You Learn to Take Life as it Comes to You

I’ve been staring at my screen for nearly twenty minutes thinking of how to share my experiences over the past two weeks in a concise manner. And, no bright ideas havs surfaced(aside from promising myself that I’ll be more prompt with blog postings in the future).

When I last posted, I had just left the warm comfort of Phil’s home and was excited to begin my adventures in the city of Dublin and beyond. Originally, I intended to stay in Dublin for nearly two weeks but for a variety of reasons (one of which being that I need to return to Dublin at the end of the month for meetings) I cut my time in Dublin short and headed to the Wicklow mountains. Before doing so, however, I attended a Gaelic Football match, stumbled upon a Zombie Walk for Cancer, and listened to traditional Irish music in a pub:

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From Dublin, I got on a bus for Wicklow, Ireland and stayed in Captain Halpin’s Hostel for three days. Unknowingly, my visit corresponded with the end of their annual regatta so I got to see lots of rowing, a blessing of the boats, and some fireworks. I set out to Wicklow to experience the hiking in the local Wicklow mountains and the visit far surpassed any expectations. On my first day, I walked along cliffs overlooking the atlantic:

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annnnd it was beautiful! Good conversation, food, live music, and fireworks followed. The next morning, the hostel owners took a van full of us to Glendalough in the mountains. And, I found myself hiking up a challenging but beautiful mountain with an incredible group of people. To Lucy, Leo and the rest of the gang: thank you for making me feel so included. Anyways, here are some pictures from the hike:

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Fun fact about Wicklow: parts of the drama P.S. I Love You were filmed in the Wicklow Mountains. So obviously, I watched the film with a room full of girls (and the stray guy) in the hostel. It’s not exactly an uplifting movie nor is it the best movie I’ve ever watched but something about being in Wicklow and falling in love with the scenery made me like it a bit more than I would have otherwise.

I left Wicklow spoiled: the hostel was warm and comfortable, the scenery was great, and I had met a great group of people. After such a great experience, it was a bit of a shock to the senses to come to my hostel in Cork City. I stayed at a hostel called Bru Bar and Hostel and quickly learned to never stay in a hostel with a bar attached to the name. The good thing about not liking your hostel though is that it encourages you to spend as little time as possible inside. And so, I found myself traveling to the last docking port of the Titanic (just a few miles away from Cork). For those of you who don’t know, I’m fairly obsessed with everything involving the Titanic. And, I can quote more than a healthy amount of the lines from the movie. So, obviously, I went to the Titanic museum in Cobh and quoted Titanic lines to myself the entire time:
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The thing I’ve found about my studying so far is that even when I’m not looking for it something related to Alzheimer’s, dementia, or aging issues tends to pop up. Millvina Dean was the last living survivor of Titanic (she was just two months old when the ship sank and was boarded in third class accomodations). Towards the end of her life, she ran into a number of health issues and desperately sought out ways to pay for a suitable nursing home and mounting health care costs. The selling of her Titanic relics paired with generous support from James Cameron, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Kate Winslet helped Millvina comfortably live for the last couple of years of her life.

From Cork, I set out to Schull–a small fishing village in West Cork. And, I had pretty high hopes for my two weeks in Schull. Through the help of an internet site, I had found a small French chocolate/pastry/coffee/wine bar that I could help out at for a few hours a day in exchange for free room, board, and cooking lessons. The hope was that I could spend time integrating within a community in order to get a more authentic understanding of the issues surrounding aging in the town and learn how to make some chocolate, eat some good food, and feel part of a team for a bit of time. A few hours a day, however, has turned to into my working a full time job in exchange for crappy food and a mean owner. As a result, I’m leaving Schull a few days early and soon writing a negative review for the cafe. There have been some good times here though and I’ve met a number of fascinating people. And, this weekend I had a chance to go to the most southernly point in Ireland—Cape Clear Island.

20120819-223855.jpg. The water looks so appealing to jump into but once you touch it “it hits you like a thousand knives.” Despite this, one of my goals for Ireland is to go swimming in the Atlantic.

