To be perfectly honest, there are truly no words to describe all of the places that I was fortunate enough to visit during my time on Erasmus. So what I am going to do, is show some of the photos that I took.
I went to several different places while on Erasmus, some of them being places that I’d never even heard of. These are only a few of the photos I took, but every place was fantastic.
I count myself extremely lucky that I was able to visit so many places that year. Hopefully in the future, I’ll be able to visit a lot more.
Here’s my experience watching my favorite Disney movie as a musical at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre! Let’s just say that it was definitely a night to remember…
Sometimes, when I take walks, I like to walk down the Grand Canal Dock. There’s always something about the water that just draws me in. I am convinced that I was a mermaid in my past life.
One day, when I was walking down past the Bord Gais Energy Theatre, I saw the posters of shows coming to the theatre. I looked through them with interest and then I saw one I knew immediately that I wanted to see.
Beauty and the Beast
Four words, one story, one movie that has been part of my life for years. When I was little, I played the Disney movie continuously, played the soundtrack on my morning walks, and collected as many dolls and figurines as I could relating to Belle and the Beast. When I played the Kingdom Hearts Playstation game, I was delighted to see that there was a level in the Beast’s Castle. I think that was my favorite part of the game, aside from the actual Disney castle.
When I saw that the musical was coming to Dublin, I knew that I wanted to go. But then a little something happened that caused me to put everything on hold. A little thing called the coronavirus pandemic. Once I saw how long Ireland was going to be stuck in isolation, I knew that there was no point in even trying to get tickets to the show. What was the point? All shows were canceled for the foreseeable future.
Two years later, and with the coronavirus now just a small part of society, I saw that Beauty and the Beast was coming back to the Bord Gais. And I knew immediately that I was going. It took a bit of time as getting tickets proved to be more difficult than I thought (popular demand!) but I ultimately managed to get two tickets for myself and my friend Silvia.
I knew exactly what I was going to wear the night of the show. It was easy: a few months prior, I’d bought a gorgeous t-shirt depicting the stained glass window at the end of the movie. I knew it was perfect.
On Thursday 15th December, we got ourselves ready, made sure the tickets were safe on my phone and the two of us walked from our home to the Bord Gais Energy Theatre. Although I admit, a couple of times we did question why we chose to walk because it was absolutely freezing!
Silvia and I arrived and we managed to get into the theatre no bother. To see the show illuminated on the building thrilled me. I knew it was going to be an amazing night.
Before the show, I warned Silvia that she was not to hold me back at the merchandise stall. And to her credit, she didn’t! I walked away from the stall with two programmes, a tote bag, a beautiful book necklace, a magnet, a keychain and a gorgeous hand mirror. (The mirror was a gift from Silvia to say thank you for getting the tickets and inviting her to the show. How lovely was that?) It wasn’t too long after we finished at the stall, that we found our seats and the show began!
I am the sort of person who has watched Beauty and the Beast repeatedly for years. I have listened to the soundtracks religiously. I have a video on my On This Day channel dedicated to the movie! You can definitely say that I was really excited for the show!
At the start of the show,there was a wonderful tribute to the late Angela Lansbury who voiced Mrs. Potts in the original film. It was her voice reciting the introduction to the story. To hear her voice say ‘For who could ever learn to love a beast?’ was such a moving tribute to the late great actress.
So what can I say about Beauty and the Beast as a musical? What word can truly describe it?
Maybe…all of the above? I think that’s just about right!
Let’s talk about the performances. Courtney Stapleton as Belle did an amazing job, she really captured the character and the emotions of Belle wonderfully. With her naturally curly hair and reading glasses, she showed everybody in the audience that anybody can be their own Belle if they really want to be. And I have to be upfront and honest and say that I fell in love with Shaq Taylor as the Beast. His dark sultry voice sent chills down my spine. His solo of If I Can’t Love Her was just…ooh. Yes, I know I must sound like a giggly schoolgirl but he was amazing.
I have to say though, it was Alyn Hawke as Lumiere and Nigel Richards as Cogsworth who really stole the show, they were hilarious together. In every scene they were in, they had me in stitches. Their work in the big performance of Be Our Guest was just out of this world! I also enjoyed watching Tom Senior as Gaston and Louis Stockil as Lefou together, but I think they didn’t get enough stage time. But Tom Senior did a fine job with Me, he gave me plenty reasons as to why I don’t want a Gaston in my life, thank you very much!
In retrospect, I already knew that Beauty and the Beast was going to be an amazing show. I just did not expect it to be as amazing as it was. I am really happy that I finally got to see it. It’s a musical that I have always wanted to see and I’m really thrilled that I finally did.
