning. Sit next to a girl from Bloomington, IN and do an assignment. Arrive in Belfast and walk towards the ferry. Realize it’s too far and call a cab. Try to pay the taxi driver and discover you can’t count sterling. Give your wallet to the driver and watch his frustration when he tells you that you don’t have enough money. Offer euros and dollars, but get denied. Walk away. Go through security, board a ferry, and set sail for Scotland. Write a paper while you travel. Edit some song recordings. When you arrive in Scotland, ask three different people which bus to get on for the train station because you can’t understand what anybody says. Take the bus and the train and arrive in Glasgow to see your friend Carla who so graciously invited you down and planned a much smoother version of your trip which would have been nice to follow. See lots of friends, get wet, fall off a seesaw, walk around in a cemetery. Buy an Iron Brew and save it for when you can send a video of you trying it to a friend’s little brother who insists it’s the best. Repeat journey in reverse except this time, sit next to an incredibly hospitable woman on the bus from Belfast to Dublin who invites you to spend a weekend at her friend’s house. Eat dinner in Dublin with your grandparents who are traveling for their anniversary. Have your shoes fall apart when you get on the bus to Limerick.

Arrive home with your school work done and a full heart.

That is how you take a trip to Scotland.

many mistakes

When questioned as to my purpose in his car, “You are giving me a ride home” I told the little boy in the back seat. His mother looked at me disconcertedly and said “We call it a lift here.” Turns out, a ride is something completely different in Ireland. Sometimes, I’m not sure they speak English here.

Making mistakes has been one of the most rewarding parts of my time abroad. I like to have control over myself and my surroundings, but control is a luxury in a foreign country that relies on public transportation. I have ended up on the end of a bus line on the last bus, insulted store clerks by not saying “How are you?”, and made Deirdre laugh at me because I was working on a paper instead of an assignment.



I adore making lists, so here are five things I’ve discovered about Irish culture through making a fool of myself.

  1. Talking about money is taboo. Rich or poor, filthy lucre is not a topic of conversation. It makes people uncomfortable.
  2. No bragging on your family or accepting compliments graciously. I told some friends that my sister was a good artist, and they told me they would never so something like that about their siblings. While I’m all for humility, sometimes even Irish people admit it gets a little ridiculous.
  3. There are céad míle ways to say “How are you?” in casual conversation (I still don’t know how to respond to any of them). An craic, what’s the crack, what’s the news, how’s it going – the list is endless. It’s a necessary opener to any conversation. Even if you just want to ask where the bathroom is. Furthermore, if someone in Ireland asks if you are all right, that’s your cue to order food or pay for groceries. It’s not that you look wrecked and caused concern. I used to answer the question and wonder why I never got service. Now, I know the correct answer to “Are you all right?” is “Yeah, I’d like a chicken roll, please.”
  4. Don’t mention the Irish language unless you know you are on safe ground. It’s a very politically and emotionally charged subject. Stay away. Same goes for the English, Northern Ireland, and Protestantism.
  5. Irish people will not tell you you are doing something wrong unless they actually care about you. They may look at you in their particularly judgmental way, but they will not say anything. It takes a friend incessantly mocking you to figure out how not offend everyone. I’m thankful for those people.

island life

On Saturday, I took a completely solo adventure to the Aran Islands. I went to Galway by train, took a bus to Ros a’ Mhíl, a ferry to Inis Oírr, and another ferry to Inis Mór where I stayed the night. IMG_3760

It just happened that I’m on another Brontë kick and started reading “Wuthering Heights” on the train that morning. As I climbed hill after solitary hill, her words “a misanthropist’s heaven” struck me as particularly apt. I went five hours without seeing above three people. IMG_3764 IMG_3778

Inis Oírr was stunning. I had perfect weather for the trip – clouds, but some sun and no rain, so I was able to enjoy the island in all it’s splendor. The ferry was greeted on its arrival by Mara, the resident dolphin along with many offers of horse and buggy tours and bike rentals. I passed over these for walking and set off for the graveyard on the hill which a man had told me contained a sunken church. I wandered around the cemetery until more people arrived then set off over the hills. After a while, I made it back to the village for lunch at the pub, and then sat on the rocks until it was time for my ferry. I had forgotten how much I loved the ocean. IMG_3781 IMG_3827

Inis Mór was much more tourist oriented than Inis Oírr. I quickly left Kilronan, the village, to look at some of the sites of the island. For the craic of it, I followed spray painted signs that pointed to a “wormhole” in a cliff at the edge of the island. In the process, I completely lost the path I was on. Thankfully, islands are very easy to navigate. Just keep the water on your left and you’ll eventually make it back around. It was a very long eventually, but it ended with great seafood chowder and Bailey’s coffee at a pub and a hot shower in the hostel. IMG_3786 IMG_3788 IMG_3834

The next morning, I was up early to escape the snoring of my roommates and spend some time writing in my journal. I breakfasted on the hostel patio with a friendly collie and met a lad from Dublin who was also staying at the hostel. We talked on the ferry and bus ride back to Galway about art, meditation, and Irish. He is an artist moving to Inis Oírr to spend time focusing on his art before starting art school in Galway. When we parted ways at the bus station, he said he was sure he’d see me again some summer when I’d “come breezing into [his] life with that beautiful smile”. “I’ll be the crazy guy with the even crazier beard”, he joked. IMG_3800 IMG_3896

One of my favorite parts of the trip was using Irish. The Aran Islands are a Gaeltacht region which means that Irish is used in everyday life. It was interesting to see the response I got from people when I greeted them in Irish or switched from English to Irish in the middle of a conversation. While everyone I met was very friendly, they were even more enthusiastic when I tried to carry on conversations in Irish. This was especially obvious when I was in less touristy areas of the islands. As for me, I had no idea how terrifying it would be to voluntarily start a conversation in a second language, but even one day of use had me unconsciously saying “go raibh maith agat” instead of “thank you” to the Americans in my hostel room. IMG_3805