All of us might wish at times that we lived in a more tranquil world, but we don't. And if our times are difficult and perplexing, so are they challenging and filled with opportunity.

Robert Kennedy

Monday, September 16, 2013

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

This is the End...my friends.

What a long strange trip it's been...and it all ends today. Weird, huh?
I can't believe it's been 2 years since I've seen the U.S. of A. but I will tonight. I think traveling for a bit after leaving Moldova was a wise move. It helped me relax and settle and readjust to the semi-western world. I know there is still a long road ahead but I got to take the trip of a lifetime and I am grateful for that.
I will arrive in NY Tuesday evening and stay with my dear friends, the Putnams in Brooklyn for the night. On Wednesday morning I will wake up and travel home to Pennsylvania to see my parents and siblings. Mom is waiting with my favorite dip and chips, because that's the kind of Mom she is. 
Then the job search begins. I will work with my brother at the restaurant for a few days to get me out of the house and help him out but I will still be searching for something permanent hopefully in the LA area. Yes, heading back to CA. Unless something magical opens up in the UK or on the East Coast, I think I'm meant to be in CA.
I have learned a lot these past few years. Things about me, what I'm capable of, what I can and cannot handle and mostly what I don't want to be. I guess that's something. Unfortunately, it did not provide me with the answer of what I want to do. I still have time to decide, but the pressure has begun.
I wish all Americans would get the chance to live in developing countries to see how good we have it. I know it's cliche to say, but we are some lucky sons of bitches to grow up where we did. The 'land of opportunity' is such an understatement. People all over the world are literally dying just to step foot on the land we call home. And there we are fighting about stupid petty things. I think the major lesson I have learned is kindness. I have been reading these job websites and so many of them say "you must have a thick skin." Why? Because you are in a position of power and don't have the time or necessity to be kind to people? I worked for many people like this in the past that mistake cruelty for respect and if I have taken anything away from this experience, I will not be around those people any longer. It's not about having a thick skin, it's about what you're willing to tolerate. Just basic human kindness goes so far. The overwhelming Irish hospitality granted me memories of a lifetime. I was surrounded by natural beauty and historical landmarks and what I remember is the kindness. Isn't it funny that when we meet someone really kind these days our first reaction is "what's wrong with them...are they creepy?" So, kindness...that's my goal.
I guess I am going to have to break down and buy one of those phones everyone's so crazy about. Going this last month without one has been really liberating. Not knowing what time it was, only relying on once a day internet to communicate...the good old days. 
But real life is approaching. I have had a really good run. I don't regret anything I did for a second. Even my worst memories in Moldova caused me to learn something. I do know that I am 40 years old and yesterday I sat in the bottom of a lava canyon in a geothermal spa. I'd say I'm a pretty damn lucky girl.

Thanks, California friends - for keeping up with me and the weird time change to chat with me into the night and keep me posted on the theatre goings on in that part of the world.
Thanks, theatre kids - my entourage of crazies who I get to watch grow up in front of my eyes. I love that you still keep me in your thoughts. I know you're always in mine.
Thanks, College friends - It's been nearly 20 years and you're still my family.
Thanks, Too Faced friends - for staying with me long after I left the company. Even traveling across the world to reunite with me. Thanks, Juli for sending me boxes of my cravings and keeping me sane with the tiniest of gestures and at the same time contributing to charities halfway around the world.
Thanks, new Peace Corps friends - for becoming family and getting me through this very strange transition for the past 2 years. I know we will all be relying on each other in the months/years to come.
Thanks, besties - you know who you are. Never stopped supporting me once.
And most of all, thanks, family - for loving me through Skype and loving me because of these crazy things I do and not in spite of them.

That's all for now. Hard to believe but time for a new chapter to begin.
Signing off now, this American Idiot is going home.

Peace.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Leg #6 - Iceland

It was hard to say goodbye to Ireland. I am so lucky that I got to spend nearly a month there. And I know I didn't see everything I wanted to. 
I left on Thursday morning. My hostel my last night in Dublin was so wonderful. I'm so mad at myself for not staying there the first time around. I wonder if it would have changed my opinion of the city. The guy who ran it was SO nice and so interesting and I am just sad I missed out. Because of this, I stayed way too long chatting and cut it seriously close at the airport. The bus to the airport took a really long time as it made a lot of stops and I just didn't plan ahead and forgot that I was checking my bag because it was filled with liquids and you know, they need time to get bags to the plane. So they told me that there was no guarantee that my bag would make it to Iceland at the same time as me. Ugh. I ran to the gate and of COURSE it was the furthest one away. I checked in at C21 and my plane left from A102. Isn't that always the way? But I made it. Arrived in Copenhagen, Denmark. It is a beautiful airport which is good since I was there for 5 hours. However, holy SHIT is Denmark expensive. 
Had to have a Danish in Denmark...
I innocently bought a hamburger fries and a coke and paid in Danish Krona (via credit card) and it printed out the US equivalent $42.00. AHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!
Iceland Air is absolutely wonderful. I'm so happy I get to fly it again next week to NY. And flying over the Arctic Ocean was just something I never dreamed of seeing. I arrived here in Iceland at 9:00 at night however, with how far North we are, the sun wasn't even close to setting. I got a bus from the airport to the center of the city which is about an hour's drive. The sunset was ridiculous. I watched it from my hostel and it didn't fully set until about 12:30am. 



