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.

 

Electronics:
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.

Hello Suitcase/Goodbye Siena

My suitcase’s fan club can be reassured that we have been reunited. It was delivered late last night–after 11:30 p.m., I just found out, so I didn’t see it till this morning or open it until this afternoon. Wearing fresh clothes to dinner tonight was pretty exciting. But this experience could open a new frontier in the art of packing light: bring only 2 outfits, wash one every night. (Probably not.)

Today was our last day in Siena; tomorrow we go to Florence where I will spend the weekend and Dorothée will go on to France to spend the weekend with her family. We spent the morning working on the program: sat in on an excellent class called “Reading the City as a Textbook” and then met with Luca and Sonia to continue refining the structure of next year’s offerings. After today I am even more confident that we will be able to offer a good variety of classes that will help students progress toward their degrees while making the most of the study abroad experience itself. We had a quick lunch at Osteria del Gatto (same place we ate Tuesday) where I had grilled radicchio, delicious bruschetta, and a bread and tomato stew that Luca described as “very poor food”–as in it was traditionally what poor people ate–but that I am going to be nostalgic for the next time it’s cold and drizzly like it was today. After lunch we went back to the Institute to sit in on part of an Italian language class. My Italian has a looooong way to go, though I’ve found that I can understand basic things, order in restaurants, and sometimes follow conversations. The students were doing very well learning the present progressive tense and vocabulary for family relationships. I am not quite there yet!

“Reading the City as a Textbook”

Later in the afternoon, Luca took us to the Duomo, which is the main cathedral in Siena and properly called the Metropolitan Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption. It is so unlike other cathedrals I’ve seen. The Gothic style is familiar but the marble is striped, the ceiling is dark blue with gold stars, and the floor is a series of marble mosaics depicting the path to wisdom through classical allegories and figures that lead the viewer to the Christian message of the main altar. It is elaborate, overwhelming, and extraordinary. Luca knows it very well and during our short visit told us more details than I can remember. Cathedrals are such a synthesis of art, philosophy, symbolism, and religion that I think students should see them simply as an exercise in critical thinking. We don’t get as much practice as we should at combining ideas in this way, but seeing a cathedral–if you take the time to really learn about it–requires it.

The exterior of the Duomo

Looking toward the cathedral entrance

The dome of the cathedral–looking up is a little dizzying!

The Virgin Mary is the “queen” of Siena.

We left the Duomo around 4:30 and I walked back to the hotel in the rain for a much-needed nap. Dinner was not until 8:00 tonight and I wasn’t going to survive without some extra sleep! Sonia came to the hotel to collect Dorothée and me, and we met Jim and his wife Carol on the way. The young secretaries at the Institute had picked out a restaurant for us called Osteria Babazuf. It was sort of high-concept–the front page of the menu actually made reference to semiotics, and I got a little nervous when I ordered something called an “eggplant tower,” but the food was excellent and the atmosphere was comfortable. After the eggplant tower I had pasta with butter and truffles and that was so delicious! Somehow I still found room for a salted caramel mousse for dessert. But the highlight of the meal was a celebratory toast to the fact that I had a different outfit on!

Truffle pasta: YES PLZ

So tonight we said goodbye to Jim, Carol, and Sonia; tomorrow we’ll say goodbye to Luca. Everyone has been so generous and welcoming. The students that are here this year are clearly having a great experience and I am eager to see some MGA students make the trip in 2019.

Luca, Sonia, Dorothée, me, and Jim

More tomorrow from Florence . . .

Siena: In quale contrada posso trovare la mia valigia?

Facebook comments are suggesting that the actual star of this blog is my missing suitcase, so let me say up front that it is still at large as of this moment (9:50 p.m.) despite the text message I received last night stating that it would be delivered. I suppose it is the case that that message has not yet been proven wrong or inaccurate. Like Schroedinger’s Cat, my suitcase is in a state of quantum indeterminacy. In my ongoing search for the bright side I will note that I have finally learned how to turn on a towel warmer–because I am using it to dry the clothes I washed in the sink–so once again we are reminded that study abroad programs are packed with educational opportunities.

