Kissing the Blarney Stone

Last Tuesday I made my way to the good old town of Blarney once again, full of interesting people, gorgeous landscapes, and a one of a kind musical atmosphere. This Tuesday though was not just spent at the Blarney Castle pub listening to Irish trad music and having a jolly old time. It was so much more.

This time, we went a lot earlier than we normally do so that we could see the castle, explore the grounds, and of course, kiss the Blarney Stone. Before going in, I was expecting to just see a castle and a few fields with the only attraction being kissing the Blarney Stone. Oh, how I was wrong.

The place was huge and full of exciting and gorgeous landscapes, gardens, houses, caves, castles, towers, and so much more. As we began exploring the massive grounds, we came across all of these different stone structures, some of them being remains of houses or remnants of sacrificial altars, some of them being witches’ kitchens and wishing steps.

The Wishing Steps are a set of crumbling stone steps. The legend goes that if you walk up and down the steps with your eyes closed, thinking only of one wish and nothing else, then your wish will come true within a year. I, being one of tradition and folklore, had to take my turn on these Wishing Steps. It was very difficult to go up and down without seeing because the steps are not the sturdiest and each step is a different length and width. But, I am proud to say that I thought of my wish and only my wish while walking the steps.

We wandered around a bit after that, finding ourselves climbing up rock hills, skipping across ancient bridges, and ducking through cave dungeons. We were enchanted by the sparkling rivers and glistening ponds littered with green and the eerie low hum of a thousand bees above us as we walked through forests in dead silence.

After a few hours of exploration, we finally came across the focal point of our journey, Blarney Castle, home of the Blarney Stone. We made our way through the castle, admiring its antiquity as we climbed the stone spiral staircase. When we reached the top, I couldn’t help but be in awe of the gorgeous Irish landscapes and the amazing view of the old battlefield just in front of the castle.

We walked in a circle around the top of the castle, marking our progress in the line to kiss the Blarney Stone by the square cutouts that used to house protectors and warriors, ready to fight any trespasser who came for a visit. As we got closer to the Blarney Stone, we realized the exact procedure of how we were to kiss it.

We watched as the crowd went before us, each person laying flat on the ground while a man helped them lean back into a grated hole. We watched as one by one their heads disappeared and their bodies slipped just a few inches closer to the ground hundreds of feet below. It looked as if they were losing their heads or sipping into oblivion, but each one somehow made their way back to the surface with huge smiles on their faces.

I couldn’t help but make the connection to a baptism as a I watched this old man lower each person’s head into a hole in the castle’s roof, each person coming up from kissing the stone with huge smiles on their faces and an unforgettable experience to share.

As we moved closer and closer to the stone, it was finally my turn. I sat down, laying flat, placed my hands on the bars behind me, and lowered my head and then my body lower and lower until I could see the blur of the green ground hundreds of feet below me. That was the moment I came face to face with a small dark stone, and I leaned forward and gave it a kiss for good luck. Only a few seconds later, I was being shimmied back to the surface, just having had an unforgettable experience.

After taking a few good pictures, we decided to head back down through the castle and spend a few more hours to explore because we still hadn’t seen everything yet. Not even close.

We made our way to the Blarney House and admired its grandeur, passing large gardens full of gorgeous plants and even more beautiful views of the Cork countryside. As we continued our survey of the grounds, snapping pictures every once in a while, we came back toward the castle where we discovered the Poison Garden and the old battle trenches, along with a few towers and pigeonries along the way. The Poison Garden was definitely something to see. All of the plants in that garden were poisonous, making for a very strange and eerie walk along the cobbled pathways that were laced with plants that could literally kill us.

Apart from the poisonous nature of the grounds, Blarney Castle and all of the surrounding land reminded me a lot of the Biltmore House back home, the castle of the South as I like to call it. Blarney held the same awe and beauty of the Biltmore but with a history from a few more centuries back in time.

After all was seen and frolicked through on the Blarney grounds, we all headed over to the Blarney Castle Hotel pub where we enjoyed the friendly Irish atmosphere and the beautiful and lively trad music that comes along with being in Blarney on a Tuesday night.