Woke up this morning feeling well rested. Showered and felt much better. Walking around Reykjavik is very disorienting. I don't know why, I just don't feel as comfortable here as I did in Ireland. I guess it's just, well, at the risk of sounding stupid, foreign. It's incredibly beautiful. It just feels like a different world. I guess it is.
I sit down at lunch and this is on the wall at my table...can't get away. Home is calling me!

Old town Reykjavik.

The Concert Hall

Sitting on the lava rocks.
Um...

Beautiful cathedral that looks like a rocket ship.

It is extremely expensive here so I'm sticking to a Subway regiment so I've basically cured my cravings for sandwiches for a while.
The next day the majority of people checked out of my hostel room so I could really get situated (finally). 2 really nice Canadians checked in and we had breakfast together. I then went on a small tour of the South Coast of Iceland. Why did I not think a country named literally 'the land of ice' would not be cold? I guess I figured everywhere is cold in August. But it's cold. IT'S COLD!
Our first stop was at the Strokkur Geyser. It goes off every 2-4 minutes. I had never seen a geyser before so I was probably more excited than normal...


The next stop was the Gullfoss waterfall which was so beautiful. But it was SO COLD. I didn't stand outside for very long since I only was in a sweatshirt in jeans and sandals and it was about 48F. 


Shivering


That's a glacier right there.
"This cold doesn't feel like there's global warming..."
"Yeah, the glacier used to cover the whole country...so shut up!"

And the last stop was at ├×ingvellir National Park. This is a beautiful country. 




I know next week when I'm sweating in the Northeast of the US I'm going to be missing these temperatures. When I got back into the city, I hunted down Hamborgarafabrikkan, a rumored awesome gourmet hamburger joint that Iceland's favorite frequent fisherman, Eric Clapton always goes to. It was a holiday in Iceland so a lot of things were shut down so I didn't know if it would be open, but it was. And MAN was it good. A burger topped with garlic mushrooms, brie and bernaise sauce. Jenn was a happy girl.




Got another lazy day on Sunday. It was a holiday weekend so a lot of things were shut down. So I walked around for a while and then napped. I know, exciting stuff but I know I'm heading home in a few days and won't have this 'laziness' available to me for much longer. I did get the chance to visit Iceland's 'best' hot dog stand. It opened in 1939 and has been visited by James Hetfield (Metallica), Anthony Bourdain (No Reservations) and of course, Bill Clinton. Supposedly it's 'the best hot dog in Europe.' I can't argue with that. I don't know what they put on it, but it was freaking GOOD!




Got to take a long nap in the afternoon before joining two girls from my hostel for dinner back to the hamburger place again. Flavia (Italy) and Sharon (Canada) and I walked down to the water to watch an Icelandic sunset. This takes place at about 12:30am so it was a late night.



And then on Monday I woke up excited as it was finally my Blue Lagoon day, the reason I came to Iceland. A spa located in a lava field about 40 minutes outside of Reykjavik. It is geothermal and ranges in temps from 98-102 Degrees F and the waters are rich in sulfur and silica which makes them a milky blue color. My friend Sharon (from the hostel) and I arrived at 11am. We were outfitted with a robe and slippers and wristbands. Everything for your day goes on the wrist band. You swim up to the bar in the water, they scan your wristband, you eat at the cafeteria, they scan your wristband. With our admission was included a volcanic face scrub and moisturizing algae mask. We swam up to the bar, they handed us a freezing cold piece of volcanic scrub which we dipped in the water and rubbed on our face. The spa is huge, like a giant bathtub situated between many lava rocks. There is also a hot sauna and a steam bath on the premises and you have to shower before you go in the waters at all times. The temperature outside was 52F so it was always a sprint to dash for your robes when you exited the water. It was amazing!


Walking through the lava rocks up to the spa





Me and Sharon with the volcanic scrub on our faces.
After hours in the geothermal waters, we headed back into the city both dead tired. Ate some Thai food quickly and were in bed by 8:00. 
Holy shit...I am going to the U.S. Tomorrow!!!!!!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Leg #5 - Killarney

Well, my time here in Ireland has come to a close. It's hard to believe I've been here for 3 weeks. I love this country, these 2 countries and I am super glad I chose to spend my post service here.

