In which I learn why Ireland is so green

When you Google Image “Ireland,” this is the kind of thing you get:

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There are two things in common with these three photos:

  1. The scenery is very green, as Ireland is famous for.
  2. The weather is beautiful and sunny.

So I always imagined Ireland as a beautifully warm and sunny country with bright rolling hills and lush grass. I wasn’t totally off: it’s got those rolling hills, that lush grass. As for the warm and sunny part…

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…I was dead wrong.

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Honestly, I should have known.

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And my group was living in a particularly harsh part of Ireland. We were right on the west coast, in a place known as the Burren.

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The Burren, as you can see, has a very distinctive landscape. It’s composed of crumbling limestone, the remains of an ancient seabed. The rocky hills can get quite tall, with many of them reaching over 200 meters high. And since the Burren is by the west coast– where those Atlantic sea winds come blowing in– the weather can be… unpredictable. 

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Let me give you an example.

During our first week in Ireland, my group was scheduled to go on a hike on Blackhead Mountain. Blackhead Mountain is located right along the coast and promised impressive views of both the sea and the land. What’s more, we had a local Irish farmer to guide us on the hike. I was excited.

post 199 image 14We took a bus to the starting point. The weather looked warm and sunny when we were indoors, but as soon as we stepped out of the van…

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Windy as hell. You could open an umbrella and fly away, Mary Poppins style.

But it wasn’t raining, so we went on our way. Despite the wind, I was really enjoying the walk. The Burren has a beautiful and unique landscape. For instance, the rocks are full of huge gaps called “grikes.” If you’re not careful, you could step in a grike– and considering that these gaps can be as deep as your waist, that would not be good.

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The Burren is also home to a distinct mix of flora. Back in the Ice Age, an iceberg dumped a mix of Arctic and Mediterranean seeds in the area. Today, they still flourish due to the Burren’s year-round temperate climate. I never expected to see orchids outside of a rainforest!

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So, in spite of the chilly wind, I was enjoying the hike. Our hiking guide was incredibly informative and walked at a nice pace, stopping frequently to explain this rose bush or that ancient fossil. About 30 minutes in, we paused so he could even give us a bit of Irish history.

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He paused.

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Of course, I looked behind me.

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There was a HUGE rainstorm blowing right at us.

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It didn’t.

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The storm arrived within a matter of minutes. It came out of nowhere! And it wasn’t just rain. IT WAS HAIL.

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Horizontal hail, due to the wind.

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There was nothing we could do but continue our hike. Our guide kept going with the tour as usual. But the wind and hail were so fierce that, even when he shouted, we could barely hear what he said.

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Oh, the joy.

We continued up the mountain, battling winds that threatened to knock us over. Our guide led us to a structure known as the Caherdooneerish Fort. Here, we huddled against one of the ancient stone walls and waited out the storm.

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We love hiking

We love hiking

After about 20 minutes of soaking misery, the clouds finally cleared.

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We continued our hike in the beautiful, beautiful sunlight.

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Mind you, it was still windy as all get-out. The wind was so strong that it almost tipped me over with every step. And you don’t want to misstep in the Burren: remember, those grikes can swallow your leg whole. Alternatively, you could slip and knock your head on some lovely limestone.

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Seriously, I thought I was going to die with each step I took.

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It was insane. Incredible landscapes. Outrageous weather. Kids stumbling down the mountain, defying death with every step.

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It was one of the best hikes I’ve ever been on.

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Because nothing gets your adrenaline pumping better than thinking you’re going to fall off a mountain…for an hour straight.

In fact, I wasn’t even mad when another rain cloud rolled in.

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And when it started hailing on us.

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Again.

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Luckily, our guide was prepared this time.

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Apparently, 13 people could fit under this guy’s tarp. Barely.

Three hours later, our bus picked 13 wet, freezing kids off the side of the road. I had worn two pairs of pants. Both got completely soaked.

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As you can imagine, we were all glad to get back home. We could take warm showers. Heat up some soup. Huddle under dry sheets and thick blankets, thinking about the windiest three hours of our lives.

