Monday, March 30, 2015

Finding Good 'Craic' In Ireland


That is the one word I would use to describe this past weekend in Ireland. 'Wow' because it was a whirlwind trip that didn't last near as long as I would have liked. 'Wow' because we nearly didn't make it to Ireland and nearly didn't make it home. And 'Wow' because I am now completely, hopelessly, madly in love with Ireland and I'm already plotting planning my next trip!

This was a pretty last minute trip (as in our flight was booked only two weeks before and our hostel was booked the night before we left) but sometimes those turn out to be the best trips

We arrived late Friday afternoon after probably the craziest travel day ever. We booked a cheap flight on RyanAir, but part of what makes the airline so cheap is that they don't fly into or out of major airports. Which means we had to get to Eindhoven, in the southern part of the Netherlands. We bought our train tickets and were ready to go, but after standing on the platform for about 15 minutes with no train, there was an announcement on the speaker: there was a power outage across North Holland, and the trains weren't running. At all.

We spent a good 20 minutes running around Centraal Station, trying to find an alternate route and getting our tickets refunded and fighting through the massive crowd that was stuck inside the station. Luckily, we found a bus that would take us straight to Eindhoven airport, and hopped on. 

Here's the thing: I'm a good traveler. But when things go wrong, I tend to freak out a little. But Friday, I can't explain why but we were both totally calm the entire time. This is one of the reasons study abroad is so important- it teaches you so many things you could never learn while staying at home!

I think we just assumed that if we missed our flight, then we missed it and we would just make plans to do something in Amsterdam. But, somehow, we got to the airport. After sprinting into the airport and struggling to get our tickets printed, we saw that our flight was delayed; typical RyanAir, but this was probably the only time we were grateful for a delay!

We eventually got to Dublin, and since we arrived in the afternoon, few things were still open. Except for the Jameson distillery. This wasn't even on my radar (I don't think I'd ever even had whiskey before this), but we didn't want to waste any time in Dublin and figured we might as well do something. 

This isn't something I would have thought of doing, but hey, when in Dublin, you might as well have a little whiskey! If you've got a few hours to kill in Dublin I would highly recommend the Jameson tour! I had no idea how alcohol or whiskey was made, and the tour was super informative. And who doesn't want a free whiskey tasting and free drink at the end of a tour?

We only had Friday afternoon, Saturday, and early Sunday morning in Ireland, and we were determined to make the best of it. We didn't plan to see much in Dublin, but instead booked an all-day tour for Saturday, our only full day, to see the Cliffs of Moher and the Wild Atlantic coast of Ireland.

No this is not a post-card this is a real photo. Ireland is just as picturesque as you would imagine. 

If you're planning a trip to Ireland and you want to fill a whole day, I highly recommend booking a tour with Paddywagon. Tori got the recommendation from a friend, and it seemed to be the cheapest option (only 40 euros for the whole trip!). If we had been able to stay longer in Ireland I definitely would have booked their Giant's Causeway tour. 

Our tour guide was great (even after his quips about me being from Texas), and taught us a few Gaelic phrases, including 'craic,' which you may have noticed in the title of this post. It's pronounced like 'crack' but has nothing to do with narcotics; it means fun. As in, "that was some good craic," or "did you have any craic?" This sounds hilarious when said out loud, but be assured that it's just a harmless word. 

Our first stop was Kinvara village, an old fishing center on the west coat of Ireland (we drove from Dublin on the east coast all the way to the west!). It was exactly what you'd imagine when you think of a quaint Irish village- there are ruins of an old castle just along the coast, and when we stopped into a grocery store to pick up postcards and snacks, everyone in the store seemed to know each other and greeted each other like old friends. 

After a quick stop in Kinvara we were back on the road to our next stop, Corcomroe Abbey, which was built in the 1200s. 

And....back on the road again. After our stop at the abbey we headed down part of the Wild Atlantic Coast, which continues along all of Ireland's western coast. I wish I had more pictures from the coast, because the views were unreal; the beaches were rugged and rocky and you could see massive waves crashing against the rocks, sometimes rising up above the cliffs. Unfortunately, we were sitting on the opposite side of the bus and didn't have the best view, and it's pretty hard to take pictures from a moving bus. But, sometimes you just have to savor moments like that and put the camera down. 