My dear Silvia thanked me for inviting her along to the show; she had only ever watched Beauty and the Beast in Spanish prior to this so this was her first time hearing the music in English. But she absolutely loved it! She said to me as we went home that we’re now going to have to watch all of the versions of Beauty and the Beast together! You don’t hear me complaining about that!
Beauty and the Beast is a fairytale that has been around for over two centuries. This movie has been an aspect of society for over thirty years. It’s certainly a tale as old as time, but it’s a tale that will never grow old for me! If you’re fortunate enough to have this musical arrive at your closest theatre, you should definitely take the time to go and see it. It’s definitely worthwhile!
P.S. I’m finishing off this article with a link to my On This Day video, talking about the first release of Beauty and the Beast in 1991. It’s nothing fancy or anything like that, but I’m happy I did it anyway!
This is an article that I wrote earlier in the year, explaining about why we must be true to ourselves and not hide our personalities.
We all have our own little routines every morning. Getting up, picking out clothes to wear, checking out how we look in the mirror. We are always looking at ourselves in the mirror, staring at our reflection. But what do we really see?
One night, after having a shower and changing into pajamas, I looked at my own reflection in the mirror. My hair was tied back in a ponytail, my skin was still glistening with moisturizer, my eyes had a hint of mascara leftover from earlier in the day. I stared at my reflection like I was looking at myself for the very first time.
How often do we truly look at ourselves in the mirror? Remove the cosmetics and make-up that we apply to our faces and look at ourselves as natural human beings? Is there even such a thing as a natural human being in today’s society?
Society has its take on the way that people should look. As life has changed and the world has continued to evolve, people feel the pressure to fit into society. Young people, in particular, are constantly examining what they can do with themselves to be popular and accepted. In a way, it’s as if two beings are living inside of us; the outside, the side that is expected by society. And the inside, the one being hidden for fear of rejection.
In the last entry of her diary dated 1st August 1944, Anne Frank wrote about the inner struggles that she faced with herself. She wrote about how she had always felt split in half. She hid her true self on the inside, covering it up with being boisterous and cheeky on the outside – the way others had expected her to be. As she said herself ‘no one knows Anne’s better side’ because she kept it hidden by a mask.
Masks have become common today; we all have to wear them to protect ourselves from the coronavirus. But we’re also wearing another type of mask, protecting our personalities. With these masks, we’re shielding ourselves from the scrutiny and disdain of others, pretending that we’re fine. In the opening scene of the controversial movie Joker, we see Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) sitting in front of a mirror, putting on clown make-up and turning his mouth up in a smile. As he is doing this, a tear rolls down his cheek which symbolizes his inner turmoil. It could be argued that we are all clowns – we use make-up to paint our faces to cover up how we feel on the inside. We feel this pressure to wear these masks to be accepted in society.
It is very easy to be fooled by the mask. It can be so convincing that many times, we do not see what’s hidden underneath until it is too late. It’s especially dangerous for young people – they feel forced to hide their problems, not say anything until eventually, they turn to self-harm and suicide.
In 2018, there were 730 noted suicides in people under the age of 25 in the United Kingdom. Imagine that; 730 suicides in one year. Every person who chooses to end their life is somebody’s child, sibling, grandchild, friend. There are people who love them without the mask, but many find it difficult to see that. They find it difficult because they feel that they cannot love the most important person in their lives – themselves.
Peer pressure and images on social media influence people to change their personalities, hide their true selves to be accepted. Anybody who is considered ‘different’ from how society wants them to be, is labeled as an outcast. That is extremely damaging to any individual.
There is a song called ‘Outside Looking In’ by Jordan Pruitt that perfectly highlights the struggles with acceptance and the pressure to be perfect. Those who are not considered perfect are cast aside by society. There is a moment in the music video where young people are sitting down to have their school photos taken. Their smiles – their masks – hide their inner turmoil.
We all wear masks. Not many of us realize it, but we subconsciously try to cover our true personalities to fit in. We try to blend in, become ‘part of the crowd.’ But are we truly happy with that? As a person who once tried to change herself to be accepted, I can say that you will never find true happiness if you cover your inner self with a mask.
Do not hide your true self. Do not cover yourself up with a mask. If you change yourself to fit into society, you are eventually going to want your own self back sooner or later. It is important that we love ourselves for who we are. Ditch the mask, let your true personality shine out.
My story of traveling abroad for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic and what I learned about myself.
Who could ever forget the start of the coronavirus pandemic of 2020? When it hit Ireland, I was just a couple of weeks away from my 24th birthday. I had plans to go out to a dance club with my friends but of course, that never happened. Instead, I spent the day with my family. They made my birthday as special as possible, even making a wonderful chocolate cake that tasted amazing. This occurred on my next birthday as well, as the virus showed no signs of going away.
