Ireland 2019: It ain’t over till it’s over

I write this morning (Thursday, 18 July), to my surprise, from the Carlton Hotel at Dublin Airport, rather than from inside Terminal 2 where I expected to be doing a bit of duty-free shopping, having a latte, and waiting to be called to board our flight. It’s fair to say that things have not gone according to plan, but we are all comfortable enough and we all know how and when we are getting home. It just won’t be today.

We wrapped up the program last night with our “gala dinner”: a fancied-up meal in one of the WIT restaurants, for which all the students dress up a bit, which featured speeches (me), an art exhibition (the students), a poetry reading (also the students), and even a bit of dancing (yep, also the students). Everyone finished our cleaning and packing and many of us went out for at least one last beverage. I went to bed around 10:30 with the alarm set for 4:00 in anticipation of a 5:15 departure for the airport. In true form, I woke up around 3:15. Most of us have not had a lot of sleep; some of us, maybe none at all. But we were on time and rolled out at 5:15 as scheduled. We were about halfway to Dublin when my colleague showed me the distressing announcement on Delta’s app of a 3-hour flight delay. Our 12:20 departure was pushed to 3:10. Not great, but just a long wait in the airport. We soldiered on with equanimity.

One student had a connection in Atlanta for El Paso that he wasn’t going to make because of the delay. I advised him to go up to the desk as soon as we arrived and talk to them about rebooking. When I got inside the terminal after helping unload luggage, he came to meet me with an alarmed look. “Now they’re saying our flight is canceled,” he told me. “They want to talk to you.” Program Director Mode: Activated!

Here’s where I have to start giving Delta Air Lines and our students a ton of credit. The airport services manager greeted me and immediately outlined a plan. He had been on the phone with Delta and with the Carlton and gotten arrangements made for our group before ever approaching or speaking to me. I was thus able to turn to the students and tell them exactly what was happening and what we would do next. Delta would pay for our hotel night, meals, transportation between the airport and the hotel, and would rebook us as soon as the cancellation of the flight became official. They were calling the hotel to come and get us early so that we wouldn’t be sitting in the airport any longer than necessary. They also gave us a voucher for €3 each for coffee while we waited for the hotel pickup.

The students were distressed—some were tearful—but everyone stuck together, rallied, and comforted each other. Some watched luggage while others took restroom breaks. Some made the coffee run while the rest stayed behind to call parents. No one asked unanswerable questions e.g. “Why are they doing this to us?” Some were even checking up on me. “How are you doing? This must be really tough for you!” I’m so grateful to be able to say it hasn’t been as hard as it could have been. Communication has been clear, Delta has been responsive, and students have been attentive exactly when we most need them to be. I feel for them as they deal with this disruption. They and their families aren’t used to it. Family members had taken time off work to pick their students up from the airport. One grandmother had come the night before and stayed in a hotel, and would now need to get an extra hotel night and figure out what to do about her pets. Everyone is very tired, most of them are pretty broke, and we are all ready to be home. But it could have been much, much worse.

Delta automatically rebooked us all for tomorrow and I realized when the new confirmation came in that they had actually added a flight to accommodate the cancellation. They could hardly have done otherwise; it’s peak travel season and “our” flight (DL177) is full every day. But I was far from expecting it and was envisioning a nightmare scenario in which we were split amongst multiple flights and plane changes to get home. If everything goes as planned tomorrow, I’ll consider victory well snatched from the jaws of defeat.

Update: Dateline 33,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean, near the southern tip of Greenland. Victory is ours! The afternoon and evening were relaxing and pleasant once we got into our rooms and could seize the day for enjoying the hotel or the city. This morning was a rush through check-in, Irish security, TSA security, and customs preclearance, but we all made it onto the flight in good order and good humor. About 4 hours from now we’ll be landing in Atlanta.

Terrible photo but pretty representative of what I like to do in Dublin!

Henry Street as seen on my Instagram (I forgot to save the picture!)

Flying home at last

Ireland 2019: Ring of Kerry

We returned Saturday evening from touring the Ring of Kerry, a 179-kilometer (111-mile) scenic/tourist/historical route around the Iveragh Peninsula in Co. Kerry in the southwest (Munster province). It’s probably the part of the country that I most wish my parents could have seen. They were always up for a scenic drive and subjected treated my brother and me to many of them as we were growing up!

From Waterford we headed west on Thursday morning toward our base of operations in Killarney, with a stop in Cork to break up the drive. I hadn’t been to Cork before–last year I missed this day on the program because of an emergency–and I wish I’d had more than a couple of hours to spend there this year. It’s bustling like Dublin but more compact-seeming. I just had time for lunch with colleagues and a very quick dip into a couple of stores (several of us went to Lush for bath bombs in anticipation of the bathtubs in our hotel rooms!) before hitting the road again.

