Hello Waterford

Yesterday was our first proper program day and we kept the students good and busy. The difference in everyone’s appearance and demeanor from arrival day Friday to breakfast on Saturday is enormous. There’s nothing like some good sleep and a shower to convince you that Ireland might not be such a bad idea after all, although I do think a few students were very disappointed that we weren’t letting them sleep in. Breakfast at 8:15, onto the buses at 9:15 to start learning about Waterford.

We visited the Medieval Museum that houses historical items from or about Waterford. This museum is a great introduction to the city because it immediately plunges everyone into a much longer historical perspective than most of them are used to. Viking arrowheads and brooches; medieval manuscripts; and a complete set of pre-Reformation priests’ vestments are among this museum’s offerings, and it is situated along a portion of the old medieval city wall. At the last minute I learned that we were not getting a guided tour and panicked slightly when Jonathan asked me if I could take the students through the museum. We did end up with a guide but I warmed a bit to my impromptu role when, en route to the museum entrance, we got to walk through an archway in the city wall with a murder hole above it. I had all the students stop on the steps above the archway while I explained what it was. “This is where they could pour BOILING OIL on people who were trying to get through the wall!”  Sometimes I do enjoy my work.

Luckily we did end up with a guide–Teresa–who did much better explaining the museum’s holdings than I could have! This is the Charter Roll, a collection of documents relating to ownership and rights of various businesses and properties in Waterford. As near as I can tell they stitched it together to allow easier flaunting in the faces of those who might take issue with Waterford’s prerogatives.


This is another city charter document that is not part of the Charter Roll. The Medieval Museum is a small treasure trove for manuscript geeks!

The seal at the bottom of the charter document. Every time I see one of these seals I’m surprised at how large it is.

Here I must acknowledge that my day as Impromptu Tour Guide/Student Group Wrangler was interrupted by a bit of program director work that took me away for about an hour. While I was on that assignment, the students took Jack Burtchaell‘s walking tour of the city centre. He is an excellent tour guide and a charismatic character; you should take his tour if you have a chance.

I rejoined the group at Waterford Crystal. I’ve done the Waterford Crystal tour before, but it was worth seeing again. Until the early 2000s, Waterford Crystal was the major employer in Co. Waterford. Its factory in Dungarvan closed in 2005 and the Waterford City factory, a stone’s throw from WIT, closed in 2009. Most Waterford crystal is now produced in eastern Europe. The company maintains a high standard of craftsmanship on an apprenticeship model. Today it’s pretty easy to find former Waterford Crystal employees, mostly men in their 60s, bringing the same sense of pride and precision to some other job that they did to their work at the crystal factory. I have to say it makes me a bit sad. It’s always hard when a town loses its major employer–Macon knows that as well as anyone–but to lose one’s chance to do highly skilled and specialized work that one trained years for must be even more difficult. And yet we don’t see much bitterness (not to say it isn’t there). The gentleman who led our tour was a former cutter in the factory and it was easy to see how much he still valued the company’s reputation and its place in the world. The Waterford Crystal showroom still does a certain amount of production and still employs a much smaller number of blowers, inspectors, cutters, and engravers. This time I saw a young woman working as a cutter, which was heartening. Women are few and far between in the Waterford Crystal world.

Students got to hold the crystal football. I have had my chance so I deferred to others this time.

Inspecting and cutting the crystal “blanks” after they have been blown. It takes 14 hours for the crystal to cool completely from its furnace temperature of 1400C.

Looking back at the glassblowers from the inspection area.

A blank marked for cutting. For regular production pieces a cutter is expected to memorize the pattern after only a few repetitions. Daunting!

From Waterford Crystal we went out to Tramore to eat a late lunch–fish and chips is the Tramore classic choice–and relax at the seaside. It was too chilly for Georgia types to go near the water though we did see some Irish kids wading and some surfers out in wetsuits (despite the red flag flying at the beach to advise against swimming/surfing). Tramore is really beautiful. Not chic and expensive and tropical like Miami Beach; not crowded with people in tiny swimsuits like the beaches in Rio. It’s varied and approachable and encourages doing nothing: get your meal to take away and sit on the wall overlooking the beach while you eat it. Listen to the ocean. Watch people walking on the sand. Just keep an eye on the birds. They are cheeky and will get right up in your business!