By the time my 26th birthday came around, it looked like the virus was finally beginning to ease off. I wanted to make sure that this birthday would be different. I wanted to do something so after thinking for a while, I decided that I would go traveling in France. It wasn’t my first time traveling in France, but there were places in the country that I’d never been to before. A certain Netflix show called Emily in Paris also fuelled my desire to go back. I decided to take the chance and go to another country for the first time in two years. I booked my flights, and accommodation and prepared to go.
Preparations for flights nowadays never run smoothly. There always has to be proof that you have received your COVID vaccination and have not contracted the virus within two weeks. I had to have all of this ready by the time I touched down on French soil. There’s always the worry that you may have forgotten an important document or have the wrong content. But thankfully, I got through the customs with no problems. Once I was out of there, I knew I was going to be okay.
Another thing that I was nervous about was that I was making the trip to France alone. It’s very rare for me to travel by myself. I traveled to Germany by myself but that wasn’t for a holiday, that was for Erasmus. That was a bit nerve-wracking, but in life, you sometimes have to take the risk and do things that you never thought you’d be able to do. I never thought that I’d take a solo trip to France, but that is exactly what I did. My mother told me that it was a true sign of strength and independence.
I was staying in France for four days. My plans were as such; have a look around, travel to Versailles, and then go down to a small part of the country called Arcachon. I’d never heard of it, but when I messaged a friend named Gina, who I had met when I went on Erasmus in Germany, she suggested that we meet there and spend time together there. We’d stayed in touch throughout the years and she’d moved to France to work as a teacher. When she heard that I was coming over, we both knew that we had to see each other. So we arranged to meet in Bordeaux and travel down and stay in Arcachon. I was so excited to see her again.
My little holiday began at 4am in the morning on 31st March, trying to stay awake with coffee at Dublin Airport. I needed to stay awake until I boarded the plane. I managed to doze for a little while before the plane touched down on French soil. I had booked myself a seat on the coach to central Paris. After arriving, I spent some time browsing the different shops, allowing myself to indulge in makeup and jewelry. As my birthday had just passed, I had the right to spoil myself.
When I checked into my little hotel, I took some time to freshen up before grabbing my camera and going for a walk. As already mentioned, a certain Netflix show encouraged me to return to Paris, and I decided to try and find a few of the places where the show was filmed. I was very lucky in the places I did find.
It was amazing; to think that in these little side streets that a show like Emily In Paris was filmed and shown all over the world. I know people have their own opinions on the show but I enjoyed watching it. I actually thought Lily Collins was perfect for the role. She’s grown on me; in fairness, she’s definitely not the worst actress I’ve ever watched. (I am naming nobody, but all I will say is that one actress I despise is extremely overrated and very bland and another is notorious for being a diva.)
Another unexpected treasure I found was the Parc de Luxembourg. It was quite cold, the winter weather hadn’t completely gone away but it was still alright to have a walk around the place. People were milling about, taking pictures, admiring the ponds, the statues that gazed out at the view and enjoying themselves. It’s places such as these that capture my imagination and allow me to create stories in my head. I don’t know what it is exactly, but I’m always finding something in statues and ponds that serve as ideas. As I clicked the shutter on my camera, my mind was whirling with different ideas.
Eventually, as it started to get dark, I decided to call it a night and return to my hotel. The following day, I booked myself a ticket to visit the Palace of Versailles. My mother had been there herself, and she had warned me that she’d been disappointed with what she saw. I wanted to go anyway because of my fascination with the story of the last Queen of France, Marie Antoinette. She had commissioned a small secret garden that I was desperate to see, so I traveled to Versailles and see the Queen’s Hamlet.
It wasn’t too long a journey from Paris to Versailles, about half an hour on the tram. When I spotted the palace, I was in awe of how big it was. Only then did it hit me that this was a place where the kings and queens of France had lived for centuries until the French Revolution of the 18th century. When Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette and their family were forced to leave, they had to go out of the golden gates, leaving this palace behind. I don’t know if it was down to the cold or something else entirely, but I could feel a shiver down my spine as I entered through the gate.
Many rooms were filled with thousands of portraits of the kings and queens of old. I really didn’t believe that France could have such a fixation with art but the Palace of Versailles showed this to me. France uses art to tell their history and the battles of the past.
I was able to see the bed quarters of Marie Antoinette – to know that a queen had slept in here, gave birth to her children here and used this room to prepare for her day. During the French Revolution, a mob broke into the palace with the intent on killing the queen. This room was destroyed in the process but has since been restored to represent the feminine and artistic personality of the last queen of France.