I only took 4 pictures in Cork. I’m a good program director but a terrible blogger sometimes.

Had to capture the giant moka pot on the side of that building!

After 2 years enjoying the golf course views and occasional deer sightings at the Castlerosse Hotel on the outskirts of Killarney, we had to change hotels this year to get the dates we wanted. We chose the Killarney Towers Hotel, right in the city center, and were not disappointed. Killarney town is pleasant and walkable, with lots of places to eat, drink, and shop, and the hotel is very comfortable, especially after 4 weeks of dorm beds and cafeteria food. I can’t speak for anyone else but I slept extremely well and enjoyed my bathtub very much.

Friday morning we got the worst weather of the day out of the way in the first 20 minutes while walking to the bus. The rest of the day was excellent–blue skies and puffy clouds but not too hot. Touring the Ring of Kerry is one of the few times during the program when we really need good weather, so we were blessed to get it! We visited some towns and historic sites and just plain gorgeous views during the day:

Kerry Bog Village: a reproduction 19th-century peat cutters’ village.

This “Romany caravan” is not very different from what traditional Irish Traveller caravans looked like in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The remains of a 19th-century stone cottage whose owners left because of the Famine.

The Bog Village has two Irish wolfhounds. They’re enormous but smiley and eager for pets.

Getting photos at a scenic overlook.

Waterville, where Charlie Chaplin lived.

From Com an Chiste you can see to the Skelligs if the weather is clear enough. We could not see Skellig Michael a.k.a. the Star Wars island.

Our final stop was the Ladies’ View, so called because Queen Victoria and her ladies-in-waiting thought it was the prettiest place on the Ring when they toured it.

Saturday we returned to Waterford by way of Blarney Castle. I continued my tradition of NOT going into the castle or kissing the stone. It was a particularly good day for not kissing the stone, because the place was packed and the queue was massive–up to an hour and a half wait. Luckily, the grounds and gardens are beautiful and it’s a great place to walk around and take photos. I never feel like I am missing out by not going in. The Blarney Castle “campus” is also the home to Blarney Woollen Mills, which bills itself as the biggest Irish goods store in the country. If you want a souvenir of Ireland–from a €3 plastic leprechaun to a €3000 piece of Waterford crystal–you can find it there. The number of Blarney Woollen Mills shopping bags that came back with us on the bus Saturday afternoon was . . . considerable.

What’s not pictured in my Ring of Kerry pictures is the time we spent riding the bus between “places.” The journey is at least as good as the destination; the point is definitely not to get there but to be there. And the views from the jump seat on the bus are spectacular! Just remember that cars go clockwise on the Ring and buses go counterclockwise (anticlockwise if you’re Irish). In a fair few spots the road is only about 1.25 lanes wide and someone has to move aside to let someone else pass. The Ring would not function if buses had to try to pass each other. Even with everyone moving in their prescribed directions, there’s always a BMW driver who thinks he can play chicken with a bus and win. I gotta give a shout out to our bus driver, Tony, who was doing the Ring for the first time and crushed it. He got us through Beemer encounters, hairpin turns, narrow tunnels, sections of road that were obviously paved-over cow paths (the Irish word for “road,” bóthar, literally means “cow path”), and a narrow escape from our hotel Saturday morning after a food delivery truck blocked the bus lane. I hope he had a really restful Sunday!

And now it’s Monday afternoon and we are officially on the short countdown to departure for home early Thursday morning. Already???

Ireland 2019: Wexford and Tipperary and hurling, oh my!

We had such a busy week last week! Kind of thought it would be mellow after Dublin but we kept things moving right along as we passed the halfway point of the program. Classes on Monday and Wednesday as usual, plus two cool field trips on Tuesday and Thursday:

Tuesday we visited three places in Co. Wexford, immediately northeast of Waterford along the coast. Wexford has the special distinctions of being our consultant Jonathan’s home and the 2019 Leinster hurling champions. Our students watched the Leinster final with intense interest–and, I suspect, some money on the line. When Wexford pulled out an unexpected victory, Georgia EC (as we are known here) got pretty excited! It was fun to go to Wexford right after the win and see the team colors flying everywhere around town.

We went to the 1798 Rebellion Centre in Enniscorthy, an interactive museum about–can you guess?–the 1798 rebellion of Irish insurgents against British troops. Although unsuccessful, the rebellion is considered important in the overall history of Irish independence and in linking Ireland with the revolutionary movements of the United States and France.