Despite this annoying development, today was an excellent day. We spent the morning with the co-owners of the Dante Alighieri Institute (the school that hosts and coordinates our program) planning out future offerings and recruitment strategies. The details of the meeting are probably of interest to no one but me, so I will just say that some very appealing plans are in the works for 2019 and beyond. The Institute has connections with the University of Siena and plans to tap faculty members from there to potentially teach for our program. That connection opens up opportunities for course offerings in a multitude of subjects, so we are figuring out how best to combine the talents of USG faculty, Dante Alighieri faculty, and University of Siena faculty. Students considering this program for spring 2019 should stay in touch with me: we hope to have courses selected by the end of April.

From the morning meeting we headed to lunch at another very good restaurant (I need to start writing these names down). I had a delicious traditional soup made of bread, white beans, and greens in a tomato broth, and then a plate of grilled vegetables.  (Me: “If I order both of these, will I have way too much food?” Luca: “No, you’ll be fine.” Me: *stuffed*) Finally, of course, we had coffee and although we had decided against desserts, Luca ordered a plate of biscotti that were so yummy. Would it have been bad manners to put extras in my pockets?

Yep, it’s a picture of my lunch.

The afternoon was spent learning more about the contrade that make up the central city of Siena. These 17 districts date back to the middle ages with ties to both the military–they trained and supplied troops–and the trade guilds as each contrada has a traditional occupation. Luca is a long-time resident and member of the Tower contrada and a true believer in the value of the contrada system, which seems to function as an extended family, neighborhood watch, home team, and miniature government all in one. Both the rivalries and the alliances between contrade date back centuries and are taken very seriously. Tower has two rivals (which is unusual), Wave and Goose. Wave seems to be acknowledged as a respected rival while Goose is regarded with contempt. Siena’s trademark event is the Palio, a terrifying horse race in which horses and jockeys representing the contrade compete–nominally for a silk banner depicting the Virgin Mary but in fact for something more like bragging rights. Strategizing about horse choices, knocking other riders off their horses, and making side deals to get a better position at the starting line are all part of the game. The Palio is taken so seriously that if a woman from one contrada is married to a man from another, she goes to stay with her parents during the Palio period. Each contrada has a museum where they display the palli they have won, the traditional costumes they wear in the Palio procession, and other treasures that belong to them. Tower also has a sort of clubhouse (café/snack bar/neighborhood hangout) and an absolutely extraordinary eighteenth-century chapel. It’s hard to recount it all because I can’t quite wrap my head around it. Sometimes it seems like the contrada system is all in good fun, sometimes it seems like a beautiful embodiment of civic pride, and sometimes it seems like blood sport. Having said yesterday that I still needed to learn a lot more about this system, I succeeded in learning a lot more today, and still feel like I don’t entirely grasp it all. Might be time to accept that I need more than 3 days to get my head around a complex element of a complex culture that has been around for at least 6 centuries.

The weather is nice in Tower contrada!

Outside the Tower Contrada museum

A stone from the original Tower Contrada chapel

The Tower crest inlaid in the chapel floor

The Tower chapel as it exists today

Ceremonial outfits for Palio processions

This is the outfit Luca gets to wear

We ended the day with the Georgia Southern students in cooking class back at the Dante Alighieri Institute. Their program includes a certain number of these cooking classes in which they learn to make a traditional Italian meal and then, of course, they get to eat it! Tonight we learned to make

  • pizza: dough from scratch and 4 different combinations of toppings–we had the pizza as a starter
  • baked whole sea bass: stuffed with chopped herbs and lemon zest, baked, then filleted
  • grilled vegetables to go with the fish
  • tiramisu: egg yolks mixed with mascarpone and then folded into merengue; that mixture is layered with espresso-dipped ladyfingers.

It was all very good–the chefs gave us a lot of help, of course, but none of the work was too complicated except maybe filleting the fish. And even that would become easy with practice. The students have all said they don’t cook very much but I’m hoping they’ll at least take the skills and the memories home and try it all out again later. I am definitely going to make tiramisu again as soon as I have the chance.

And so back to the hotel to confront the continued absence of my suitcase. Tomorrow is another day; my colleagues have reassured me that they really like my black sweater; washing your jeans too often is bad for them anyway. (. . . right?)

Buongiorno Siena: All’s well that ends well

It’s 8:40 p.m. in Siena where I am ensconced in my hotel after a big day. Or day and a half? I left Atlanta at 4:30 p.m. EDT yesterday (Monday) afternoon, landed in Paris at 6:00 CET (Central European Time) this morning (Tuesday), missed my connection to Florence and had to be rebooked, and finally made it to Florence at 11:30 a.m. only to discover that my suitcase did not make the trip to Florence along with me. At least I feel validated in my decision to put a change of clothes in my carry-on!