There was also the Hall of Mirrors, a monument to Louis XIV. There are 357 mirrors (I’m not joking!) all down the hallway and it was here that the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919, which put an end to the First World War. People were milling about, taking pictures, and admiring the glittering chandeliers hanging from the ceiling.
I will be upfront and honest when I say that I can understand why Mum was disappointed in her visit to Versailles. With the size of the palace, you would expect quite a lot to be on display, but that was not the case. Don’t get me wrong, I was really happy with what I did see in the palace, but I feel that I could have seen more.
The weather didn’t help things either though, I will admit that. The whole time that I was in Versailles, I was constantly being attacked by sleet showers! It was freezing and I didn’t have the right type of protective clothing from the cold! I was determined though that I was going to see the Petit Trianon, rain or shine. As far as the gardens and the Petit Trianon were concerned, I was captivated by their beauty and was amazed at knowing that Marie Antoinette spent her days here before the French Revolution. But admittedly, I came at the wrong time of the year to see its full beauty. Maybe if it hadn’t been so cold and the weather had been better, it would have been different.
When I found the Queen’s Hamlet, I had a good walk around, staring up at all the little buildings. During her time as queen, Marie Antoinette had this little village created under her instruction. She wanted nothing more than to live a peaceful life in this little hidden village, having fun. As happy as I was to finally have an opportunity to see a queen’s lost dream, again I came at the wrong time of the year. The lakes had been completely drained for renovations and it was really, really cold! Still, I’m really glad that I managed to see this little hidden Versailles. Marie Antoinette is long dead but this hamlet is a reminder of the life that she desired had she never been a queen.
Another thing I didn’t expect about Versailles was how big the grounds actually were. Versailles is a very easy place to get lost; it took me ages to find my way out of the grounds. By the time I found my way out, at last, it was near 6 in the evening. I was freezing, and tired and my phone was on its last 5% of battery. But I wasn’t finished with Paris just yet.
After giving my phone a much-needed charge, I decided to challenge the cold weather further and view some more of the sights of Paris. From reading Google Maps, I discovered that there was a very famous landmark only a ten-minute walk away from my hotel; Notre Dame. Obviously, due to the terrible fire in 2019, the cathedral is closed to the public, but I didn’t get the chance to go there on my first visit so I decided to go now.
Had there not been a fire, I would have loved to have taken a tour of Notre Dame and see the interior. If you’re familiar with the famous Victor Hugo classic, it would been interesting to learn about the background of the hunchback. But given the circumstances, I’m happy to have at least seen the exterior of this beautiful cathedral. I’m grateful that not all of its beauty was lost in the horrific event. And when renovations are finally finished and it can reopen… I’ll be back.
When I returned to the hotel, I packed up everything because in the morning, I had to get up and get the train to Bordeaux, where I would finally get to see Gina.
As I previously mentioned, Gina and I first met each other on Erasmus in Germany in 2016. She came from a farm in England, I came from a small town in Ireland. We connected right away and we have stayed friends ever since. I went back to Ireland at the end of my Erasmus, knowing that I’d made a wonderful, caring friend in Gina.
We met up again three years ago for our friend Emily’s wedding in Carlisle, and later, I went to visit her in her new hometown of Agen. When I told her that I was coming to France again, she suggested going to a place called Arcachon. I instantly agreed to this idea.
Up until Gina mentioned it, I had never heard of Arcachon. It is a seaside resort on the south of Bordeaux and is the home of the largest sand dunes in Europe, the Dune du Pilat. Before I traveled to France, Gina and I video-called and made plans of what we were going to do. She had done some research and said that you could hire bicycles and cycle to the dunes. When I heard about this, I thought to myself ‘Could we really do this?’ But then I decided that you only live once and sometimes, you have to try new things. Besides, we’d tried bouldering in Germany before, what was to stop us from cycling in France? We decided to go for it.
I was really excited to see Gina; I could feel myself buzzing while I waited for her to arrive at Bordeaux. When I finally saw her…it was like no time had passed since we last saw each other. I didn’t realize how much I had missed her until we ran into each other’s arms. When we settled on the train to go to Arcachon, the two of us caught up with each other’s lives. It was so easy for us to do that, that’s the type of friendship that we have. She also surprised me with a little gift of butterfly earrings for my birthday; she really didn’t have to do that but I was so touched. I, in turn, gave her a gift of an Irish friendship fairy, which she loved.
It didn’t take too long for us to arrive in Arcachon. We were both a little taken aback by how picturesque the town was. It was so amazingly clean, it felt a little too good to be true. The tourist office that we visited didn’t even look like a tourist office. You were almost scared to touch anything for fear of breaking something.