Students listening to a weapons demonstration

A quick lunch stop in Enniscorthy, which is small but pretty . . .

. . . and we went on to the Irish National Heritage Park. Here is where I admit that I did not take the tour this year, having done it three times already. But if you have a chance, you should go. The park reconstructs 9000 years of prehistoric and early Christian Ireland so you can get an idea of how people lived all those millennia ago. It is fascinating and worth seeing–at least 3 times.

“Program director privilege” is the right to skip the tour and sit in the café overlooking the back of the park instead.

We finished the day at the Dunbrody in New Ross. The Dunbrody is a reconstruction of a 19th-century famine ship and they do an interactive tour that describes the experience of crossing the Atlantic on such a ship.

The Dunbrody visitor center also has a great restaurant where we always eat dinner after the ship tour. It feels a little funny to learn about a famine and then have a nice meal, but the students love it.

Wednesday afternoon after classes we got to go over to the WIT Arena to learn the basics of how to play hurling. We get to do this every year and it is always a highlight. My colleague Paraic Fanning, who handles a lot of the logistical arrangements for our program, has been involved in hurling all his life and is actually manager for the Waterford senior hurling team this year. So he arranges for a couple of WIT GAA players to come and teach us the basics. Some of the students were surprisingly good!

Thursday was our trip to Co. Tipperary, which might be my favorite field trip day. We made 4 stops; the first was the Swiss Cottage, a 19th-century cottage orné (think of the Trianon at Versailles) built by the Butler family (like seemingly everything fancy in Ireland) and restored in the 1980s after some years of abandonment. No photos allowed inside but the outside is beautiful:

Next door (so to speak) in Cahir is Cahir Castle–the Butlers who built the Swiss Cottage were the 10th Baron Cahir and his wife but I don’t think they ever lived in the castle. It is great to look at but would have been expensive to furnish and heat.

We had lunch in Cashel at the Brú Ború Cultural Centre and enjoyed a mini performance of traditional Irish music and dancing that, it being the 4th of July, culminated in a surprise performance of the Marine Corps Hymn by one of the musicians who had been in the U.S. Marines. I’m not sure who was more delighted–us or the musician! After Brú Ború we had time to meander all over the Rock of Cashel and enjoy the amazing views. The Rock is a huge limestone outcrop on which a cathedral was built in the 13th century. A late-18th-century archbishop had the weird idea to move the cathedral to a different site and removed the roof as a first step. The plan foundered after that and the cathedral–probably the most impressive in Ireland if it had remained intact–has become a ruin. Even as a ruin it is dazzling:

The view from the Rock is amazing as well.

Finally, on Friday night the faculty took the bus to Dungarvan–about 45 minutes away on the coast–for dinner at the Tannery, a restaurant owned by Lords & Ladles chef Paul Flannery. It was a great experience: outstanding food and drinks in a gracious (but not intimidating) atmosphere. I had:

Heirloom tomato salad to start.

Imam bayildi (had never heard of it; delicious) as the main course

Chocolate mousse served with lemon sponge for dessert

And Dungarvan looking gorgeous at sunset when we left the restaurant to catch the bus back:

I’m finishing this entry fresh off the U.S. women’s World Cup victory, which we watched in the local pub in good Irish style. Congratulations, USA!  Ready for another big week to start tomorrow.

Ireland, I am in you.

The thing about going from Macon, Georgia to Waterford, Ireland is that even when everything goes perfectly, it just takes a while. I left home at 4:00 p.m. Eastern time yesterday (Monday) and got to Waterford at 4:00 p.m. Irish time today (Tuesday). That’s about 20 hours door to door if my math is right. Groome shuttle to the Atlanta airport, Delta flight from Atlanta to Dublin, bus from Dublin airport to Heuston train station, train from Dublin to Waterford, taxi to Waterford Institute of Technology. Planes, trains, and  automobiles, check check check.

So it’s been a long odyssey but it all went very smoothly with minimal stress. Now I am in my room at WIT having made it to within 20 minutes of my “first night in Europe” assigned bedtime. (The rule is: NO NAPS.) I’m going to sleep very well tonight.

Just a few pictures from my journey. You will notice that I’m not actually in any of them, because “transatlantic flight” and “photo ready” are mutually exclusive.

Lucky shot on my way to my gate last night.

My ride to Dublin: Boeing 767-400.

Crossing Dublin on a gorgeous day.

Countryside scenery from the train.

Hello again, WIT!

Dorm Sweet Dorm

More and better blog content when students arrive Friday, if not sooner.

Ireland 2019: Packing time!