I had to file a claim at the Florence airport for the suitcase, which will hopefully be delivered tomorrow. After that was done, I met up with Dr. Jim Anderson (former Director of International Education at Armstrong State University, now consultant to the Dante Alighieri Institute here in Florence) and Dr. Dorothée Mertz-Weigel (Director of International Education at Georgia Southern University) for the drive from Florence to Siena. We dropped off our stuff at the hotel, where we were met by Luca Bonomi and Sonia di Centa from the Dante Alighieri Institute, and headed straight to lunch at a small restaurant that Luca knows. Need I specify that the food was delicious? I had “pici”–sort of fat spaghetti with a garlic tomato sauce–and shared in the antipasti ordered for the table: bruschetta (always good; extra good when made with super-fresh olive oil), and wedges of aged Pecorino Romano drizzled with honey and a little pepper (you should eat this right now!). I’m so glad the meal ended with a double espresso or I’d have needed a nap right then and there.

Instead of a nap (remember: no naps on your first day in Europe!), we walked over to the Piazza Publico (public square), popularly called “el Campo,” and toured the city museum. I am glad I am already learning at least a tiny bit about this city’s history, but there’s so much more to learn. Italy is a young country but an old culture, which is interesting: the museum is housed in a building that’s over 600 years old and features 14th-century frescoes but also contains a room from the 19th century celebrating Italy’s unification. I took some pictures:

This building houses the city museum. Tomorrow I will work on finding out what it’s called.

Here’s Luca telling us about the 15th-century fresco depicting an allegory of good government.

Another 15C fresco–Mary and Jesus surrounded by saints as Mary gives a message to the city of Siena.

I photographed this espresso machine so that my espresso machine would have something to aspire to.

In the late afternoon we met for an hour with the 7 students from Georgia Southern who are spending their spring semester here. They were fantastic! Meeting students is always my favorite part of these visits. It’s clear that this group has become expert travelers and gained a lot of confidence and self-awareness by participating in this program. I am looking forward to seeing them again tomorrow evening when we get to join in their cooking class and then eat dinner (i.e., the dinner we will have cooked) with them.

This year’s students with Dr. Jim Anderson

By the time we were done with the students it was too early for dinner by Italian standards, and we’d had a late lunch, so we ended the day with a glass of wine and some appetizers at a patio bar on the Campo. We discussed the 2019 program a little bit this afternoon and evening  but tomorrow we’ll be meeting with Luca and Sonia to really start working out details. Luca is also going to tell us more about the contrade (the neighborhoods that form individual cultural identities within Siena) and take us to the museum celebrating his contrada, Tower. I do not quite understand the contrada phenomenon yet, so tune in tomorrow.

More soon–hoping to do some more Facebook Live or an Instagram video during the cooking class. Everybody hold a good thought for the arrival of my suitcase, please!

On the Road (or Plane) Again: Semester in Siena visit coming up

I’m excited to be posting again after a very long silence! Last June I had to bail out on blogging altogether due to mysterious posting problems that seem to be solved now. It’s a good time to have a functioning travel blog as I am setting off for Siena, Italy on Monday (12 March) to visit the Semester in Siena program that Middle Georgia State University is now offering in cooperation with Georgia Southern University and the Dante Alighieri Institute in Siena. This program is a major expansion of our international offerings and a great opportunity for students to immerse themselves in Italian culture for an entire semester. I can’t wait to learn more about it, experience some of the highlights firsthand, and share it with everybody. Hoping to do lots of photos and/or video, blogging, and social media posts during my trip, which will include 2 days on my own in Florence (sounds better in Italian: Firenze) before I return to the States on Sunday 18 March. This will be my first trip on my freshly renewed passport, I have my packing list ready to swing into action this weekend, and I’ve been working diligently on my Italian, learning sentences I probably will not use (e.g. “Vorrei dare una festa” and “La camera non mi piace”) plus some I will (“Sono vegetariana” and “Quanto costa un cappucino?”). I think I am almost ready!

If you’re a member of the Middle Georgia State University community, please make sure you’re following the Office of International Programs on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as I’ll be posting there as well as here as much as I can.

Stay tuned!