After leaving our bags at the hotel, Gina and I went to the hire station to collect the bicycles. Up until that point, I couldn’t remember the last time I had ridden a bike and I was a little nervous about going on the road. Taking the helmets offered was certainly a great idea!
We took off down the road. Once I got used to the feeling, I found it to be amazing. We cycled past bright green trees, the sparkling blue ocean, and the little hills all around. The wind was blowing through my hair, everything passing by so fast, I felt alive, I felt free.
At last, we arrived at La Dune du Pilat; I knew they were the biggest sand dunes in Europe, but I didn’t anticipate how big they actually were! I’m certainly grateful that a staircase was provided for those who wanted to climb up there. Gina and I admittedly wore the wrong type of footwear for climbing though because by the time we were all finished at the dunes, our shoes were completely full of sand! Had it not been for the staircase, the two of us would have struggled even more!
Gina and I climbed up and up and up. We didn’t give up until we got right to the very top of La Dune du Pilat. We were lucky to be blessed with such a beautiful day. It was amazing to see the green forest on one side and the blue ocean on the other. The view was just breathtaking.
It was quite a windy day to be up there, we faced the danger of being blown away but we stayed up there, watching braver people than we were, actually sledding down the dunes! Gina and I were stunned that people were brave enough to do that, considering the size of the dunes. We weren’t brave enough to try!
The two of us began the journey back to the hiring centre to return our bikes before the place closed. Gina and I managed to get back down the dunes without tumbling down the way; once we had emptied our shoes of sand, we got our bikes and took off. They say that the way back is the easier part; that is ridiculous. By the time we returned to the hiring centre, our muscles were screaming, our throats were parched and I’m sure that our backsides were bruised from the bumping that we took! My shins also took a bit of a bang when I lost control and crashed into a bush on the way. It made for a good laugh though! I have to say though, all the physical pain that we felt at the end of it all, was worth it. It was such an amazing experience to cycle all the way to largest sand dunes in Europe. It was something I never expected to do and I’m really glad to have done it.
We weren’t quite ready to go back to the hotel. You know what we decided to do? We went to a little supermarket, bought little cubes of cheese and Magnum ice creams and ate them all on the beach! Of all the things to snack on, we chose cheese cubes and ice cream! It must be remembered that the weather was freezing; we stayed on the beach for a little while until it became way too cold for us to handle. It was time to go back to the hotel and rest a little bit before going out for dinner in the evening.
After a brief rest and freshening up, the two of us went for a walk around the town, trying to find a good place to eat. Eventually, we found a lovely little restaurant that accommodated my allergies really well. I enjoyed a wonderful meal of roast duck with green vegetables while Gina had paella. And we both had to indulge in a lovely glass of French rosé! We caught up even further with our lives and talked about our plans for the future as we enjoyed our dinner.
When we finished dinner, we had a little exploration of the place. At the time we were in Arcachon, there was a live art exhibition, with statues all over the town. What we didn’t expect was for them to light up at night. I’ll be covering the exhibition in a new article, which I’ll explain further at the end of this piece.
The following morning, myself and Gina enjoyed a buffet breakfast at the hotel before having one last walk around the town. A little tourist shop offered certificate-style postcards confirming that one had climbed to the top of La Dune du Pilat! It was a cute little souvenir and we bought one each, as well as other little trinkets to bring home with us.
Home…at the end of that day, we had to go home. I felt so sad saying goodbye to Gina at the Bordeaux train station. We were going our separate ways once again; she would be returning to Agen, and I’d be heading back to Paris to get the plane home to Dublin. I had such a wonderful time in Arcachon with Gina and having to say goodbye was really hard. She said that next year, she hoped to come over to Ireland; I will be there and I’ll be showing her all around. It will be great.
Returning to Paris and getting the coach to the airport, I couldn’t help but think about the last few days. I learned a couple of things about myself. One thing I learned from my visit to Versailles, is that sometimes things don’t turn out the way that you expected. Sometimes, things may not live up to the expectations that you have. And that’s okay. Disappointment is always a lingering aspect of our lives.
Another thing I learned about myself is that I am more happier doing things with people than on my own. In the past, I was happy in my own company, thinking that I didn’t need anybody. But as I got older, and I made friends, I realized that wasn’t the case. The more time I spent with others, the more I realized that being with others made me happier.
There is an interesting quote that I found from a wilderness explorer that I find very appropriate.
You only experience true happiness when you are with the people that you love and care for. From my trip to France, I realized that this was true. I enjoyed my days visiting Paris and Versailles, but it wasn’t until I met with Gina and we spent time together in Arcachon, that I was really happy and truly enjoyed my holiday.