The Grounds

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Blarney Castle and Views from the Top

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The Old Battlefield

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Kissing the Blarney Stone

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The Wishing Steps

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Witches’ Kitchen

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Battle Trench Site

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Pigeonry

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Blarney House

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Categories: Ireland 2013 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Finding My Flourish and Blotts

This past Sunday, my flatmate and I went on a little excursion through town. We went shopping in City Centre on Opera Lane, which is Cork’s version of America’s Rodeo Drive according to my professor. We went in all the mainstream stores, finding good deals and smiling at signs that said “Get more for your euro!” instead of the “Get more for your buck!” that we are so used to seeing in the States.

We also stumbled across a few bookstores on our journey, some with a mainstream feel like Barnes & Noble and Books a Million, but the others, the true gems, were the more rinky-dink ones we found.

The first one we came to was Connolly’s Bookshop, a second-hand bookshop run by a little old Irish man sitting on a stool behind his cash register. As soon as I walked in and saw stacks of books piled on the staircase, on the shelves, the floor, and just about everywhere else, I knew this bookshop would be a keeper. The song, “Somebody to Watch Over Me,” sang by Frank Sinatra, played on a record, its slightly scratchy sound reaching everyone’s ears throughout the tiny shop. The smell of old books just added to this perfect little place in the middle of Cork, as well as the posters of old poets, writers and actors that were up all around the shop.

I couldn’t believe how much this place reminded me of Flourish and Blotts from Harry Potter, and I really felt like I was on Diagon Alley while I was touching each book, going from title to title. I knew I had to find one before I left the store, so I began my search. I came across a few good ones, but I finally settled on “The Bodyguard,” a lesser-known 1970s novel about a future dystopian “Revolution” in Great Britain that spreads to all of Europe. I’m currently reading it and so far, I’m very happy with my choice.

We also found another bookshop called Vibes and Scribes, which was much larger, but still had piles of old and new books everywhere and that great old book smell. I found a few more here that I liked, including “The Time Keeper” by Mitch Albom, which I read in one day. It was a great and easy read, and it goes along perfectly with my folklore class at UCC, about using easily accessible materials to make and do more complicated things.

I know that I will definitely be paying Vibes and Scribes more visits while I’m here, but I have to say my Flourish and Blotts has to be Connolly’s. I will definitely be going there more often, discovering more obscure novels and enjoying the thrill of searching through the thousands of books in his little shop.

We then walked up the giant hill to the Shandon Bells, the landmark of Cork. The view from the bells was breathtaking and the atmosphere of the little town full of cafes and wine made it seem like a small French oasis. The only thing throwing off this facade was the thick Irish accent of our waiter at Four Liars Bistro.

Overall, it was a great afternoon of stumbling across some pretty wonderful things.

Connolly’s Bookshop

“Someone to Watch Over Me” by Frank Sinatra: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E07b0SbWWFc

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Vibes and Scribes

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Shandon Bells and the Town

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Categories: Ireland 2013 | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Potholes, Squibs and Other Tales

This past weekend my folklore class went on a field trip to Bunratty Castle and Folk Park to learn more about Irish culture and to really experience what Irish life was like back in the day. The folk park is a lot like colonial Williamsburg in the sense that the entire park is full of houses and fields made in the traditional way with workers that are dressed to mimic the times, making things like apple tart the old fashioned way, pulling potatoes, and tending to the fire.

While we were walking from house to house, listening to our professor relate things we had learned that week in class to things all around us like settle benches, dressers, and cattle posts, a few lessons really stood out.

One such lesson was about the origin of the word “pothole.” My professor was teaching us about how you can tell where a house was built and how wealthy the people were who lived there by looking at their floor. Floors with large slates as their base meant wealthier families lived there, while floors that were uneven and “blotchy” meant poorer people lived there.

He told us all about how when a new house was built with a “blotchy” floor, it started off soft and to pack it all in to complete the floor, people held housewarming parties. At these parties everyone danced to pack in the floor and smoosh everything down. There were dances made just for this purpose.

But while everyone was dancing, one person was always hunched over in one corner of the house with their hands wrist-deep in the mushy floor. Why, you may ask? They were building the “pothole.” There was always a hole in one corner of the house that was a shallow circle with three deeper holes around it, basically the imprint of a three-legged pot. The reason every household had these holes was because when they wanted to mash anything, like potatoes, the bottom of the pot wasn’t strong enough to take the mashing. So, they would put the pot into the hole so the ground would absorb the mashing instead of the pot, not breaking the pot.

