Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Land of Leprechauns

Well I didn't make it to the leprechaun museum, but I did manage to see and learn a ton about the city of Dublin! Eight of us ventured off to Ireland last Thursday and stayed until Monday morning. After a 40 minute flight, we had made it. The first order of business was to get lunch because we were starving! Then we decided to find our hostel so we could put all of our stuff down. By stuff I mean everything I needed for four days in one backpack- I was impressed with myself! For 10 pounds a night, I didn't expect much from our hostel, The Bunk House. It wasn't located in the best part of Dublin, "the ghetto" as some coined it, but we had a fine stay! We stayed in a room with 8 bunk beds and an attached bathroom. Very simple but did the trick- and free breakfast in the morning so can't beat that.

So anyway, about Dublin. After unpacking, we went out to wander. It was a beautiful day. (U2 reference?) Anyway, it was. Dublin is split in half by the River Liffey, one side affectionately termed "the ghetto", and the other side the more posh area. The city was definitely more industrial and cosmopolitan than I had expected, definitely a completely different feel from Edinburgh. O'Connel Street is one of the main streets that has lots of shopping, restaurants, etc. We explored that for a bit, and stopped to look at the monuments (there were lots). We crossed over the bridge to the main tourist area called the Temple Bar District. Again, lots of shopping, pubs, etc. Also some pretty amazing buildings with awesome architecture. Trinity College, the Supreme Court, the National Bank, and some beautiful churches were among my favorites. That night we had dinner at a little pub tucked away that seemed to be filled with locals. It was great. After that we landed upon another seemingly local pub and had some drinks while serenaded by some great live music.

Friday we got up fairly early and walked to the Kilmainham Gaol Prison. The worker at the hostel told us it was too far to walk, he underestimated us. It was probably an hour and a half walk, but we enjoyed looking around and exploring along the way. Once we got to the prison, we went through security and then got to chat with some prisoners being held on death row. Just kidding. The prison is now a museum, no worries! The prison was built in 1796, but best known for imprisoning leaders of the various Irish rebellions against the English. 15 leaders of Easter Rising rebellion in 1916 were held and executed here- a major contributor to public support behind the rebellion that eventually led to Ireland's independence. We learned all of this on the tour- which was so great. I learned a lot about Irish history and got a good sense of the Irish people through it, and it was so interesting to get to tour the prison and hear some pretty crazy stories. Definitely one of my favorite parts of the trip.

Next we decided to switch gears and tour the Guinness Factory. If you didn't know, Guinness was invented in and still brewed in Dublin. It's pretty impossible to miss when you're there- Guinness stuff is literally all over the city. The tour was pretty interesting- I was shocked to here that Guinness has been around since 1769. Arthur Guinness must have been a pretty funny/confident guy- he took out a 9,000 year lease for the brewery. The guys in our group definitely enjoyed the tour more, I was kind of amused by how epic Guinness tried to make everything sound. It's just a beer, right? Apparently not. At the end of the tour everyone gets a complimentary pint of Guinness from a bar on the top floor that has a great view of the city. Let's say I enjoyed the view more than the Guinness... got about 3/4 through it. That night we found another pub with live music and had a great night.

Saturday we went on a free walking tour through a company called New Europe. It runs on a tip only basis and usually is led by college students. It was awesome! We had a great tour guide and a group of about 30 people. It lasted for over three hours and we walked all around Dublin and learned about the history/culture/buildings etc. Very worth it. After the tour we grabbed lunch at a pub called O'Neills and relaxed for a bit. After lunch we ended up at St. Stephen's Green, a huge park. We were all a bit tired so just relaxed in the grass and listened to music. To save some money we decided to make our own dinner at the hostel. We made a gourmet dinner of pasta, garlic bread, and drinks. It was delicious and cost all about 4 euros! Quality. Per usual, we went to another pub for the rest of the night.

Sunday we decided to get out of the city and headed to a little fishing town called Howth. Probably my favorite day of the weekend. After a 30 minute train ride, we arrived in Howth. Right outside of the train station was a local market full of lots of people, food, and other random things. Of course we walked through it and collected all of the free food samples first. It was really fun to get to talk with some of the people working at the market and hear their stories. Next we walked out onto the pier and got a great view of the lighthouse and a small island off the coast. There were even seals! For lunch we had fish and chips - obligatory when you are in a fish town. And they were the best I've had! After lunch we started off on a hike we had been told about. It took us through a neighborhood obviously very well off, so it was fun to look at all the houses! Eventually we made it to the trail, and were treated to some amazing views at the end. We also came upon a golf course that was tucked away and a really pretty pathway through the woods. We finished up at Howth by walking through a different market, collecting free samples, and getting on the train.

In the name of saving money, we decided not to book a hostel for Sunday night since our flight was at 6 a.m. Good idea? It actually wasn't too bad, we hung around until about 1 am and then took a taxi to the airport. It was pretty amusing because we definitely weren't the first people to come up with the idea of sleeping in the airport. Everywhere we looked people were passed out, it was hard to come by a chair to sleep on but eventually McDonald's booths came through. McDonalds decided it would be a good idea to clean around 2:30, so we resorted to sleeping in a kids play pen. I actually got a few hours of sleep in somehow. We got on our flight and were home in no time. If it's any indication of how we looked when we got off the plane, one of the security guys said to us "Come on, cheer up guys". Once back, I proceeded to sleep from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm, get dinner, and go back to sleep around 11 pm. I'm pretty caught up on sleep I'd say.

And that was Dublin. A great trip with great friends.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Sunny Skies

Once again, apologies for such a delayed posting! The past few weeks have been great. Fairly low key compared to my first month or so, at least it feels that way. Two weekends ago I went to the Highlands for a church retreat with the church I've been going to here. About 30 students went and it was such a relaxed, nice weekend. We had two sessions a day with a speaker and the rest of the time was pretty much our own. We went for a hike, which was beautiful! It had snowed the night before so everything looked really nice. I also got to play soccer which felt really good. Lots of baked goods/coffee/tea were also consumed!

The time between the weekend and now has been pretty relaxed. Two friends (different from the birthday) visited last week so we went out quite a bit and I got to show them a lot of Edinburgh. I had an essay due last week, along with one this week, so I have also spent a bit of time in the library. Saturday we went to a place called Calton Hill right at the end of Princes Street (the main touristy street in Edinburgh). It was beautiful- after a short walk you get a great view of the city and there are some interesting things up there.

Partially completed Parthenon in memory of Scottish soldiers who died in the Napoleonic Wars.. Unfortunately the project ran out of money in 1829.

The weather has been absolutely perfect the past few days. Since Saturday, it's been near 50 and sunny each day. So nice and unexpected! I've really enjoyed being able to run outside and just sit outside in the sunshine. Sunday was a really relaxing day- after church some friends and I got coffee and sat in The Meadows (a big park) just because it was so nice out! Wednesday night I went to a friend's flat from church who invited a group of us over for dinner. So great! I've found that people here my age are much more proper than we are in the States! They seem to all be amazing cooks and love to entertain! We had a delicious dinner by candlelight!

Tomorrow is a big day- we leave for Dublin! Eight of us are going and we are so excited! Just packed my bag- only bringing my backpack, and somehow managed to fit everything. I'll be back on Monday, and will be sure to update the blog on all things Dublin!