Saturday, December 10, 2011

Here we go, Christmas!

Hello All,

Not really much has happened in the past couple weeks since my Italy trip and Thanksgiving. It's been mostly doing work for finals and trying to find a job. I finally was hired this week at a Macy's-like department store. I really don't care what I'm doing, as long as I have something to do in between Fall and Spring semesters. It looks like I'm going to go to Cavan for Christmas and spend it with the Clarkes. I'll make sure to take tons of pictures this time :)
Dublin is looking as beautiful as it could. All of the main shopping streets are totally decked out with lights and trees. It all looks so perfect; cobblestone streets lined with tinsel and twinkling lights. Today I went with my friend Rushda to find Christmas presents for everyone, and found some markets we had no idea existed! Finding hidden treasures in a big city is one of the best ways to feel at home.

I hope you're all doing well. I'm certainly going to miss the Linzer tarts at Christmas dinner and the mountains of snow that will cover Buffalo. I'll be sure to let you all know about Christmas and New Years when I can. Maybe some of you will be able to come visit me in 2012!

Lots of love to you all!

P.S. Here's my mailing address just in case ;)
Julie Parlato
BMG Group
9-13 Blackhall Pl
Dublin 7, Ireland

Monday, November 21, 2011

You Know What They Say....

Well, that was what I call an adventure.

We started in Rome on Saturday, arriving around noon. Thus began a week of "Do you speak English?" and "how do you say...?"  The Ciak Hostel was very good to us, we actually stayed in a separate building called the Secret Garden (a good omen for sure). After we got to our hostel and had a bit of rest, we decided to venture out into the city.We walked about 2 blocks before the Colosseum laid itself out right in front of us. In less about 10 minutes we were standing in front of it, mouths gaping. That first day, I'm pretty sure we all expressed how unbelievable it was that we were standing in front of a 2000 year old structure.

This was our view from the Colosseum.
Unfortunately, tours closed about 5 minutes before we got there, so we had to figure out what else we could do that day. From the Colosseum, you can see some awesome building less that a mile away. We had no idea what it was, just that it looked cool and we had nothing else to do. So we wandered towards it.

Turns out what we saw was the Piazza Venezia, which was completed about a century ago. Its architecture doesn't exactly fit into Rome's, but it is spectacular.

After some pictures around that area, we decided to go find some lunch. One main goal of this trip was to not plan anything in advance. As many of you will agree, sometimes the most picturesque spots or delicious restaurants are so far off the beaten track, you have trouble finding them again.

That's how we found our Sunday lunch and Monday dinner. Dining on a budget in Italy is not the easiest thing, but we stayed within our means and had some of the most delightful eats. Sunday was pizza and wine at a cafe located next to a church and a fountain on one of the sunniest days I've seen since August.
This is my wonderful funghi pizza with some pinot on the side. (and Tory's lasagne in the background)
Between Sunday and Monday, we hit pretty much every landmark and piazza we could find. We took a bus tour around the city so we could see it all. Here are some pics from the Colosseum.

  After seeing quite a few other places in Rome, Monday we planned to spend the afternoon in Vatican city. I really wanted to see St. Peters and the Vatican museum. Off we went. St. Peters is one of the biggest open space building I've ever been in. It looks like you could fit airplanes in there. Every piece of marble is ornately carved, the canvases painted, and the mosaics shining. In Rome and especially at the Vatican, I started to come to terms with the amount of people in this world. It started off as a random thought, but when I started to think about it thousands of people come to the Vatican everyday. Usually from countries with strong Christian ties, but also thousands just interested in the history of it. For some this is the holy place, others the root of all evil. The amount of people that come to the Vatican is no where near the amount of people in the world, obviously, but it did get me thinking.

Enough philosophy. Let's get back to travel. After leaving the basilica, we went over to the Trastavere neighbourhood. It's not really a tourist destination because there aren't any big landmarks. We walked down the Tiber and figured we would just find a restaurant as we walked. La Scaletta, I'm not sure if I could find this restaurant again if someone asked me to. It looked small, cheap, and very Italian so we decided to try it. It ended up being the best meal of the week. I decided on the Menu Touristo, and from that I chose the bruschetta, the house pasta (a cream sauce with panchetta and mushrooms, the most delicious pasta I've ever eaten... the girls too!), fried octopus, and creme caramel for dessert. Paired with a delicious wine. OH MY GOD. That's how good it was, no exaggeration (I have witnesses).