And that’s where the term “pothole” comes from.

We also keep learning about the multifunctional nature of the Irish culture. Everything the made had more than one purpose, always. So, when we learned about the blacksmith’s house, I shouldn’t have been surprised. Evidently, the blacksmith’s house was the hub of the town — It was where teenagers would go to make out because it was the warmest place to go. It served as the dentist because that’s where the pliers were. It was where all surgeries took place because all of the tools were there and they could cauterize the wounds easily. It was everything, the hangout, the doctor, and of course, the blacksmith.

But our adventure didn’t stop at the houses. We went all over the park, petting animals, eating the most delicious apple tart, hopping over streams, and of course, climbing up the castle.

The Bunratty Castle was amazing. It was so cool to see the old cannons out front and then to walk in through a sort of drawbridge, but it was even cooler seeing the old artifacts in rooms throughout the castle, seeing the great hall all set up with tapestries and long tables, and getting to climb to the top of the castle on the smallest, most challenging stone steps ever made. The view from the top was amazing, the green countryside, the misty river, all seen through the old turrets where arrows were once placed to keep away enemies.

Being at the top just made me want to go back to my childhood and play dungeons and dragons with knights and princesses and exciting adventures. After we went to the top, we then traveled down the tiny spiral stone staircase to the dungeons, which was pretty cool to see.

On our journey to Bunratty, before the castle and the folk park, we made a few stops to see castle ruins and old abbeys that had long been abandoned. Seeing the ruins was amazing, but walking through them, on them and in them was even cooler. As we were exploring the stone sight, my professor gathered us together and told us about the abbey and the castle ruins we were poking around in.

As he explained the architecture, small holes in the walls that were meant to be there to hold scaffolding so if the castle ever needed to be repaired, they could simply stick some wood up there and fix it quickly. As he spoke, he began pointing at things with his large red umbrella, clicking it along the stone wall with every word. My Harry Potter mind couldn’t help but make the connection to Hagrid using his umbrella to open the gateway to Diagon Alley, especially when my professor was speaking in an Irish accent.

The Harry Potter references didn’t stop there though. After he was finished explaining the castle ruins, he then instructed all of us to climb over the stone wall by walking on these large stones that poked out of the wall like steps. We all climbed over and my 34-person class crammed into one of the towers nearby. The inside of the tower was full of square holes, and my professor started to explain that this was a pigeonry, just like an owlery at Hogwarts. He also explained that the people liked to keep squabs in the pigeonry, which are pigeons who never learned how to fly or didn’t have the ability to fly. My mind flew straight to “squibs” in Harry Potter, the wizards who come from magic, but can’t actually perform magic.

The Harry Potter references were everywhere and in a place like Ireland, you can’t blame me for making so many connections.

The coolest part about the field trip and my folklore class is the emphasis on living tradition rather than artifacts and material objects. My professor stresses the importance and vitality of living tradition every chance he gets, saying that the proper way to learn about a culture is through living traditions, visiting places like Bunratty, experiencing the food, inhaling the turf smoke, building currachs (traditional Irish boats) and just living through tradition. I’ve already learned so much along these lines and I can’t wait to learn more.

Bunratty Folk Park

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Bunratty Castle

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Top of the Castle

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Delicious Apple Tart

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Ruins

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My Professor and His Umbrella

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Categories: Ireland 2013 | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Irish Trad Music in Blarney

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The Pub Life

This past Tuesday I met up with a few new friends from UCC at the Blarney Castle Hotel for a night out. We walked around the small, quiet town of Blarney and then headed into the hotel pub for a hot meal and some traditional Irish music.

The night went better than I think any of us had planned. The food was amazing, the people we met were friendly and just spectacular. We also had the chance to get to know Mags McCarthy, an Irish dance teacher at UCC who showed us the town and organized for us to come up to Blarney in the first place. She told us stories about her time on tour, dancing, playing the fiddle, the guitar, you name it, she’s done it. She was amazing. She also told us about her time spent in Hollywood, where she became close friends with the actor Jesse Spencer, the Australian on House.