So, for my last leg, I went a little bit south to Killarney. I didn't have the best start to my day. I don't know why but my iPod mysteriously emptied so when I got on the bus, I had nothing to listen to. Argh, alone with my thoughts. I was cranky and hungry and bored. Wah.
We stopped in Limerick at the halfway point and I got a coffee and a scone and I felt better. I grabbed my Kindle out of my backpack and climbed on bus #2 and read. The bus driver's ring tone was Guns-n-Roses and that made me giggle and lightened my mood. 
Killarney was a cute little town and I found the hostel with ease. It was family run so everyone was really friendly. I was so hungry that I was almost shaking. I wandered into town and found a place where I could get a hamburger. I spent some time back at the hostel relaxing but then again it was overrun by French kids again. Why can't I get away from these group trips? Ugh!
I dropped my stuff off in my room and then went out for dinner. All the pubs were really crowded already so I found this out of the way Indian place that was pretty empty. The food was DELICIOUS and the atmosphere was so delightfully peaceful. I ate a lot, it was super spicy, and I was very happy. It was an early night. I curled up in bed and watched the movie "Mud." (FANTASTIC movie, highly recommend.)
I slept really well and when I woke up, the other 6 people in my room had checked out.
Found a cute coffee place across the street and finished the book I started on the bus the day before. Dropped my stuff off at the hostel and asked the lady at the front desk for recommendations. She pulled out a map and showed me a pretty but simple walk around one of the nearby lakes at the top of the Ring of Kerry. I asked her how long of a walk it was and she said "about an hour." Cool, I can handle that. 
I walked down and the lake was super beautiful so I started to walk on the trail. When it broke off into the woods, I was a little confused as I didn't remember her mentioning it was an 'off-road' trail, but whatever. It was a 'one-way' trail which meant once you started, you couldn't turn back. It rained on and off. So...about 2 hours in, I started wondering if I was a super slow walker or what. So I asked a passer by and she pointed out the trail next to the one the girl at the hostel had pointed out. I said "oh...well, how long is this one?" She said "Um...maybe 18 kilometers?" (11 miles) I started laughing, almost maniacally. There was nothing I could do. I think she was scared a little and told me to head for the cottage. So I kept that in my head, the cottage, the cottage, I can make it to the cottage. Finally, I saw the cottage. They had coffee and sandwiches and water (most importantly) and I rested. Sigh. I had done it. I was very proud of myself. So I asked the lady who worked there what was the best way to get back into town and she looked at me strangely... 'You know this is the halfway point, right?" I think the color drained from my face. I was literally stuck and I had 10 more kilometers to walk. It was pouring rain at that point and I just had a hooded sweatshirt. So now, it was raining, but hot so I was still sweating and I had 10K to walk. The last "spot" i wanted to see on the walk was the Torc Waterfall. I finally made it to the Waterfall and took a photo. Only 3K to go. The last hour of my walk I was delirious, like those runners at the end of a marathon. I was walking in patterns to entertain myself, singing show tunes like a lunatic, talking to cows along the way, it really was quite ridiculous. During this delirium, I realized , this was the perfect metaphor for my Peace Corps service. Slowly, very slowly, I started to see civilization. And I made it back into town. I laughed at the ridiculousness of my day. I sat down at an Italian restaurant and ate a good hearty meal. Afterwards, it took me nearly 10 minutes to be able to stand up. My muscles were giving me a giant middle finger. By the grace of God, for some unknown reason, no one else checked into my hostel room that night. I took a long, hot shower and went to sleep. It was 7:30pm...
Here are some of the photos from my marathon walk...oh and the ONE photo I took of Torc Waterfall? Effing blurry...
Murphy's Sea Salt Ice Cream. DELICIOUS!



Two roads diverged...I took the one less traveled by...effing Robert Frost...




We had a lengthy conversation. Turns out, we're both Broadway fans.

Civilization
I woke up in the same position I fell asleep in at 10:00 the next morning. A mere 14.5 hours later and I was all right. I was still pretty sore but functioning. So I took it easy. Walked around town briefly, did some souvenir shopping and ate...a few times. 
When I got back to the hostel, 3 huge Germans (only 1 was a dude) checked into the room. I didn't care, I was still sore. I fell asleep. During the night, I heard security banging on the door across the hall and he wound up kicking out 4 people. That was interesting. 
On my last day, I took a bus trip to the Dingle Peninsula (heh). It was a beautiful coastline drive. 
Inch Beach...on the Dingle Peninsula...yeah, I laughed too. TOO pretty though.