We cabbed back to the Secret Garden and prepared to leave for Florence! Getting to Florence provided a few problems but we sorted them out with some credit card use and positive attitudes. Upon arriving we found our hostel to be 5 minutes from the train station, and it was an adorable room too! We dropped of our stuff, had a bit of rest, and decided to go in search for the best pizza in Italy. On our way, we walked through the San Lorenzo market, passed by the Duomo, and actually found the best pizza in the world (according to Stephanie). A few tears were almost shed because of how magical this pizza tasted.

We also went to the Leather School of Santa Croche were we got some very pretty hand made Italian leather bracelets, despite the service. You have to go through some gates, a school yard an a bunch of low doorways to get into the leather school, which seemed excitingly authentic. But when we got there the pretentious woman working kept acting as though we would steal bracelets. She was just doing her job, but she could have hid her suspicions better. Obviously this annoyed me enough to remember it a week and a half later.
Nevermind her, Florence was still waiting for us. We found a bunch of gifts for our families and friends and went to go get some dinner. First, we stopped in at a bar that Amber's friend had told us about, One Eyed Jack's. And there, to my great surprise I found a beer named the Theresianer. I'm not sure if my sister, Theresa, has ever had this beer before, but I thought it was cool enough to document with a picture. Also, Theresa, I stole that glass for you! It will be one of many presents, but probably the only stolen one.
After a few drinks, we went to a mod style restaurant recommended by the bartender. I had seafood pasta, which was delicious, but in retrospect a bit overpriced. Once again, we wandered back to the hostel afterwards to recharge for another day of sightseeing.
Keeping in mind that through all of this, the sun was shining and the weather warm, the next day we set out to go into the Duomo. We had, unfortunately, gotten to the point where paying for museums and spectacles was getting a bit tiresome. The Duomo was free and beautiful. Unlike St. Peter's however, it was empty of pretty much all furniture and quite a few people. We went in, took some pictures and continued our tour.

I'm sorry to disappoint, but after the Duomo we went to go find David. He was a bit too expensive to see, and considering I can see him on the 198 travelling East or West whenever I please, I wasn't too disappointed.

I'm giving up the answer a bit early, but I'm going to tell you about the best part of the whole trip now, because it happened in Florence. By many recommendations from students who had already studied in Florence, we were told to climb a small mountain to see the greatest sights of the city. It took some time to climb and half a lung coughed up,  but we made it to the Pizzale Michaelangelo. There we sat on the South East side of the city a top some steps, watching sunset over Florence. As the sun went down, we could see the light reflecting off of the Duomo and the river. In some spots it looked like buildings were of fire from the reflection. We had a bit of a picnic and were in the company of many couples, but we had a spectacular view.

That was pretty much the end of Florence for us. I've got to keep a few stories to tell in person.
Off to Venice!
The Gondola Gang (Tory's Term)
We arrived in the dark and fog in Venice, unfortunately without directions to our hotel. Directions are pretty much useless in Venice. The map was difficult to read, there a waterways with walkways, without walkways, and then just walkways. No cars though, that was pretty sweet. As my dad put it, the city looks a lot like it did 800 years ago. We found our hotel situated by a very unfortunate looking dock, easily a past inspiration for a horror film. Once again, the people there were very nice to us, despite the language barrier. That night we just bought some snacks and watched a movie, exhausted from travelling. When we woke up the next day, however, we were refreshed and excited to see as much of the city as we could in the fog. The weather, had become quite chilly though, so that had an effect on the sights we saw. We did make it to St. Mark's piazza and had a gondola ride from the adorable Nicolas.