It wasn’t until the pub started to fill with musicians and jolly Irishmen with pints of Guiness that we realized just how well-known Mags is. As the musicians were setting up, a few of us went over by the fireplace to get a good spot to watch them as they played. As we did so, we noticed that Mags was getting her picture taken with a few Canadian tourists who were passing through the hotel. Not even two seconds later, I was looking around the low-lit pub, which was filled with pictures and old paintings, and I spotted a picture of Mags. With the President. Of the United States. Of America. Signed by President Obama.

I looked back over at Mags, who was adjusting her fiddle and laughing with a few locals at a story that didn’t reach my ears. My night just kept getting better and better. I asked her about the photo later and she said that she had played and danced for the Obamas on Saint Patrick’s Day a few years back. I can’t wait to get to know her more and to see what other awesome stories she has to tell.

After the musicians had all talked a bit and found a stool to sit on in the circle by the fireplace, they started to play. And when they did, the entire atmosphere of the pub changed. The music brought life to the pub in a way that I can’t really describe. People started laughing more, clinking their pints of Jameson or Guiness. It was a real sight to see. And the way they played was amazing, men and women, young and old.

One fiddle started playing, and then a few more followed its tune. Then, a banjo-looking instrument chimed in followed by bagpipes. More fiddles started playing and then an accordion began to play as a base. It was magical how quickly the music fell in sync and how beautiful the music was. It wasn’t rehearsed or technical and every once in a while a musician would put down his instrument to grab another beer, but that’s what made it so great. It was natural, organic, and the music they played came from their souls. 

It was in that moment that I realized that this adventure is going to the greatest one I’ve had yet. I felt like I was on Titanic, in the decks below, just breathing in the Irish culture. Throughout the night, a few men sang some folk songs and the entire pub would join in for the chorus and at one point one of the fiddlers grabbed a few spoons and played them instead of his fiddle for a few tunes.

I made some wonderful new friends that night and I had such an amazing time getting to know the local culture and finding a small Irish town where the music is magic, the accents are thick, and the people are friends.

Also, you should check out Mags’ blog at http://magsmccarthyblogspot.wordpress.com/. She posted some great pictures of all of us at the hotel pub on Tuesday.

Blarney Castle Hotel and Pub

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Shopping in Blarney

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The Music Circle

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Christine (UCC Friend) and Mags Getting Ready

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Christine Getting to Know the Locals

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Picture of Mags with the Obamas

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Fun Times at the Pub

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Amazing Apple Tart

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Categories: Ireland 2013 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Cracking the Easter Egg Mystery

Where did the idea of Easter eggs come from? Most say Easter eggs were just part of the commercialization of the Easter holiday, but a few days ago while in my Folklore class, I learned the truth behind the Easter Egg mystery.

My class took its first mini field trip to the Old English Market in City Centre to learn more about Irish traditions and culture through food. The market has been in City Centre for over 100 years and most stalls are generation shops, being handed down the family line for generations. We learned all about pigs, fish, spices, cows, pastries, everything about what has been eaten and how it’s been prepared since 10,000 BC in Ireland as we walked through the market, our professor leading us through the different shops.

One of the most interesting things my professor said was in the poultry section. He began to tell us all about how for Lent back in the day, the Irish would refrain from eating any meat or dairy products, which included eggs. And at the end of Lent on Easter Sunday, the Irish would have huge feasts, full of eggs, cheeses and meats. This is where the Easter egg comes in.

According to my professor, during the 40 days of Lent, the eggs had to be saved by casing them in butter for preservation before there was any form of refrigeration. Meat on the other hand, they could just wait to buy and cheese would be fine without a fridge. So, eggs became the one item that they had to really keep a look after during Lent, meaning that eating eggs on Easter was more prideful than the others because of the time put into preserving them.

So there you have it! The Easter egg mystery has been solved. I know that this does not fully explain why we dye eggs on Easter, but it shows where the importance of eggs on Easter came from and the “decorative” aspects of buttering the eggs for preservation.