We made our first stop along the coast at The Burren, aka the Baby Cliffs of Moher. These cliffs are significantly smaller and more rocky, but you still get a great view of the ocean and a few great photos. 

Fighting the wind and salt water. 

Traditional Irish lunch. This was probably the best meal I've had since I arrived in Europe, but I could not eat like this every day!

Actually that's a lie, I 100% would eat this every day for every meal. I would also return to America about 50 pounds heavier...

Then, we finally arrived at....


Sorry, I had to make my Princess Bride reference. If you didn't know, the Cliff of Moher (pronounced like 'moor') were the location for the Cliffs of Insanity scenes in The Princess Bride

Unfortunately, I did not find the Dread Pirate Roberts or the Six-Fingered Man at the top.

To give you a little perspective, if you can't tell how MASSIVE these are from the photos, the cliffs range from 390 feet to 702 feet at their highest point. 

Ok, I need to brag a little bit about my camera. All the photos I've taken this semester have been on my new Sony a5000 (shout out to Amanda for the recommendation). I haven't edited any of the pictures I've posted from this trip. Even the above picture, where I'm in focus and the background is blurred- my camera just does it on its own. Sorry, but I'm absolutely in love with this camera, if you're in the market for a lightweight DSLR I highly recommend this one

Tori, not caring at all that jumping the wall was prohibited; this was right after she dangled her feet off the edge of the cliff and nearly gave me a heart attack. 

I fell in love with Ireland and its beautiful countryside this weekend. But, unfortunately we had to return to Dublin and leave the beautiful cliffs.

A well deserved (and my first!) Guinness after our long day. 

Speaking of Guinness, Sunday morning we were up bright and early, determined to make the most of our time in Dublin and see one more thing before our flight at noon. So, we headed to the Guinness brewery- not really what I would recommend doing on a Sunday morning at 9 am, but hey, when in Rome Ireland....

The toucan is often used in Guinness advertising, after the 1940's jingle, "Toucans in their nests agree/Guinness is good for you/Try some today and see/What one or toucan do." Get it? Toucan, two can....

You can pour your own pint of Guinness at the end of the tour! I definitely don't have a future in bar-tending, but I was pretty proud of this one.

The view from the Gravity Bar at the top of the brewery, the glass wall goes all the way around, giving you a 360 degree view of Dublin. 

I'm already planning my next trip to Ireland. Honestly if I had another long weekend I'd go back. But, my weekends are almost filled up for the remainder of the semester, something I definitely won't complain about!

We started our new semester today, which is absolutely crazy that I'm already halfway done. As much as I am excited to go home, I really will miss Amsterdam and Europe. But in the meantime, I'll keep traveling and exploring and making the most of this experience!

I cannot wait until this weekend; Zac and Lydia arrive and we're off to Paris! Stay tuned because I'll have a loooong post about our adventures!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Prague (aka the weekend with no sleep)

I guess I should have titled that post, "the first of many weekends with no sleep." I will be traveling 5 out of the next 6 weekends (the weekend I'm not traveling is my birthday!) so sleep isn't going to be a priority. After all, who needs sleep when there are things like overnight buses that let you wake up in a new city?

This past weekend was my initiation into not really sleeping, as we headed to Prague on another trip with the school's international network. I've raved about school trips before, which is weird because before this I hated anything involving a huge group. Museum trips, outings, anything like that, so the idea of heading to a foreign country with a huge group seemed terrible. I hate being coralled around with unruly kids, but considering everyone signed up for this trip because they wanted to visit Prague was reassuring. Besides, the Holland weekend changed my mind, and considering the trip didn't involve any planning on my part, I was pumped to see Prague.

The scary thing is, we signed up for this trip in February, which seems like a lifetime ago, and I kept thinking, "Oh, Prague is in the middle of March, that's so far away." Welp, now I'm home from Prague and I've realized that I am halfway done with my semester...whoa.