I’ll be traveling to Ireland tomorrow night to kick off this year’s European Council study abroad program there–students arrive June 14–so today is packing day! This year is my third on the program so I almost have the packing down to a routine, but of course every year is a little different. Signficant example: last summer was unusually warm (highs in the low 80s Fahrenheit) whereas temperatures this coming week are much more typically Irish (highs in the 60s). It looks like my program director persona “Dr. Laura Trenchcoat” will be at large in the Republic once again. I’m also taking along a few more books than usual since I have to write some syllabi this summer. No worries about coming in under the limit (50 pounds) but this year may not see a personal record for packing light. Here’s what I’ve got:

Suitcase and carry-on. Suitcase is 26″ x 19″ x 8″ and weighs about 6 lbs. empty. Backpack is . . . the size of a backpack?

Cross-body bag for daily carry once I get there.

Pants, long-sleeve shirts, and sweaters. I may have a little problem with stripes.

T-shirts, my WIT Vikings pullover, and the pencil skirt and leggings I plan to wear on the plane.

Exercise clothes and my travel yoga mat, which successfully passed the “But will I use it?” test last year.


Important odds and ends: washcloths (never provided in Europe), plug adapters (can’t have too many), mini tripod (handy), luggage scale and corkscrew (ways to make myself indispensable)

Carry-on toiletries–trying to keep it minimal but I’ll probably stick a mascara and lip gloss in there in the morning.

Electronics–this time it’s my phone that isn’t pictured because I was using it to take the pictures!

All you REALLY need is your passport and credit card. And BuJo. And €13 in change. And Duke.

Copies of my passport and credit cards ride in the suitcase to make replacement easier if anything gets lost.

Everything in except toiletries and my trench coat. As always, socks, underwear, and PJs are not pictured.

The research questions embedded in this year’s packing are:

  • I’m adding a Bluetooth speaker this year because I wish I had one every year. Will it pass the “But will I use it?” test?
  • I am not taking my “real” camera because I suspect it’s starting to die. Can I take 5 weeks’ worth of attractive and interesting pictures with an iPhone 6S? Here’s hoping.
  • Have I brought enough warm clothes? Probably.
  • And will I regret taking only sneakers? Proximate cause to buy shoes in Ireland, so no.

Shuttle to the airport at 5:00 tomorrow afternoon. Flight at 9:45, arriving in Dublin at 10:35 Tuesday morning. I’m excited!

Knights Impact 2019: San Juan, Puerto Rico

We had a super busy and successful day in San Juan yesterday. After two stops in tropical-looking ports surrounded by rural environments, it was surprising to pull into a major city! We were off the ship at 8:00 a.m. and used Uber to get over to Casa de Niños Manuel Fernández Juncos. Casa de Niños is a home for boys ages 8 to 18 who have had to leave their homes due to abuse or neglect. Apparently some of their family situations are so precarious that their parents are not allowed to know where they have been placed. It’s always sad when a child can’t be with his family but the 30 boys at Casa de Niños receive excellent care including counseling and a transition program when they turn 18. The facility is spacious, tranquil, and immaculate, and it was even a little more immaculate when we got finished with it. Lidia, who coordinates donations, met us at the front door with a to-do list and the students got right to work washing vans, repairing a cracked wall, raking leaves, and cleaning windows.

These students continue to impress me with their willingness to dive right in and contribute, even in unfamiliar surroundings and for the benefit of people they don’t know. We also had a chance to talk to some of the employees and learn a little more about how Casa de Niños operates, and everyone asked excellent questions.

After our morning of work we toured old San Juan and the two forts/castles that stand on the coast about a mile apart. San Cristobal is on the northern side of the peninsula and El Morro faces west. I took a group of 4 students and we started at San Cristobal, then walked up along the coast to El Morro and down through the town with a stop for empanadas back to the port. It was a lot of walking after our strenuous morning but we enjoyed it. As we were leaving El Morro we encountered Chris with the other 8 students. They had run into the governor of Puerto Rico and gotten a picture with him! We did not get so lucky but we did get a picture with an iguana.

San Cristobal from below–we had stopped at a sidewalk stand for smoothies and fruit salad.

Both forts fly the U.S. flag, the Puerto Rican flag, and the Spanish military flag.

The cylindrical structure on the right is called a garita; garitas are symbols of San Juan.

In front of El Morro is a huge lawn where people fly kites.

Our group inside El Morro

They met the governor!

We met an iguana!

We were all happy to get back on the ship at 3:30 and relax before dinner. It was a big day! Sailing in and out of San Juan is beautiful because you sail right past the 2 forts and the city skyline.

Bye, San Juan!

Now we are en route to Grand Turk, our last stop. Today will be an adventure day: one group is going ziplining and horseback riding and another group (including me) is going snorkeling. Stay tuned!