I also learned where the idea of the bunny rabbit came from. Along the same lines, the Irish weren’t allowed to eat meat during Lent. To remedy this, they turned to rabbits, more specifically unborn rabbit babies. Because the rabbits hadn’t been born yet, the Irish people didn’t consider them to be meat. And, because they weren’t “meat” they could be eaten during Lent when no other meat could be consumed. So, they would kill pregnant rabbits and eat the unborn babies during Lent, craving Easter where they could eat real “meat” once again. So that’s where the idea of the Easter bunny comes from as well. Although it’s a little gruesome and not what we typically think of when we think of Easter, it’s the origin of the tradition and it’s the reality of the old Irish culture.

In the last few days, I’ve learned A LOT about Irish heritage and culture and I’m looking forward to cracking open many more mysteries to come.

Categories: Ireland 2013 | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Welcome to Ireland

The past few days people have been asking me how my journey to Ireland was and I have to say it was a bit bumpy. Throw in a few security scares, a dash of running into glass doors trying to get to my gate on time, and a woman having multiple seizures on an eight-hour flight, and you’ve got my journey to Ireland. My flights never seem to be smooth, but at least I made it here safely.

Once I arrived in Cork, all of my worries and frustrations with travel seemed to melt away. Just the taxi ride from the airport to my new apartment was soothing, seeing the gorgeous Irish countryside turn into the quirky and colorful city of Cork. After attending orientation at University College Cork and settling into my apartment at Copley Court, everything so far has been smooth sailing.

Firstly, the town is historical and full of life. On my first weekend in town, my roommate and I went out on a little excursion only to find out that it was the kickoff of Heritage Week in Cork. We explored the city and its sights, getting to see all kinds of great places for free, ones that would normally charge an entry fee. We went to Saint Fin Barre’s cathedral, we got to see the view of Cork from the penthouse of a hotel, and we walked straight into a Medieval re-enactment in City Centre. We also got to see the end of the festival in City Centre with booths full of great food, crafts, and live music. Afterward, we found a great place to eat and had ourselves some tortellini and some authentic Irish cheesecake. All in all, a great first weekend in Cork. 

Secondly, University College Cork (UCC) is beautiful and class has been wonderful so far. On our tour of campus, I couldn’t stop comparing UCC to UNC back home. It was strangely similar. All during orientation and the tour, I kept thinking that I was a freshman again at a new school where everyone had an Irish accent. The traditions, although not exactly the same, were so similar in their nature that it threw me off a little. Things like “The Punching Tree” outside Boole Library that has permanent marks on it where students used to come out of the library and punch the tree out of frustration during exams and their annual “Disorientation Party” remind me so much of the rave in the Pit during exams to relieve stress and drinking from the Old Well on the first day of class every year to ensure that you make good grades.

Minus the fact that my apartment is about a 25 minute walk from campus, UCC is in the perfect location. The old jail is right there, shops and pubs are close by, and it’s only about a 15 minute walk from City Centre, where practically everything is. The best news, though, is that my apartment is only 10 minutes, probably a little less, to City Centre. There’s just so much history that surrounds this place, so many stories to tell. One such story is about how when the Old Jail was operational back when the college first opened, students used to skip class to watch the hangings that took place right in front of the bridge. As I stood on that bridge examining the Old Jail in front of me, I kept thinking about how 150 years ago a UCC student stood where I was standing, looked where I was looking, but they were watching a criminal loose their life to the noose while I was watching cars zoom past me and the jail to get to campus. It’s just really strange to think about.

Thirdly, my early start program is spectacular. I’ve already learned so much and I continue to learn more every day. I’m currently in the Folklore and Ethnology class for the UCC Early Start Program, which takes place from mid August to mid September. After early start, the autumn semester begins, with a full course load, trips to the library, the whole shebang. But, for now, early start is basically one class taken in the first month we’re at UCC and is based around a number of field trips around different parts of Ireland. Don’t get me wrong — we have papers and a final exam and everything, but the class is all about travel and the things we’re learning are amazing.

So, although my journey to Cork might not have been the smoothest, my adventures so far have been and I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Goodbye America!

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Cork

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Penthouse View

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Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral

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Heritage Week Kickoff

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The Restaurant

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UCC Campus

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Student Centre

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The Punching Tree

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The Old Crawford Observatory

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River Lee near the Old Jail

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A Few Days Back in the States

 

 

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Welcome Home!