It was late at night, that I finally touched down on Irish soil again. I returned home, exhausted but exhilarated. My first time abroad since the pandemic and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
I’m not quite talking about France yet though. There is a theme that I noticed all over the country that I used as part of a college project. But that is a story for another time.
The reality of being an Erasmus student was more harsh than I ever imagined! In the space of just two weeks in November 2016, I had SIX presentations to do and an essay to write! Not fun, huh? At least, I didn’t have to have them all done at once (thank Christ!)! On a lighter subject, in this post I’m going to write about my trip at the time – in this case, the city of Nancy, France.
This day-trip took place, just a week after my trip to Amsterdam. At least with this trip, it wasn’t that long a bus journey – we left at half past eight and arrived by eleven. We were dropped in the Place Stanislas where the traditional tour was going to take place. But before it did, we had a good look-around at our surroundings.
I have to say this; Nancy may be an old enough city, but it’s still beautiful. It wasn’t raining that Saturday thankfully, though very cold. As we waited for the tour to start, I snapped many pictures of the golden fountains that hundreds of years ago, had wine instead of water (wish it still did!), the statue of the Duke of Lorraine that made Nancy the city that it is. I’m a history addict, what can I say?
The tour finally began and we were taken through the streets. We saw the Notre Dame Cathedral that from the front, stood proud but from the side, it was easy to see that it was falling apart. Sadly, they ran out of money before the restorations could be completed. It’s kind of like what happened in Monaghan, my home town in Ireland many years ago. In the shopping centre car park, they has started to build new business association buildings, but then the recession happened and the money vanished. So the car park was left as a gaping hole covered by wooden walls for nearly six years until two or three years back when the original car park was restored. So the Monaghan council wasted €1 million turning the shopping centre car park, into another car park. Very, very stupid.
Once the tour finished and we had a spot of lunch, myself and my friends decided to go on our own tour around the place. We visited a local park and took several hundred pictures of ourselves, messing around the trees and kicking through the leaves. One thing that we didn’t expect to see though, was a peacock! Apparently, there was a wildlife centre nearby and it must have escaped. It didn’t open its wings for us, but oh well!
There was an amusement park set up as well and we decided to have a walk through there as well! No, we didn’t go on any rides, we were a bit too big for what was on offer! But we did enjoy some mulled wine and candyfloss! I had a sticky face and very sticky fingers afterwards, but you only live once!
One of my friends, Gina had arranged to meet a French girl that afternoon, so we went back to the statue of the Duke of Lorraine to meet her. There was a wedding group there, the photographer fussing around, telling the bride and groom to pose like this, like that. I don’t know how the poor bride managed to stay so composed in such freezing cold weather, but kudos to her!
Gina’s French friend, Emmeline arrived and she greeted us in the traditional French fashion- a hug and a kiss on each cheek! She brought us through the streets to a shopping centre where my friend, Emily could indulge in one of her favourite hobbies… smelling and testing perfumes! While she did, I visited a Kiko store; you can’t go wrong with a bit of Kiko makeup!
Afterwards, Emmeline led us to a waffle store where everyone could buy…you guessed it… waffles! Unlucky for me, due to my annoying allergies (and the fact that I’d already had a huge candyfloss) I ruled out getting any more food. So I spent a bit of time, browsing the market stalls, you never know what you can find in them!
At half five, we had to go back to the Place Stanislas so we could get the bus back to Trier. We said farewell to Emmeline and made our way back. Unlike Amsterdam, Nancy didn’t have their Christmas lights on yet, but even so, still beautiful! It was just after six by the time we were on the bus, going home. Another great trip, I have to say! I wasn’t sure where I would be going next, but that will be covered in another post…
How it took a near-death experience to understand the seriousness of living with allergies
This is one of the most difficult things I have ever written about, but at the same time, I think it is important that I tell my story.
Growing up, I hated going out to restaurants. It wasn’t the fact that I hated the places we went or didn’t like dressing up. It was that I hated having to make awkward requests to the servers so they wouldn’t serve me something that I couldn’t eat.
When I was a baby, it was discovered that I was allergic to eggs, nuts and sesame seeds. It was discovered after I was given a Milky Way bar (of all things) and my body began to swell all over. I was rushed to the hospital and soon the results were given.
My first severe reaction happened when I was 22 months old and I was exposed to nuts. It was through that experience that caused my parents to become aware of my allergens. With the help of my family, I felt that I was able to keep away from things I couldn’t eat. Perhaps, because as a result of this caution, I saw my allergies as a problem to others because food could never be simple when it came to me. Until a year ago, I was so fixated on how others saw my ‘problems’, that I didn’t understand how my allergies could seriously affect me.