Knights Impact 2019: Sailing Away

Let’s cut to the chase: all the students were on time, we made good time on the drive down, everyone was good-humored about being wedged into a van, all the luggage actually fit in the van, the ship is delightful, the food is excellent, and I’m pretty sure everyone has already learned at least one thing. All in all an outstanding departure day!

We–12 students, 2 leaders–left Macon at 5:30 a.m. after Chris executed some heroic luggage Tetris to get everyone’s bags into the back of one van so that we were able to all ride together. These students and their family members are champions: most of them had had practically no sleep but managed to show up on campus by 4:45 to make sure we got away on time.

So awake-looking! So cheerful! Most of them slept through most of the ride down.

We took this photo to make sure we could reproduce the arrangement on the way back.

The drive was long (6+ hours) but not difficult. Check-in at Port Canaveral was hectic but only in the way that getting 5,000 people and their bags out of cars and onto a ship inevitably is. Our students showed good problem-solving and communication skills from the beginning: one spent an hour or so of the drive on the phone between her bank, her boyfriend, and her mother to locate a deposit that had mysteriously vanished from her account. She was unflappable, though she did say afterward that she’s probably going to change banks.

Once we got on the ship (around 1:30), things moved very fast: into our cabins, upstairs for lunch, over to a quick program meeting, and then off to muster drill. Muster drill is the cruise ship equivalent of an airline safety presentation, but everyone has to show up to their muster stations and they literally take attendance, so it doesn’t go nearly as fast. Most of us caught a quick nap between muster drill and dinner and showed up to dinner looking much more perky than we had been before. For the first time in my short life as a cruiser I slept through our actual departure from the port! (I have an excuse: I’d been up since 3:00.)

Our neighbors at Port Canaveral were a Disney ship and another Carnival ship (Elation).

Everyone on deck for the sail away party!

Waving to people on other boats is more fun than it should be.

Program meeting: downloading the Carnival Hub app and adding ourselves to a group chat, going over the rest of the day’s schedule, handing out some homework.

We are doing a door decorating contest and students are already hard at work.

Group dinner in the restaurant was great fun as everyone tried new food and got to know each other better. I think we’ve got an excellent team here and I can’t wait to see what happens over the coming week. Tomorrow is a sea day (my favorite!) so we’ll be doing some team-building and reflection activities as well as having a little time to recuperate between our travel day and our first service-learning day in the Dominican Republic on Monday.

Not bad. Not bad at all.

Knights Impact 2019: Packing!

Tomorrow morning at 5:00 a.m., my colleague Chris Tsavatewa and I will set out with 12 students en route to Port Canaveral to board Carnival Breeze for a week of service learning activities in the Eastern Caribbean. Our GroupMe has been buzzing all day with packing talk. As a packing aficionado I couldn’t wait to weigh in (hmm, pun intended?) on the topic. Other than 2 sea days (one at the beginning and one at the end) we will spend our days in port doing volunteer work at organizations like the Humane Society and Salvation Army, so we don’t have to be too dressed up, but we also need some nice clothes for “elegant night” dinners and maybe the odd bit of swimwear. Here’s what I came up with and what I did with it:

My suitcase: low-cost-carrier carry-on size. It has lived a good hard life since I bought it in Paris in 2015 for practically no money.

T-shirts ahoy! Not pictured: one pair of jeans, which I’ll wear on the drive down tomorrow.

This is the largest number of swim pieces I have ever owned. I highly recommend a rashguard top (long-sleeve swim top as pictured on the left) if you burn easily or are at all concerned about sun exposure.

2 dresses, 1 pair of linen pants, 1 pair of linen shorts. The linen is already wrinkled but I dont’t think the dogs at Humane Society will mind.

Everything in the suitcase including toiletries, flip-flops, pajamas, and a sweater. Now for carry-on items:

Electronics and chargers (add to this my Olympus E-PM1 camera, which isn’t in the picture because I used it to take the picture)

Wallet, passport, headphones, keys, spare lipgloss, Milou folder (you should distrust people who call him Snowy) with travel docs and program information in it, another folder with some homework, and a Royal Caribbean lanyard which Chris assures me is okay to take on a Carnival cruise.

I have to throw a few things into the suitcase in the morning but overall I’m ready. Watch for more posts this week as I visit 2 new territories, one new country, and return to the Dominican Republic for the first time since 2017. I am excited but I think the students are at least twice as excited as I am!

P.S. Wouldn’t have forgotten these but I almost forgot to give them a shout-out: Sea-Bands! Maybe it’s “just” the placebo effect but seriously: THEY WORK.