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A Trip to Biltmore

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The Best Meal in the World

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A Rollercoaster of Emotions

In my last few days working for 2adpro, I was met head on with a rollercoaster of emotions. I wanted to make my last week count and do as much as I possibly could before I left India.

So, I started off my last week on Friday night working the night shift just to get a feel of what it was like since I was working for a 24-hour business. I worked from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., a different way to look at working 9 to 5. I met a whole new set of employees and got to see how different things run at night. Indian music was blaring the entire time, getting people energized and awake during the night. People were dancing during their tea breaks to have a little fun and again, to stay awake. The whole atmosphere was different, and I’m glad that I got the chance to see it for myself.

That same weekend on Sunday I was invited to Sudha’s house, a co-worker of mine. I was able to travel by train, her usual form of transport from her house to work each day, and see a different side of India. I took the train and watched the colors blend as we passed town after town getting further and further outside of the city until we reached Sudha’s town. After getting off the train, we then took a rickshaw along a very bumpy road for about 15 minutes to get to Sudha’s apartment building.

Once we arrived, we met Sudha’s parents and got to hang out for a bit while her mother made us lunch. It’s very common in India for daughters to live with their parents and support them until they get married, when they would then move in with their husband’s parents. Sons are to stay with their families always. It’s a very different culture and a little difficult to get used to.

Her parents were extremely friendly and her mom made us delicious food, pocket egg sandwiches and homemade tater tots, ice cream, and custard. It was an amazing meal, and just what I needed.

We went into Sudha’s room for a while to eat while her dad watched Harry Potter in Tamil in the living room. After lunch we then started to play the Indian version of Monopoly called “Business.” It’s exactly the same as Monopoly, only the properties are all Indian names and you play with Rupees instead of American dollars. It was a lot fun, especially when we would try to pronounce the Indian property names.

After lunch, Sudha and I said our goodbyes to her parents and hopped back into the rickshaw for another adventure. We went to the VGP Universal theme park and water park. We had such an amazing time. The whole park was a little deserted and the rides, especially at the water park, were a little sketchy, but that makes it all the more fun, right?

We rode water rides, hung out in the pool and in the lazy river, and relaxed on the ferris wheel as it went round and round up and down. The craziest part of the park though was the fact that we had to wear these wet suits for the water park because in India it’s too scandalous for people to wear bathing suits and they’re not about to jump in wearing sarees. It was a little crazy and felt a little strange, but we got used to them and had an amazing day.

Another thing that was a little strange was that the food vendors weren’t selling corndogs and popcorn like they would back home in the States; instead they were selling rice and bread and gravies. It was all a little strange.

After an amazing day, I continued to take little adventures throughout my last week, shopping and eating and tying up loose ends. It wasn’t until my last day that it really hit me that I was leaving. All of us interns had our final presentation on our last day and they all went fine. We said our goodbyes to all of our managers and co-workers and gave out the trophy for the DOS Initiative before we left.

The moment when it really hit me was when I was taking pictures in my saree with Sudha and Varshini on the roof before having our last tea break with them. I had finally gotten my saree stitched for me by a tailor down the road and had worn it for my last day at work. Sudha and Varshini joined me in wearing sarees and they helped me put it on that morning, which is a crazy amount of work, let me tell you. So much goes into getting into a saree in the morning. I don’t know how Indian women do it every day.

Anyway, after we had a little photoshoot with our sarees, we all sat down with Josh and Zac and had our last cup of 2adpro tea. We toasted to new friends and a great eight weeks and promised that we would all stay in contact.

It was an amazing experience and I’ve gained so much from it culturally and professionally. I will miss everyone at 2adpro and everyone that I met in India, but this is not goodbye. I will see them again some day, and I can’t wait to start my next adventure in Ireland.

The Train Ride

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Lunch at Sudha’s House

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VGP Universal Theme Park

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Saying Goodbye

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My Last Cup of Tea

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Cultural Exchange Photos

 

 

 

 

Salt

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Flowers

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Indian Fireworks at Work

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Writing on the Wall

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Beach Time

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The Second Longest Beach in the World

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Roadside Temple

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