Anyways, I quickly found the hiking trails on the Island and got to it. Because of a relatively late night, a bit of a wine hangover, and an early departure, I didn’t really wear the best clothing for the hike. And, after about the 1st mud hole of many that nearly swallowed me whole, I quickly accepted that I was going to be a muddy mess. And, that I was going to like it! Here are some pictures from the hike:

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This was a pretty long post–ooops! I promise to be better about posting from now on. Next stops: Galway, the Aran Islands, hiking in Connemara, Belfast (for another Titanic exhibit and a contact related to Alzheimer’s), Athlone, and then Dublin for some more meetings, an Alzheimer’s event, and a visit to a local “help” facility.

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Touchdown!

I’ve been in Dublin since Monday morning and thus far the experience has been puuurfect. For the first four days I stayed with an 85 year old woman named Phil in a bayside home just outside of the city (this is the view from outside her front step) .

20120803-154248.jpg Staying with Phil was an incredibly fitting way to begin my international adventure studying Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and aging issues. At age 85, Phil manages a large home, engages in stimulating conversation, and has a heart so big it almost brings tears to your eyes. After days of meetings addressing Alzheimer’s disease and the stigmas against aging within Ireland it was refreshing, to say the least, to stay with a woman who defied many of the stereotypes associated with her age.

The majority of my formal meetings in Ireland have been completed. Thanks to the Bank Holiday some of my original contacts have taken off for the majority of August. While it was somewhat disappointing to learn that many would be gone for the month, I am encouraged because many of Ireland’s leading Alzheimer’s and dementia workers will be attending, if not speaking at, the annual Alzheimer’s Europe Conference in Vienna this October. In my next post, I will likely detail the findings from my interviews with Care Alliance Ireland, Alzheimer’s Society Ireland, and the Living with Dementia Programme based out of Trinity College. Before that post though I’ve got over 300 pages worth of publications to read through before I’ll feel comfortable synthesizing the information.

I’m finding my informal research to be particularly beneficial. When telling strangers the purpose of my travel, I’ve gotten a spectrum of responses from an emotional pat on the hand to a confused look. I’m fairly certain I spoke with a man at the local coffee shop I’ve been frequenting (and making friends with the workers) who was suffering from some form of dementia himself. The man detailed his significant and increasing memory loss but stated that he didn’t believe Alzheimer’s to be a real disease. Rather, to him, significant memory loss was just a natural effect of aging. It was more than discouraging to hear this man speak. Unfortunately, this experience matched what I was told to expect from my various contacts: many within Ireland either think that Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are just normal outcomes of aging or believe that there is no difference between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

I’ve done my fair share of walking about since I’ve been here. After one of my meetings, my contact directed me to a library that was featuring a large collection of Islamic and Christian books. The collection was incredible and the library was located just next to the Dublin Castle (pictured here)

20120803-165831.jpg. It rains pretty frequently here and when I’m about to get stuck in a rain storm I usually duck into a coffee shop and grab some tea or head to a pub to grab a pint of beer. On one occasion Phil, the woman mentioned above, directed me to grab a pint at the local castle in Clontarf, Dublin. I was quite tired but when an 85 year old woman tells you to go grab a pint of beer at a castle, you go grab a pint of beer. Hell, when anyone tells you to grab a pint at a castle you go. This is the castle:

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On my last full day with Phil, her granddaughter took me to a small ocean town called Howth to sightsee. It was just beautiful and it was so hard to believe that you could get to such a peaceful place just 20 minutes outside the city. The picture here doesn’t do it justice but regardless, it was pretty cool:

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I’m now living in a hostel located within the city centre and in close walking distance to my favorite little coffee shop. I imagine I’ll have a few stories from my experiences in the hostel and in the city centre.

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Next Stop: Ireland

After an incredible several days traveling up the east coast with my parents, I am now about to end a twelve hour layover in Toronto to board a flight headed to Dublin. The layover has not been particularly exciting and I think more than a few people were confused by my wearing teeth whiteners and doing lunges up and down the terminal. 

Over the course of the next several months, I will be using this blog to post about my experiences in lands abroad. Annnnnd, in the future I promise the blog posts will be a bit more entertaining. Just wanted to get this thing up and running before I cross the Atlantic. 

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