All in all a very good first day. Some of the students went out last night; after a busy day and a late lunch in Tramore (comprising chips* and a “veggie burger” that turned out to be a potato patty with corn and peas in it**) I opted to stay in and introduce my student assistant to pasta cacio e pepe. This morning, she and I both slept fairly late; I went downtown to fix a problem with a faculty member’s cell phone and then spent some quality time milling around and finding things to eat.

In case anyone didn’t know, the World Cup is happening.

Inside Costa Coffee.

Lunch at No. 9

No. 9 is a casual restaurant/cafe in Waterford city centre, upstairs from the much-beloved Carter’s Chocolate Shop. This is their hummus platter: homemade hummus, breadsticks, olives, grilled red peppers, salad, and tomato relish. I recommend it.

The view from No. 9.

And so (later tonight) to bed. Classes start tomorrow.

*Chips = French fries. Potato chips = crisps. You get used to it. I’ve also started saying “toilet roll” for toilet paper because it’s just more fun to say.

** This outcome was my fault for ordering such a thing in the first place. Ireland is really great for vegetarians . . . right up to a certain point. I found that certain point.

Arrival Day Wisdom

Some things are always the same everywhere:

  • Jet lag always drags you down.
  • Coffee always picks you up.
  • Most people are kind.
  • A hot shower always helps.
  • So does a good night’s sleep.
  • When in doubt, drink some water.

But a whole lot of things are different in Ireland:

  • Convection ovens
  • Celsius
  • “Topping up”
  • Duvets with covers (no top sheet???)
  • Driving on the left
  • Beans at breakfast
  • Strange-looking power outlets–some with switches!
  • Confusing shower taps*
  • Asking for the “toilet”
  • And let’s not even address the mysteries of Irish water heaters.

Students have such a learning curve from the moment they arrive on campus for this program. I’ve gotten used to a lot of these small things to the point that I don’t think about them much anymore. But yesterday we learned about how to buy credits for printing/copying while on campus, i.e., how to “top up.” After the WIT employee used the term several times I heard one of the students whisper to another, “What does ‘top up’ mean?”  It’s the little differences, really. Vincent Vega was not wrong. And to tackle all this newness when one is exhausted from travel is not easy. All the group really needs to do is survive the first day. They don’t realize it, but they’ll wake up on day two ready to take on Ireland with much more confidence. And the small lessons of intercultural competence, flexibility, and endurance can truly only be learned through practice. For arrival day, we got everybody here with all their luggage, fed them two meals, and put out a few small fires. I’m calling it a win!

*Confession: I am routinely baffled by unfamiliar shower taps, including in the U.S. I can’t count how many times I’ve been in a hotel and needed 5 minutes to get the shower turned on and adjusted to temperature.

Calm before the storm

It’s 8 p.m. and after 2 days of calm and focused work leavened with approximately 10% chaos, all is in readiness at WIT for the students’ arrival tomorrow. I’ve been in full administrator mode: meetings, phone calls, paying for things, making spreadsheets, moving papers around, writing emails headlined “One more thing.”

View from my desk yesterday with my Bullet Journal in full effect.

But it’s not as if I haven’t seen the sun for 2 days. Yesterday started out warm and pretty, deteriorated into wind and drizzle, and got very gusty and chilly overnight. But today was bright and gorgeous!

Today I got the students’ ID cards, bus passes, and Heritage Cards. Got everything made into packets and placed into the students’ rooms. I think I got most of my steps for the day walking up and down the stairs and hallways of the dorms!

Everything in piles as delivered to me earlier today.

What was left after sorting and delivering everything–plus a celebratory pizza!