 So we did all the traditional things in Venice. It was a very beautiful place that felt much more Italian than the other cities. For our last dinner, we were directed to a traditional Venetian restaurant near our hotel. There we had the most delightful waitress who gave us recommendations on what  to order. I got a spicy seafood dish and tiramisu. It was the last night and I hadn't had it yet. That restaurant was the best place to end our trip. We walked back, fell asleep, and came back to Dublin on Sunday. We couldn't wait to get back.

Here are some more pictures for those not on facebook.

 A couple days ago, we all went out for thanksgiving. I was able to talk to many of you on that day. We went to the Woolshed, where they show the American football games. We sat around, had some beer and a real turkey dinner and watched the Packer game. I think it was the most fun I could have had 3000 miles away from home. Oh, and I made pie. Stephanie made the Frenck Silk, Amber the Pumpkin, and me the Apple. I'm sure I'll be able to add some pictures of that soon.

Love to you all and hope the holiday was wonderful!

P.S. This was my favorite picture!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Man, oh man... It's been a long time since I did one of these. I'm sorry for neglecting it. This post might get pretty long, but I'll post again after ITALY.

So, we last left off before my trip up to the North of Ireland. Well, I got really (really really) sick that weekend. I spent more time in hotel rooms than I did touring the North. I did go to Giant's Causeway, which you can check out in the link. Basically, its a crazy rock formation on the Atlantic Ocean. Some of you won't be surprised to find out, whenever we visit a body of water I have to put my hands in it. I did it when I went to California with Dad when I was 12, when we went to Spain 2 years ago, and I do it here.

This is me venturing to put my hands in the Atlantic, which was much more dangerous than it seems in this picture. Slippery stones and pools of water, not to mention that I was still really (really, really) sick. It was totally worth it! (it always is).

I would say a good amount of people who read this blog know what The Troubles were in Northern Ireland. It only ended about 15 year ago and went on for almost 30 years. If you want to know what the conflict was about, check out that link. It's wiki, but it will give general information. There are tons of murals all over Belfast and Derry, the cities we visited, dedicated to conflict. This picture is of a mural on the side of a house right outside our hotel. We were told by our advisor only to turn right when we left the hotel. If we turned left it would lead us in Sandy Row. Were we really in any danger? Probably not. The issues are pretty much over, but segregation is absolutely still apparent. Loyalists, as you can see from the flag, support Britain ruling in Northern Ireland. We were avoiding the chance that we could be"in the wrong place at the wrong time", there were a lot of those kinds of deaths during the Troubles. 

The division of the island of Ireland happening in the 1920's when Ireland was asking to become their own country, independent from Britain. Basically, the six counties of what is now Northern Ireland was more heavily populated by Protestants (and therefore supports the Crown) than Catholics, so those counties stayed ruled by the British. Nowadays, the ratio of Loyalists (Protestants) to Unionists (Catholics) is about equal, which causes discussion of reunification to continue. 
         The weekend after that was Halloween, which is considered a bank holiday in the Catholic country of Ireland, so I had an extra-long weekend. Guess what I did with all that extra time? I went to meet/ visit with my relatives up in Cavan. So I stayed with Anne and her family, she is my mom's first cousin. I met my Grandma Theresa's half-sister Bonnie. The fact that I can come to a different country and spend time with people who are blood-related to me is amazing. I had a wonderful time, it was Halloween so on Saturday night I went out with some of my second cousins. We had a fantastic time, they did a great job at showing me around the Virginia (town they live in) night life. FYI the night life consists of 4 pubs and 2 nightclubs. Nonetheless,  I was not disappointed. UGH, unfortunately, I didn't get any pictures (groan) but I'll have some at Christmas, I promise!
Absolutely HA-LARIOUS

On Sunday I came home and went out in Dublin. Our friend documents a Dublin band, Funzo, so we went out to see them place for a while. It was night filled with wandering around. We went out much earlier than usual, and it was unseasonably warm. We found a random bar that we now are big fans of. Best costumes of the night went to the Cool Runnings Team. Luckily we knew one of them, so we got a picture!

I'm sorry to tell you all that since then, I've pretty much just been writing papers and doing school work. I'm making Irish friends, a few of which will see this post and laugh. Thanksgiving is two weeks from today and our big group will be going to a bar to eat dinner. We wanted to have it here, but there was no way to fit all of us in one apartment. I will be dedicating my day to my favorite activity- BAKING! I'm going to make my first home made pie crusts. Apple pie and French Silk pie (by special request) will be on the dessert menu Thursday night. 

