June 2009

Initially, our plan for Italy was to find a room or apartment to sublet while I taught online summer term. Then we had the idea of walking from Switzerland over the Alps and down to Rome. We would follow an old pilgrimage trail called the Via Francigena, and take 9 weeks to walk the nearly 600 miles. That plan went by the wayside when we discovered the Alps reportedly had more snow than usual, making the crossing of them impossible. Eventually we settled on the idea of a shorter hike to Rome beginning near the Cinque Terre.

We flew to Nice, France, and spent a couple of days there. It really is a wonderful place, full of beautiful people, but we were set on heading to Italy. After some days near Genoa (Genova to the Italians), we headed to the Cinque Terre, a series of five villages on the Mediterranean coast.

This was all between my spring and summer terms, my vacation, but for me to work from the road I would need regular internet access. We had hoped that it would be available at most of our stops, at internet cafes, and at regular cafes with wi-fi. Unfortunately, that wasn’t proving to be the case. Our first campground in Italy had no internet access, nor did the town seem to have any internet cafes. In the Cinque Terre, we didn’t see any hotels or rooms to rent that advertised internet access (though certainly some may have had it), and the internet cafes we did find were expensive.

Italy passed a law a few years ago requiring that all persons using the internet (or buying a mobile phone) had to provide identification first. So, each time we’ve used the computer here we’ve had to hand over our passport. Amy realized this might be why nobody seems to have wi-fi, since it would be hard or impossible to trace who was using the internet. We have since found a few places with wi-fi, but we realize now that our dream of finding regular internet service in small villages as we hiked the countryside were just that, a dream.

Our plan right now is not to have a plan (which should surprise no one), at least not beyond a week or two from now. After we leave Pisa (where we have been for the last few days) we’ll stay in Florence a short time, then spend a few days at a place in the countryside that claims to have internet access. After that, we head to Rome, which will surely have internet available. If we like it, we go back to our original plan, at least a version of it, and sublet an apartment with the internet for several weeks.

We knew there were many factors that could derail our plans of hiking Italy, but we hadn’t thought the internet was one of them.


Our time in Ireland is almost over.  Tomorrow, we fly to Nice, France, before heading over to Genoa and spending 9 weeks traveling in Italy.  After that, we’ll spend 6 weeks seeing some places in Europe we haven’t made it to yet, then spend 11 weeks in Spain.

We have mixed emotions about leaving Ireland.  Our plan has been to see as much of the world as we can, and we look forward to seeing new sights and meeting new people, so moving on is the right thing to do.  But we’ve made some great friends here, and leaving them won’t be easy.  For Amy it’s particularly difficult, since she’s had the chance to work with some incredibly talented professionals at Cope, and they’ve become good friends to both of us.  Now, she’s taking a break from work.

It is mostly the people we’ll miss, but Ireland is a beautiful place, and Cork will always be a special place for us.  The scenery in the countryside here is a lot like home in Oregon.  Well, the greenery is; we don’t have that many stone walls in Oregon.  I’m not sure yet whether seeing the green fields in Oregon will constantly remind me of Ireland, or whether I won’t miss Ireland as much because I won’t be yearning for the lost beauty.

Cork City felt familiar soon after we moved here, and over the last few days I realized how much this place has become home.  A few days ago I saw a house and knew it was freshly painted; I wouldn’t have known that when I first arrived.  It’s only by being in a place for months or years that a person gets to really know it and can recognize small changes.

There are differences between Amy’s Irish experience and mine.  Because she’s in daily contact with co-workers and parents of clients, she’s gotten to know the Irish people better (and is surprised when I haven’t heard a particular Irish phrase or word).  But because I do the shopping and have more time to wander about, I know Cork as a place better.

Moving to Ireland was harder than we expected, harder to get a license, harder to find a place to live, harder to get involved in the community and meet people.  But we wanted to be challenged, and to experience a new way of living, and we’ve had that.  Despite the difficulties, we have no regrets.