Students are arriving at the Atlanta airport as I watch the group chat to make sure everyone gets there and all is well. With any luck they’ll go through to their gate right around the time I plan to go to bed. While I’m sleeping, they’ll be flying. Tomorrow we leave on the buses by 7:00 a.m. to collect everybody from Dublin airport, and then the real fun begins!

Traveling to Ireland

Dear readers, I left Macon, Georgia almost exactly 24 hours ago and have arrived in Waterford, Ireland by means of:

  1. Car ride from home to Groome Transportation depot
  2. Groome shuttle bus from depot to Atlanta airport
  3. Airbus A-330 from Atlanta airport to Dublin airport
  4. JJ Kavanagh bus from Dublin airport to Waterford

All the travel went quite smoothly. When I got to Atlanta–3 hours before my flight, as directed–the security lines were moving fast and there was hardly anyone at my gate. The weather looked very interesting:

But by the time we took off, it was much less threatening. We were late taking off but made up the time along the way on a flight that, incredibly, was not full. I was crossing my fingers as boarding went on and on and no one sat down next to me. Sure enough, I wound up with an aisle seat and a window seat to enjoy. Perfect for sleeping against the window, piling excess pillows and blankets on the other seat, and getting up as often as I needed to. Sometimes the air travel deities smile on me. I ordered a vegetarian meal and was surprised to discover that Delta has finally stopped serving the lentil loaf I’d eaten on my last half-dozen international flights. Now they are serving a “corn risotto” that is actually pretty good. Even more surprising: Delta flight attendants have started wearing purple uniforms after so many years in red and navy! Is it a shout-out to MGA?

Getting ready to descend into Dublin.

We landed in Dublin at 9:00 a.m. and I got a little nervous knowing my bus ticket was for 11:00. My anxiety increased when I saw the jam-packed passport control area. 4 flights from the U.S. had landed between 8:30 and 9:10 and the “Non-EU Passports” side was thronging. But the staff kept us moving and the baggage handlers had all our luggage out by the time I got through the passport line. I had time to buy a coffee, my favorite Irish bottled water (Ballygowan sparkling), and a banana before heading to board my bus.

Kavanagh Bus has a route that goes through 3-4 stops in Dublin and then straight on to 3-4 stops in Waterford including WIT. Kavanagh buses also have wi-fi and according to their website, 90% of their buses have toilets. (According to my field research, 0% of their buses have toilet paper. Bring tissues.)  Both of those amenities come in handy on a 2.5-hour bus ride! It was great to see Dublin again–even if only out the bus window–take in some Irish countryside, and finally be welcomed back to WIT by my colleagues here.

Ireland is gorgeous. Believe the hype.

I am all checked in at the dorm now, have been to the grocery store and made some dinner, and it is almost time for bed. The first day in Europe is always a white-knuckle fight against the desire to doze off (I will admit to a very small nap on the bus!) but then the first night’s sleep is magical. Tomorrow, planning meetings with colleagues and a visit downtown for SIM cards.

Tour consultant Jonathan and I went to get coffee and go over the calendar. All planning meetings should involve a Bakewell tart.

Packing for Ireland

By popular demand (a.k.a. “2 people asked me”), I present my packing for the 2018 European Council Ireland study abroad program. I’ll be in Waterford, Ireland for 5 weeks (departing tomorrow) with day trips around the southeast of Ireland and weekend trips to Dublin and Kerry. 58 students and 7 faculty will be joining me for this fantastic learning experience. I am excited! And as many of my friends know, I am an enthusiast about travel logistics and thus pleased to have an opportunity to flex my packing skills in a specific and interesting situation.

Here are the parameters: we are based at Waterford Institute of Technology and staying in dorms there. I will have my own room and bathroom with pretty good storage for clothes but not many convenient places to put things in the bathroom. Irish summer weather ranges from warmish (mid-70s Fahrenheit/low 20s Celsius) to chilly with rain almost always possible. We will be in a tour bus about every other day and have only one occasion in five weeks that will call for a dressy outfit. WIT has laundry service (magical) for €8 per load. Ireland uses 220V electricity and the same enormous-looking plugs as the UK. I am flying Delta which allows one checked bag free of charge on international flights with a weight limit of 50 pounds, plus one carry-on and one “personal item.”