As I said, I'm going to Italy! For the next 9 days, I wil be eating and drinking some of the most delicious food! No worries, a post will be written when I return. And don't worry, Jean sent me about a hundred batteries so I'm going to take some fantastic pics!

Love to you all!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

It's a Beautiful Day for a Protest!

Hi everybody!

This is a pretty long post, so read it in bits to avoid getting tired of me.

  As you know, I've been gone for about a month and a half so far sometimes it feels like 2 weeks and sometimes it feels like 2 years.Of course, the longer I'm here the more work that I have to do for school, so not too much happens during the week for me.

  However, on Wednesday, I figured it was finally time for me to call my relatives that live in Ireland. For the Harrison's it's easy enough to say that I called Bonnie's daughter Anne. For everyone else, Bonnie is the sister of my Grandma Theresa who passed away 10 years ago. Bonnie met me when I was a kid, but hasn't been back to the U.S. in a while. So her daughter, Anne, would be my mother's cousin... everybody got it? Good.

So, I called Anne on Wednesay and by Thursday night she returned my call and we made plans for me to go to her house and meet the rest of the family. Usually, I'd be a bit worried that meeting a big group of family I've never met before would get a bit uncomfortable, but they are Irish, so I have no worries. I'll probably go up the weekend some of my family at home will be together at West Point!

Friday was spent finishing an essay for my foundation course. By the time I turned it in and got home, it was about 5pm. One of the American girls who lives upstairs had a friend visiting from home, so I grabbed so delicious gourmet pizza with them. Then, we had planned on going out and looking pretty so we went home and got ready. We were hanging out before actually going out when my friend Susan called, so I went down to her apartment. She invited me to come to a house party with her classmates and recommended we meet everyone else out later. Of course, I agreed and we started our Friday Night Adventure.

After some difficulty trying to find the apartment in a neighborhood we had never been before, we arrived. A hilarious, enlightening, fantastic night ensued. There were 8 or 9 of us altogether, and Susan and I were a tad overdressed. Of course, no one cared. Pretty much all of them were Irish and most go to DBS with us so we had tons to chat about. The way university works here is that when you start, you pretty much spend 3 years with the same dozen kids. So they were very happy when Susan popped up in there class, a fresh face. We had such a good time that we didn't want to go meet our friends out nor did we want to leave, even when 2am rolled around. We cabbed home and chatted about how awesome the Irish can be.

Then came yesterday. When I woke up (late as usual) I saw that Kevin had recommended I go to Parnell Sq because there was going to be a protest. People had been occupying Dame St, where the Central Bank of Ireland HQ is, for a week for Dublin's version of Occupy Wall Street. So Susan and I headed out to Dame St, figuring that the protesters had already marched. They were supposed to arrive at Dame at 2pm and it was 2:15. As usual, we forgot to take "Irish Time" into consideration. So we walked back up to Parnell Sq, saw the protesters, walked in the streets with them and took some pics as they marched to Dame    

The size of the crowd changed depending on where in the city it was, but its only about a kilometer to Dame St. I think what most surprised Susan and I about the protest was how peaceful it was.  The police escorted the protesters through the city and let them stop pretty much wherever they wanted to. Traffic was held up for the 5-10 min it took for the crowd to migrate down the streets. There were no issues with the Garda at all (Irish police force). In the States, for a protest of this size with this sort of message, I'd expect there to be some animosity towards the police from the protesters and vice versa. There was none of that here. Once the crowd came down Dame St and stopped at Central Bank, blocking all the traffic, the garda started asking people to get off the street so traffic could flow again. People were extremely obliging, the only reason it took more than five minutes was because there were so many people and their sound system wasn't very loud.

I obviously don't need to explain what they were rallying for because these protests are happening in cities all over the world. The difference was the peacefulness in the whole experience. It was refreshing.

