Friday, March 25, 2016

The Labyrinth at Saint Fin Barre's Cathedral in the winter
The Labyrinth at Saint Fin Barre's Cathedral in the winter.

By Kelsey O'Donnell*

How do you get to the point where you can call a place your home? I believe one of the factors is finding your favorite spots around the city. Cork is home to around 120,000 people, but it does not feel like it. It was not hard to be able to carve out a home for myself in this new place. One of the best things about moving to a new place is being able to explore it. It is very easy to walk or bike all over Cork. As I reflect on all the great things about my time abroad, I can’t help but think about the places that I will miss the most.

You can find many surprises at the English Market!

You can find many surprises at the English Market!

Like every other town and city in Ireland, Cork is full of pubs! There is at least one on every street and sometimes a dozen on a particularly busy street. My favorite pub to go to is The Oliver Plunkett. It is popular among tourists, but in this case there is a great reason for that. They have live music every night of the week- from Jazz to Rock and Roll to traditional Irish. They also host debates and discussion on various Irish topics, including the upcoming 100th anniversary of the 1916 rising.

On top of all that, they serve delicious Irish meals all day and in the evening! It is a great place to go with your friends or to bring your parents when they visit. Alternatively, the lesser-known Hi-B Bar is located across the street. It’s in a small room on the second floor of the building and I mean small- it can probably hold 30 people if you were all squeezed in. Its charm comes from the fact that it hasn’t changed a bit since it opened in the 1920s and that no mobiles phones are allowed. A local Irish man told my roommates and I about it and we walked in to witness an impromptu piano and signing contest between the drunk bar goers. It attracts mostly older locals and some tourists, but it’s definitely worth checking out!

The quantity of cafes nearly equals the abundance of pubs. An afternoon tea or coffee is a staple of the Irish culture, for good reason. You will consistently find families, coworkers, or friends chatting and sipping a coffee in all of the cafes around the city. It is a great way to socialize and take a break from a busy schedule. My favorite place to hang out is Café Eco. It is an Internet café with delicious chai lattes, sandwiches, and pastries. It is the perfect place to bring your laptop and get work done or to just sit and chat with friends. My drink of choice is usually hot chocolate, so I was pleasantly surprised to find three cafes that specialize and are known for their amazing hot chocolate. Butlers Chocolate Café, O’Conaill Chocolate Shop, and Fellini’s Tea Room all have their own unique charm and different types of hot chocolate. If you come to Cork, you will have to try each one to decide which is your favorite. I am stuck between Butlers and O’Conaills, so I guess I’ll just have to keep trying them!

The labyrinth at Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral and Fitzgerald Park are my favorite places to unwind and be surrounded by nature. Walking through the swirling maze of the labyrinth allows you to think and you have a wonderful view of the cathedral! Beautiful leafy green and pink cherry trees surround it. Fitzgerald Park is a large park near the university and along the river. Walking through the beautiful gardens along the river is very relaxing.  There is also a wonderful café to get an afternoon snack! If you keep walking along the river, you will eventually walk out into the countryside along the rolling greens hills Ireland is well known for. I went on a walk with a friend and we walked almost two hours and ended up at the next village outside Cork, Ballincollig.

Colorful houses and kayakers along the River Lee
Colorful houses and kayakers along the River Lee.

The English Market is a large covered market in the middle of the city. It has nearly everything you could wish for- seafood, butcher meat, vegetable, fruits, cakes, chocolates, cheese, and eggs, all from local farmers. They also have a couple of lovely cafes and hot food to buy. There are miscellaneous shops selling everything from electrical outlets to olives to Asian grocery food items. It is a really popular place to shop, eat, or just explore! The best part is that it’s open Monday-Saturday, so it’s not like a typical farmer’s market that is just open one or two days a week. I enjoy buying groceries there, as I know where the food is coming from. It’s also a great place to go if you want to go out for lunch and have some delicious soup and soda bread.

There are so many other places in Cork to explore and creating favorite spots is a very individual process. It has been one of the highlights of my year abroad to feel connected to the place I am living and know that even when I leave, I will have the privilege to say that Cork was my home.

*Kelsey O’Donnell is a junior majoring in international studies and anthropology at the University of Iowa. The Sergeant Bluff, Iowa, native is spending the academic year abroad on the Iowa Regents Semester in Ireland program in Cork, Ireland.

Student blog entries posted to this International Accents page may not reflect the opinions and recommendations of UI Study Abroad and International Programs.  The blog is intended to give students a forum for free expression of thoughts and experiences abroad in a respectful space.