And here’s what I’m taking/how I’m arranging it. Click on the pictures to embiggen* them.

All you REALLY need on a trip: money and ID! (I am taking cards as well, obviously, just not showing them to the Internet.)


Carry-on toiletries. The little pink box is a contact lens case.


Tablet, camera, headphones, card reader, portable charger, watch (which I’ll wear), outlet adapters (Not pictured: my phone, because I used it to take the photos, and the chargers for the phone and watch, because I have to use them tonight).

It’s hard to photograph a fully loaded backpack! My tablet, some paperwork, one spare outfit, carry-on toiletries, passport, wallet, phone, and Duke ride in here. This backpack is my carry-on and my overnight bag for our Dublin and Kerry visits.

The backpack has a pocket for a portable charger with an integrated USB cable and port so I can place my charger inside the backpack, plug the cable in, and charge my phone with my backpack. Neat trick!

Front pocket: toothbrush, wipes, tissues, floss, deodorant, lens case, headphones, wallet, pen.

Outermost pocket: clear bag of carry-on liquids; passport

Pro tip: Don’t take your clear bag of liquids out of your carry-on unless the TSA agents are asking everyone to do so. As often as not, you won’t be asked, and that’s one less thing to fiddle with as you go through the security checkpoint.

Pro tip #2: If you travel more than a couple times a year, consider applying for TSA Pre-Check. You get to go through a dedicated security line without removing your shoes or taking your liquids and computer out of your bag.

My suitcase: 26″ x 18.5″ x 10″ (66cm x 47cm x 25cm). 5.5 lbs. (2.5kg) empty. It’s a Samsonite I got on clearance at Walmart and it has served me well.

Slippers are in my carry-on; black sneakers will be on my feet; the wingtips, running shoes, and flip-flops go in the suitcase.

I’m taking a total of 4 pants, 6 t-shirts/tank tops, 3 button-down shirts, 2 long-sleeve t-shirts.

As you can see, I have a defined color palette. I’d like to say that’s for convenience of mixing and matching clothes when traveling, but in fact I pretty much wear these colors all the time at home too.

Plus a small amount of workout clothes, 2 pullover sweaters, and my Waterford pullover.

The Waterford pullover is a souvenir from my training visit to Waterford in 2016. I have worn it a ton both here and in Ireland, where it caused me to be mistaken for an Irish person last year at the Guinness Storehouse. The only other person I’ve seen wearing one was a 12-year-old girl.

Travel yoga mat (new experiment for this year) and additional toiletries. Celestial Seasonings tin full of OTC meds, because I am my mother’s daughter.

Dr. Laura Trenchcoat rides again. Orla Kiely (Irish designer!) cross-body bag.

All in! Contact lens solution is the only full-size toiletry item I take along instead of buying on-site. Camera in its padded bag is in top middle of the suitcase.

Special thanks to Vicki for the packing cubes! Anything you don’t see in the photo is already cubed up and tucked away. A lady doesn’t show her underwear on the Internet, after all.

Pro tip #3: Tucked away on the side are two washcloths. European lodgings generally don’t provide washcloths, so bring your own.

That’s everything except a couple of small items I have to use tonight, e.g., my eyeglasses, which will go in my carry-on. Oh, and I am taking a pashmina-type shawl/scarf and a neck pillow with a Velcro strap to attach to my backpack.

Moment of truth: 35 pounds (16kg).

I usually come in under 30 lbs. on the outbound trip, so 35 pounds is making me nervous! My exercise gear accounts for the additional weight. Hoping to run in the mornings and/or do a little yoga at night. If that doesn’t happen, I’ll leave those things out next year. My favorite part of packing is that there’s always another chance to perfect my system.

Tune in later this week for updates from the Emerald Isle!

*It’s a perfectly cromulent word.