When we returned home from the cold and rain of the City Center we had some dinner and then were off to see some Greyhound races with our Austrian and German friends.It was Susan, me, and 8 German speakers, but we had a fantastic time. It was a bit reminiscent of when Dad took Theresa and I to the dog races in Florida about 8 years ago. All of the Europeans were quite surprised that I had been to dog races before. Everyone who bet on the dogs came out on top! It was a different kind of experience, going to the dog races here, it was an atmosphere we hadn't yet experienced in Dublin.

After the dog races we went to a pub to warm up and I got to chat with some of the German girls who were lovely. We left there late and Susan and I went to go grab a bit of Lebanese food from a restaurant on the way home. I usually have Susan order for me because whatever she gets me is delicious and she speaks some Arabic so the guys who work there adore her. I had lamb shwarma, and didn't it hit the spot? Good gracious it was delicious... i took a pic for you guys! Sorry, I didn't remember to photograph it until halfway through. After we ate and were having some tea, there was a bit of a scuffle at the table next to us. Of course, the restaurant had security so the guys were escorted out and luckily they did not come back in. Susan and I hung around and waited for the drama to die down outside. We got many apologies from the men who work there for having to witness a fight, and also from some Irish guy sitting behind us. A little later than originally planned, we went home exhausted and rested up for the upcoming week.

Next weekend I'll be going up to Belfast and Derry, so I probably wont post until Sunday or Monday. If my Harrison could email me a couple of pics of you guys, your families or all of us together, that would be great. I want to print them out to bring to see Anne in a couple weeks.
Love you guys, Go Bills!

Friday, October 7, 2011

New Ways!

Hi everyone,

Sorry it's been a while since I posted last, things have been kind of crazy here, but I'm not sure how much of it is actually going to be interesting to read about. Last I left off, we had just gotten back from Galway and the Bills had just beaten the Pats. Since then, I’ve left pre-school (so termed by Kate), and now I’m officially back in college once again.

School's a little weird here, I know it’s been a long time since some of you were in college, but you’ll get it. At Albany I’m in classes as big as 400 people and as small as 25. Here, I have one class that’s over 20. The rest range from 15-4, and that’s including me. This makes the teaching and learning systems completely different than at home, it’s very personal. So I’m in the spotlight in class (which most of you know I put myself in anyways) and the flow of the class is run just as much by the students as the teacher. In fact, my friend Amber and I are in one class with 3 other girls and the 5 of us talked just as much as the professor did in a 3 hour class, which I’m sure he didn’t expect. This is just another thing that’s different between the two schools, but this way of learning is already really helping me and it has only been 2 weeks.

Last weekend was my friend Susan’s birthday. She is a southern girl and is awesome. For many of us, including me, our 21st birthdays are going to happen while in Dublin, so they run the risk of being less eventful. Of course, we weren’t going to let that happen to Susan. Clever Amber made a sign. 
Now, you should know that Susan is not the kind of girl who harms or loses her dignity. But on your 21st birthday.... well you get it. Anyways, we made the sign so that Susan would loses her "dignity" (the sign) in whatever bar we went to, and then she'd have to go around asking everyone in the bar if they had her "dignity". It was going really well until we lost it behind a couch at the end of the night in some tiny 
club. Nonetheless, a successful night by far. 

Then this week we had presentation due for one of our preschool classes, so I worked on that all week, and last night my friend Tory's (remember, from buffalo?) aunt and uncle were in town and they took us out for a wonderfully delicious dinner that we had all really been craving. Shout out to Tom and Laurie!
They and Tory are now on their way to Berlin for the Sabres game tomorrow night!!!! Ugh, and then this morning came and I found out what happened with my boys last night. I won't go into the devastation, but it's ok yanks, we'll get them next year. 
I hope everything is going well at home, whatever part of the country that means for you! Maybe some of you can come visit over the next 8 months and I'll show you around all of these fun places I'm finding in Dublin. 
Next blog post will include details of a day trip somewhere in Ireland!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Galway +