We left Amsterdam Thursday night (after my roommate and I rushed home from our dance class, showered, changed, and threw a few more things into our suitcase before heading out), and I was not excited about the prospect of being on a bus for nearly 12 hours. However, everyone settled down and fell asleep, including myself- and I never fall asleep on planes, buses, etc. It's nearly impossible, but when you're stuck somewhere until 9 am the next morning you might as well try!

We arrived in Prague early Friday morning, dropped our things off at the hostel, and immediately hit the road. We started off with seeing the astronomical clock in the Old Town Square, which puts on a 'show' every hour. We were already warned that this was an overrated tourist attraction, so it didn't disappoint us too badly- basically the clock starts chiming and a few tiny figures emerge, some things move, and then it's over. I suppose its worth seeing since Prague doesn't have as many famous sites as other cities, but don't rearrange your day around it.

Side note: Julia just walked in and when I said I was blogging about Prague, she said, "Oh, you're Prague-ing" and if that is not the best thing you've heard all day we can't be friends (but you should still totally read the blog). Anyway, I promised I would fit it into this post somehow. Back to pictures of Prague!

The less-than-exciting clock tower.

Trdelník, aka my new love. Basically it's dough wrapped around a cylinder that's toasted over an open fireplace, coated in cinnamon and sugar and, if you so desire, the hollow center is smothered in Nutella. I may or may not have had 3 of them during our 3 day trip....

While some of the trams look brand-new, some look like this and are most likely left over from the Soviet era. 

The Charles Bridge from a distance. This is one of the most famous sites in Prague, and leads you across the river to the Castle Complex, which is the largest in the world! Because the complex, which consists of the castle, St. Vitus Cathedral, a few government buildings and a monastery, took so long to complete, every part of it looks different because they were built in varying eras.

The big buildings up on the hill are part of the castle complex. 

So many of the buildings in Prague are painted in pastel colors, making it look like a fairytale!

The John Lennon Wall, a photo op for any tourist in Prague. This was used during the 1980s when students and young people were protesting Soviet rule. Inspired by The Beatles and other Western musicians, they would come to the wall to paint their protests and decorate it with art. It changes nearly daily as people continuously come to graffiti the wall. 

The view from the top. Climbing the stairs to the complex makes you feel a little out of shape but it's totally worth it. 

The changing of the guard.

The Monastery Library; unfortunately you cannot go inside, you can only stand in the doorway of the rooms and look inside, but it's totally worth it. 

St. Vitus Cathedral. Part of the cathedral is unfinished (see the blank circles in front?) because they ran out of money just before completion!

Yep, I love Prague...

The Charles Bridge at night. 

For our last day in Prague, we had pretty much exhausted everything there is to see; Prague is lovely to visit for a weekend but I don't think I would want to study abroad there, as there doesn't seem to be too many sites. Obviously you discover more once you live somewhere, but you can feel accomplished as if you've done everything in just a couple of days.

But, we still wanted to climb to the top of the astronomical clock (yeah, that one). Now, I don't really have a fear of heights. I do, however, have a HUGE fear of falling from high places, so being near the edge freaks me out. Balconies are usually fine, but anything glass-bottomed is a no-go.

I've climbed the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, and you stand on a massive roof when you reach the top, so I figured I'd be fine climbing the tower. Little did I know that when you reach the top, there is a large indoor room, and when you go outside, you are standing on a very narrow (think 2 feet wide at most) walkway that wraps around the tower, with a barely-to-my-waist stone balcony blocking you from falling. NOT what I was expecting. However, it provided probably the most amazing 360 degree view of the city that you could ask for, so I stuck it out for the photo op because hey, a blogger's gotta do what a blogger's gotta do.

Once I had taken a few photos and spent a total of about a minute hugging (read: clinging to) the wall to be as far from the edge as possible, I quickly made my way back inside. I don't need photos of every single angle, it's better to just enjoy it, right?

I didn't know what to expect from Prague- it was one of those cities that I wanted to visit but if I had not gone on the trip with my fellow international students, I really don't think I would have made it to Prague. But I'm so glad I did, because this quaint little Eastern European city really stole our hearts. While I feel like I've done all the sites, I'd love to return to Prague someday!

I've got lots of exciting trips planned so stay tuned for more posts!