This meant that I always had to be cautious when it came to food, constantly checking the ingredients to make sure that they were safe for me to eat. Whenever I went out for dinner with friends, we would always have to go somewhere that was alright for me. I hated this because I felt that my problem was a burden to my friends and they couldn’t really enjoy someplace they wanted to because of me.
On the night of 3rd November 2019, my view on my allergies would change forever.
That night, I was meeting up with a few friends from a drama club and we were going out for dinner in a new place. Because I had never been there, I knew that I had to speak to the people about my allergies. I told them what I couldn’t have and they assured me that the food on the menu would be alright for me.
That was a bull-faced lie.
When we finally got our food, I ended up with smoked salmon. I put a piece in my mouth and almost immediately, something was wrong. My mouth began to tingle and my stomach felt funny. I went outside to get some air and ended up getting sick. Fish was off the menu that night; I wasn’t going to be eating any more. In my mind, I thought that now I had gotten it out of my system, I would be alright.
I was wrong.
Suddenly, my chest began to tighten. It was extremely painful, like I was being stabbed multiple times. It felt like I was having a heart attack. I rushed to the bathroom in agony.
For the rest of my life, I will never forget what I saw in the mirror. My skin was pale as a ghost, my eyes were completely bloodshot and I could barely stand.
I looked like a monster.
By this point, my friends knew that they had to get me to the hospital, no arguments. The pain in the chest had gotten so bad, I was in tears. We went straight to the emergency department and I was given an injection. After that, gradually the pain went away and I ultimately recovered. I remember apologising multiple times to my friends that night as I believed that I had ruined everything. But they insisted on staying with me in the hospital, they looked after me and refused to leave me on my own, despite me saying that it was okay. I must have completely horrified them, but for them to stay meant a lot to me.
It took a long time for me to get over what happened that night. There have been many frightening experiences in my life, but none as intense as this.
I actually thought that I was going to die.
As terrifying as that night was, it was also a wake-up call for me. After that night, I began to realise that I need to be take my allergies more seriously. I could have died because I wasn’t prepared and because I was too embarrassed to speak about my condition.
Doctor Isuelt Sheehan of Allergy Ireland, says that the feeling that allergies are something to be ashamed of, is quite common in young people. As children begin to grow up, they can feel embarrassed and try to hide their allergies from people around them. ‘When it comes to teenagers’ she says ‘it is a particularly difficult time. Coping with an allergy is difficult because they can feel embarrassed about it. They feel they can’t talk to their friends about it but it’s important they do so their friends will know as well, how to manage the situation if it ever comes about.’
It must also be questioned whether public places really understand the serious nature of food allergies. By law, all restaurants menus must display information in relation to allergens in their choices. They must all be aware with how to manage a case if a customer ever suffers from an allergic reaction. All food packets must now display allergen warnings and information in relation to their ingredients. ‘Restaurants are a lot more aware about allergies than they were in the past.’ says Dr. Sheehan. ‘It’s extremely important that for any allergic reaction, restaurant staff undergo the necessary training. It is rare, thankfully, that we get reports of public reactions in restaurants.’
Any allergic reaction is frightening, not just for the sufferer, but for those around them. ‘There are no words to describe the experience of watching your child having an allergic reaction.’ one parent said. ‘Eventually as a parent, you learn to recognize trigger-points but this is gradual because you have neither prior knowledge of what makes up most foods, nor prior experience in dealing with this. You learn to study ingredients before you buy, you learn to prepare foods that don’t contain triggers, you learn to recognize signs of a reaction in your child and most of all, you learn to ignore those who tell you ‘sure they’ll grow out of it’ or those who consider you to be ‘fussy’ or ‘awkward’ when it comes to your child’s diet.’
Research has shown that in Ireland, approximately 5% of children and 3% of adults suffer from some form of food allergy. The rate of severe allergic reactions which result in a visit to A&E have trebled over the last twenty years. The most common food allergies in Ireland are to cow’s milk, eggs, nuts, fish, wheat, soya and peanuts. These account for about 90% of all allergic reactions. Dr. Sheehan says that the rate of allergies has increased by 50%. Because of this increase, she also says that ‘it’s important that we are all aware of them, not just the sufferers, but the whole world.’
All allergies, whether mild or severe, must be taken seriously both by the sufferer and all those who work in the food and hospitality industry. Sufferers need to see allergies as a nuisance rather than a burden. The burdens of allergies must be looked past. Sufferers and relatives must know how to deal with them if there ever comes a time when you get a reaction. As Dr. Sheehan says ‘Reassuring and advising sufferers and families can help with coping with allergies.’ She also touches on the importance of an epi-pen. ‘It’s wonderful that we have them available. As an allergist, we talk through them with patients and their families, show them how to use them and reassure them, that they can help.’