Hi everybody!
So, besides the concert going on in Croke park, about 1mile from my apartment, things are pretty quiet around here this evening. I just spent the last 4 days going non-stop, so I figured giving up watching the Bills beat (I wish) to the Patriots to snuggle in bed and blog.
Thursday was Arthur Guinness Day; if you consider Valentine's day a holiday made up by greeting card companies, well this is a day made up by a brand to sell more of the delicious brew. And it works. What happens is that you get a ticket to a random bar in the city that;s hosting Arthur's Day. Then when you show up and present your ticket, you get into the music venue. It's usually just a small stage in a bar. Anyways, the important part is that you get to see some surprise band show up and play. You don't know who it's going to be until they show up. So, on thursday, my friend Amber and I go to Oliver St. Gogarty's and see 2 famous British bands. Of course, we aren't too familiar with them, but it doesn't matter because they were really good. The first band is 5 girls called The Saturdays. Apparently they're very well known. For the next band, Amber and I staked out two front row spots in order to get a good look. We bought our beers and settled in to wait. About 45 min after the first band stopped playing, a new funky looking band comes on stage. And the lead singer is Nymphadora Tonks from Harry Potter. Her real name is Natalia Tena. We jammed to them for over and hour, here's a bit of their MUSIC if you're interested. During the set, she had a little contest to give away the Guinness she didn't want. Amber and I were AWESOME, but didn't win it... unfairly of course. So the bass player, who was obviously into our outrageous dance moves, gave us his! It was pretty freakin cool. Then after they came off the stage, we met the singer, trumpet player and bass player. It was awesome, they commended us on our dancing, and gave us hugs. Obviously, Thursday night was amazing!

Then, early friday morning, we left Dublin for Galway. On the way we stopped in Athlone, but only for some food. I did take a picture there, but you can't tell it's Athlone. No matter, at least I can say I've been to the town where Grandpa Matt was from. We got back on the bus after some delicious hangover-curing breakfast and went on our way to Kylemore Abbey.
There will be more pictures soon, but this was the best one so far. Kylemore Abbey was built in the mid-19th Century. It housed the Henry family and also some monks. There was the Abbey, the chapel and the gardens.
PAUSE- just watched the play by play of the BILLS beating the Patriots for the 1st time in 9 seasons. I had to just add that in. UNPAUSE
The abbey and the gardens we really cool, especially because they were so well crafted for the 1860's.
The cool thing about the church is that Henry, who designed it, wanted it to look like a small scale version of a cathedral, so he put in 4 different kinds of marble to decorate it. Each type of marble is found in one of the 4 provinces of Ireland. Green from Connaught, Rose from Munster, Black from Leinster, and Grey from Ulster. You can kind of see the marble columns lining the walls.
After Kylemore, we traveled on to our hotel, had delicious dinner in Galway, made a pit stop at the hotel bar, where the mean age was 57, and went off to bed.

Saturday we went to the Aran Islands, there are three, but we went to Innis Mor (innish more). The main language on the Island is Irish, so all of the signs were in Irish and all of the 800 inhabitants were fluent. We climbed to the top of a mountain to an old Viking fort, but of course, the cool thing is that it was built of a cliff with a 300 foot drop into the Atlantic. It was spectacular.

I cannot describe the rush of air that comes up at you when your head is extended out over the edge of a 300 foot drop. It is unbelievable. I have never felt anything like it. After climbing the cliffs, we stopped in a bar in town for fish and chips. I had waited all these days to have fish and chips in a real seaside town instead of Dublin, and it was totally worth it. After we came back, we had another great meal, and I was a little under the weather so I went to bed.
Today was our last day of the trip. We went to the Cliffs of Moher, also known as the Cliffs of Insanity from the Princess Bride! That's right, I was at that very spot today!
We climbed up and took some great pictures, unfortunately my camera was dead, so the one's of me won't be uploaded until tomorrow :( but here are a couple!

We couldn't get as close to the edge here, which probably was a good thing. It was an amazing experience to see these cliffs. The pictures don't and could never explain how breathtaking the scenery is. After a quick lunch, we took the 4hour bus ride back here to Dublin.
There are so many other things to say, but I'll be sure them bit by bit the next time I see/talk to all of you. I love you all!
-Go Bills
p.s. sorry for not proofreading, I know it's probably annoying, but I really don't have the energy <3