Downtown Dingle



We got back around 5 and I found dinner at a cute family restaurant. There were more people in my room now but I was still able to get to bed early. 
I woke up this morning with the intent on grabbing the 9:30am train to Dublin. It was pouring rain which made for a long walk. When I got to the train station they said it was double the price, the online discount wasn't applicable. What is this world coming to? Giving you discounts for not talking to people...ugh.
So I got a bus at 10, but it was NOT an express and it took nearly 6 hours to get here. I was happy listening to an audiobook until my iPod died at a crucial moment in the story. I found my hostel. It is already SO much better than the last time I was here. I really wish I had stayed here my first time in Dublin, maybe I would like this city more. I was able to meet up with another PCV, Tom, for dinner. He just arrived in Ireland and I'm just leaving. That's the way it goes. 
So, Ireland, it's been real. I've learned a lot and I've fallen more in love with this part of the world than I thought possible. Tomorrow, I fly to Iceland. That should be interesting...no idea what to expect. 
More to come...

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Leg #4 - Western Ireland

Western Ireland was maybe one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. I know I only saw a small taste of it, but what I saw was unforgettable.
So if you recall the camera story from the previous blog, that hostel turned out to be just as wonderful as I had hoped. The staff was so super friendly and the facility was a refurbished hotel. It was beautiful. I met up with Drew and we went out and had lunch and I had possibly the best Cajun Chicken sandwich of my life. During our lunch, the downpour began. We shouldn't have sat outside. There was an awning but it didn't help much. We had to dash back to the hostel in the pouring rain. Both of us had coats and umbrellas which we had both conveniently left in our rooms. As we dashed to our respective rooms, I realized afterwards that I didn't really have a way to get in touch with him. Oh well. I found a secluded TV lounge and relaxed for a few hours. When I got back to my room, it was filled with people and they were great. There was a guy from Australia, Fu, a kid from the Netherlands, Dan, 2 girls from Arkansas and an Asian girl. Fu offered to cook dinner for everyone, I don't know why I refused, I really don't. Instead I went downstairs and ran into Drew, luckily, and we wandered around the town. Galway was super cool and much more compressed than Dublin. We found an Irish pub (shocker) and decided to have a real Irish meal. It was great.


Drew's Shepard's Pie

My Irish Guinness Stew

Downtown Galway

Eyre Square with the crests of the original families of Galway.

Big fans of JFK here. Memorial to him in the park.
My second day in Galway was designated as a rest day and the weather gods listened because it stormed all day. I woke up early and dropped my laundry off at the front desk, a service the hostel provided for 5 Euros. I gave them all my clothes so I had a makeshift outfit on of jeans and a zipped up hoodie. Such a hippie. But it was worth it for clean clothes. I lounged around the hostel all day and it was glorious. A well-needed break. (Cue the sympathy for Jenn being tired from traveling through Ireland...)
My 'roommates' invited me out for a drink but I declined as I didn't feel right going out in basically pajamas. 
The next day I took a bus tour to the coast to see the glorious wonder that is the Cliffs of Moher. We made a bunch of stops along the way and it was like everything I dreamed Ireland to be.
The tour guide was hilarious. My stepdad, Leroy, truly missed his calling. The whole time on the bus listening to this guy chatter about history and tell stories and crack jokes I kept thinking "Jeez, this is Leroy's dream job." We left at 10am and didn't return until 7:00pm. It was exhausting but glorious. Wound up on the tour with the 2 girls from Arkansas so we hung out all day.



The entrance to Cathermore Fort

Poulnabrone Tomb. 5800 years old.

THE CLIFFS OF INSANITY aka the Cliffs of Moher.

I'm pretty damn cute.

Yeah, pretty scary.

We got back that night and I decided to do yet another tour the next day. Fu, our Aussie roommate decided to go with me. He revealed he was a gourmet chef in Australia. THAT would have been good information before he offered to cook dinner. Ugh.
So the next day we went to Connemara National Park, Kylemore Abbey and Southern County Mayo to the village of Cong. Cong is where the Movie "The Quiet Man" was filmed. This was my Dad's favorite movie so it was pretty cool to be there. I thought the day before was beautiful? This was some of the most natural beauty I have ever seen in nature.

Kylemore Abbey across the lake.

Kylemore Abbey


I sat here for quite a while.

Small Gothic Cathedral built next to the Abbey

Wandered down for a walk in the lake.


Killary Harbor, Ireland's only fjord.

Looking down into County Mayo

A typical stonewall on an Irish country road.

Never get tired of seeing that name.

Having a whiskey at the Quiet Man bar.

Ross Friary



We piled back on the bus and headed back. All of our roommates had checked out and Fu just wanted to eat some potatoes so I headed to get some fish and chips at a local pub. It was SO good. There was a band starting to play and the pub was filling up so I, naturally, left so I could go home, shower, pack and get to bed. (#old)
I loved Western Ireland so much. I am now in Killarney in the south for the final leg of the Ireland trip. Been raining since I got here so we'll see what this has to offer...