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Maybe I am. But hey, nothing wrong with a little crazy, am I right?

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In which a grown man rolls around in the snow

So, like I said before, my long-distance boyfriend is currently on exchange in the US.

Not just the US, but in Boston. At my school, Northeastern University.

How rad is that?!

It’s rad for me, but I think it’s been even more rad for him. The Northeast US is very different from what he’s used to. This boy is tropical, born and raised. His hometown has two seasons: hot, and hot and wet. His university, in Sydney, experiences 300 days of sunshine per year. This summer, he experienced temperatures in excess of 110 degrees Fahrenheit.

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As a result, he’s never seen snow. Not in person, anyway. Everyone’s seen it on TV– in those Christmas specials and the Harry Potter films– but he (and most Australians) has never seen snow.

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Thus, whenever I sent him snapchats all like

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He’d always respond

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When we finally found out that he was coming to the US, he was excited. I’m sure you can figure out why.

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Clearly, he didn’t understand just how horrendous the cold could be. How could he know? He’s never experienced it before. At my urging, and his mom’s insistence, he went out and got winter clothes for the first time.

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Finally, he arrived in the US. In the middle of December. I greeted him in the airport, where it was heated and warm and indicated nothing of what was to come.
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Then, we went outside.
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His face was priceless.
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He tried to laugh it off.
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I had to explain to him that, just because it’s below freezing, it doesn’t mean that it’s snowing. He looked like a wounded puppy.
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But he perked up real fast.
Back in Philly, however, it doesn’t snow all that often. Not as much as it does in Boston, that’s for sure. We’ll get snow a couple times a year, maybe. The boyfriend got over the novelty of the cold real fast, and waited eagerly for his first snow.
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Then, finally:
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That night, I went to bed. I’m not sure if he did, as excited as he was. The next morning, I was forcefully awakened.
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As it turned out, the snow had arrived, and the boyfriend had already gone out to play. As I sleepily ate breakfast, he shared his observations with me.
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He even took videos.
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By now, I had come to view snow mostly as a nuisance. It’s a pain to walk through. It’s even worse to drive in. I commute to school by bicycle, and nothing screws up your trip more than icy roads and snow in your face.
But seeing the boyfriend all throughout that day…
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…reminded me that snow is, actually, kind of nice.
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And that, as boring as I find my hometown, other people find it fascinating. It’s strange, being on the other side of a foreign exchange. Usually I’m the one freaking out, you know?
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Finally, the boyfriend and I went up to Boston. I figured he might like it. It snows a lot more here, so he’d get to see it more often!
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Maybe a little too often.
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I, as the good girlfriend, comforted him about the unfortunate weather.
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Looks like he’s adjusting well.
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By the way, the boyfriend is making a USA video blog! Here’s one he made about his first snow. I even cameo in it!

It’s winter? Time to wear shorts and t-shirts.

My mom was very concerned when I declared that I wanted to go to Australia. She actually tried to talk me out of going this semester. Not because she didn’t support me studying abroad, but because of the time I chose to go.

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Indeed, it is winter here down under. I wasn’t too worried, though. After all, what could be worse than winter in Boston?

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And all my worries vanished when I Googled the average temperatures for Sydney in July.

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Indeed, the website was serious. When I exited the Sydney airport, carrying all my luggage, I was met by a surprise:

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Though Australian weather isn’t as perfect as rumored. The temperature does drop rapidly as soon as the sun sets. The weather can fluctuate throughout the day. So, basically, I feel right at home.

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To top it off, this winter has been unseasonably warm. For the past week, I’ve been enjoying temperatures in the mid-70’s. (That’s around 23 degrees Celsius, for all you non-US people.) Not all of Australia is like this, though. Last weekend, I traveled to Canberra, Australia’s capital. Canberra is inland about 3 hours southwest of Sydney, and known to be a bit chillier.

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And was it colder? You bet it was! Why, the daytime reached a horrifying temperature of 66 degrees!

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I often express my amazement to native Australians, who usually try to prove to me that Australia’s not as nice as I think.

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So pack me up, baby. I’m moving to Australia!

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