For anyone who suffers from allergies, being aware, being able to talk about your allergies and carrying an epi-pen wherever you go, can simply save your life.
It only took a piece of fish and an emergency visit to the hospital for me to realise this.
Now that we finally had our beautiful puppy, it was time to learn how to adapt to having a dog in the house permanently.
It wasn’t like we never had any experience with dogs – neighbours all around us had them. I was friends with a very friendly Welsh Corgi named Charlie. I called him my ‘Orange Friend’ because his red fur matched the color of my hair! He would come into our back garden and the two of us would play fetch all the time, and on occasion, he would come into the house and get some food. I was devastated when I learned that he had passed away from cancer a few years later.
I was thrilled when we got Murphy. Back when I first met him, he was so small, I could easily pick him up in both hands. As he was only a few weeks old at the time, we had to lay newspapers all over the floor until he was trained to go to the toilet outside! That was a long and slow process; we always had to keep an eye on wherever Murphy wandered off, just in case he decided to do his business in a corner! Sometimes we weren’t quick enough and we had to get out the plastic bags and the mop to clean up his mess. At least he made it up to us with some cuddles!
Furniture became another story. In the first few weeks, Murphy was obsessed with gnawing on the legs of the table. He was teething and liked the feeling of hard things, so we understood why he was doing it. As the weeks progressed, he moved from chewing on furniture to climbing on it!
I’ll never forget the day when my little sister came home after sitting her first Junior Cert exam. Being nice, I made her toasted sandwich. We went upstairs for a minute, and when we came back down, Murphy was up on the kitchen table, eating the sandwich! That was the day that we discovered that he had mastered the art of climbing onto chairs and tables! We always have to keep the chairs firmly close to the tables after that!
Of course, when Murphy mastered the art of climbing the stairs, that was when things became a real challenge! Our parents were always on at me and my sister to keep our bedroom doors closed, otherwise Murphy would go in and grab something and (more than likely) rip it to shreads. There were many times that we would forget and Murphy would find a way into our rooms and find something.
Ususally this wasn’t too bad, he would normally just find old socks or a slipper that lost its partner ages ago and we would just let him tear them up. They were of no use to us anymore!
But then one day, he found an old red teddy bear, that I’d won at a funfair years back. In all honesty, I’d forgotten about it until Murphy came trotting downstairs, bear in his mouth. Mum said to me that he just refused to unhand it so in the end, she let him have it. I didn’t mind too much, if Murphy liked it, he could have it.
Now, we expected him to rip it to shreds right away, but surprisingly he was slow. He would spend a few nights with it, sniffing it and having it by his side when he settled down to go to sleep on the chair. That’s another thing about Murphy, he never liked his dog’s basket. He only settled on the couch or on a chair. Maybe it was because that he was able to smell us humans off of it, I’m not sure.
In the end though, I came downstairs one day, to find stuffing all over the floor and the red teddy bear reduced to a lifeless rag. That was the end of cuddly toys for Murphy for a long time! His feeling for stuffed toys would change (slightly) when he got older but that’s another story!
Everybody receives their calling in life. It doesn’t matter if they receive their calling when their eight months or eighteen years old, one day, they will receive their calling of what to do with their life. For myself, it was a little bit different.
I received my calling when I was seven, but I didn’t realise it at the time. It started when I found an old accounts book, and started writing a random story. To this day, I still don’t know what inspired the story: it was a fantasy of a young girl sent on a quest to save her hypnotized friends from an evil wizard. Maybe it was because I was a big Harry Potter fan at the time, I don’t know.
On my thirteenth birthday, I began a diary. At the time, I was copying the famous diarist, Anne Frank. My initial plan was to start writing at thirteen, finish at fifteen and see how I’d changed. Instead, I continued my diary when I was sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, all the way through into my twenties. My diary became my escape through the ups and downs of school, university and family. It also helped me look back on happy and sad memories throughout my life.
Even back then, I didn’t just confine myself to my diary. Throughout my teenage years, I wrote my own poems (abysmal ones, I will admit) and started stories. Started stories – I never managed to finish one! As I grew older, the urge to actually finish a story became stronger. It was only then, that I realised what my true calling really was: to be a writer.
To write means to express yourself. I found it a lot easier to express how I felt to a piece of paper, rather than a real life person. I found myself being able to let out my emotions on paper, channel my real life problems and experiences and turn them into stories and poems. Particularly during the coronavirus lockdowns, I had time to fill notebook after notebook with my ideas.
Now, I have actually finished not one but two story drafts. I’m not saying that they are ready for publication yet, but one day I hope they will.
What it means to write to me, means being able to change emotions into stories that people will enjoy. Maybe one day, I’ll see my name on the cover of a book on sale in the shops.