How have we changed?  We discovered we love rugby, lamb, and tea with milk.  We realized we Americans really are louder than anyone else.  We learned a little about how much we assume things are a certain way, when they’re really just a certain way in a certain place.  We learned that people outside America are just like us, only different.  We learned that moving to Europe makes some people think we’re cool, and others think we’re crazy.  We confirmed we love to see new places and meet new people, but we hate actually traveling.  It’s the waits in airports and plane trips we dislike the most, so much of our travel for the next few weeks will be on foot.

So, it’s goodbye to Cork, to Ireland, and hardest of all, to our wonderful friends.  We haven’t even left and we miss you already.

I think many people take for granted that whatever they like to eat is “normal,” particularly if everyone they know eats the same thing.  So, many Americans probably think peanut butter and jelly (jam here in Ireland – jelly would refer to gelatin) sandwiches are a staple in many places throughout the world, but I don’t think they are.  Peanut butter isn’t eaten nearly as much here, and many Irish adults have never had a PB & J sandwich.  The Irish equivalent?  An individual size pack of Mr. Tayto’s Cheese and Onion crisps (potato chips in America) on white bread spread with butter.  I like it, actually.

Crisps are almost always flavored here (and often only available in small bags, or giant bags that hold many smaller bags), usually cheese and onion, or salt and vinegar.  There certainly are flavoured crisps in America, including some not found here, like barbecue, but there it’s easy to find big bags of plain chips, with just salt.  Because American crisps are usually plain, people often buy dips for the crisps.  Dips are harder to find here.

We’ve mentioned before that it’s hard to find Hershey’s chocolate over here.  That’s not surprising once you’ve heard an Irish person describe Hershey’s as tasting like . . . well, let’s just say it’s not something found on the food pyramid.  The most common chocolate over here is Cadbury’s, which to many Americans means only the Cadbury cream-filled Easter egg.  Actually, though, Cadbury’s is quite good.

So far, we haven’t found a movie theatre here that serves its popcorn with melted butter, an artery-clogging staple for American moviegoers.  But at least the unbuttered popcorn seems familiar to us.  A German friend of ours went to a movie shortly after her arrival in Ireland and almost gagged on her first mouthful of popcorn; in Germany the popcorn is always sweetened, so the salted popcorn was an unpleasant shock for her.

It’s not just preferred flavours that are different.  Amy was having lunch with an Indian man and an Irishwoman.  The main dish was a curry, and the Irish woman thought it was very hot, Amy thought it had a little heat, and the Indian didn’t think it had any heat at all.  We know some Irish people who love hotter foods, but it’s not as common here.

According to various Irish people we’ve met, Americans are:

Prepared.  One of Amy’s co-workers said Americans are “always prepared.”  She illustrated this point by relaying her own story of taking a tram with her family to the top of Mt. Etna.  They didn’t plan it well, arriving late (of course), and it began to snow on them as they trudged down the mountain totally unprepared for the weather (she confessed, as have others, that the Irish are never prepared for the weather).  They passed a couple heading up the mountain in full snow gear, and she noted they were Americans.

Very Dallas.  One woman we met said that Americans are “very Dallas.”  We think she was referring to the show, and she meant rich, brash, loud, over-the-top, maybe a bit bossy.

Careful.  The woman who prepared our lease agreement at Rochestown laughed when we sat down to read it, but she wasn’t surprised.  She said Irish tenants never read leases and contracts, while Americans always do.

Gun-wielding maniacs.  Amy works with an Irishwoman who regularly visited America.  She laughed at the time she got a ride in a man’s pick-up, and as she climbed into the back seat, he warned her, “Don’t stomp on my gun.”

Rich heiresses.  In America, passengers in taxis ride in the back seat, but not so here in Ireland.  We didn’t know that, so the first few times we rode a taxi in Cork, we climbed in back.  Amy did this one day and when her driver heard she was from Texas, he started going on about chauffeuring a rich Texas heiress.  Amy sits in the front seat now.