Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Part two winter break: the luck of the Irish!

From Switzerland we were off to our next adventure in Ireland. The flight was slightly delayed, but we weren’t too upset because that meant there was still a flight. We were nervous because many of the other flights on the board were flashing cancelled, but with a little luck, we made it to Dublin.

Day 8: We were just in Dublin for one night the first time around. It was just enough time to rest our heads and gear up for another fun week. Early in the morning we were off to Cork. We quickly found our hotel and learned about a citywide water storage. Supposedly a pipe burst and many establishments throughout the city were effected. The first being our hotel. We were in the process of checking in when they told us that we would not have running water, nor would the toilets or showers function. Needless to say, we got the heck out of there. Luckily, there was another place across the street that had availability—and water! After checking into our second hotel we left to grab some lunch and explore the city. About ¾ of the places we stopped by were closed to the pipe bursting. The ¼ that were open, but weren’t allowing customers to use the bathrooms. We settled on a bagel place. Boy have I missed bagels living here. Ireland’s bagels weren’t even close to as good as home’s, but it was better than nothing. Today I decided I couldn’t live abroad again because I miss bagels too much. I’ve had one in my freezer since getting here, but I’m waiting until I’m absolutely desperate and filled with bagel cravings. Ok, back to Cork. We just walked around town for the rest of the afternoon and early evening. I bought some rain boots. I figured if I was going to find good rain boots somewhere in Europe it would be Ireland. I have yet to try them out, though. Fingers crossed they won’t leak.

While we were walking around we spotted a place that had fish and chips, so we decided we wanted to try it out for dinner. Much to our chagrin, they were out! We still had a decent meal, some good Irish hard cider and fun chats with the bartenders. It was funny, while we were in Cork we asked several people what they recommended doing. Each and every one replied, “drink.” Apparently there isn’t much to do in Cork.

Day 9: This was a very exciting day because I was able to accomplish a lifelong goal of mine—kissing the Blarney stone. I hadn’t heard much about Blarney Castle aside from the stone itself prior to going. Turns out it’s a beautiful piece of land. Our first stop was obviously the castle where we climbed to the top and took turns kissing the infamous Blarney Stone. I even fell for the photo tourist trap and bought the picture they took. I never do that! After exploring the castle and kissing the stone we wandered around the grounds. It’s full of gorgeous walking paths and greenery. After the castle we went into town and got some fish and chips! Long overdue fish and chips, may I add. After lunch we took the bus back into town and hung around at the hotel until dinner. For dinner we tried a really good vegetarian restaurant that came highly recommended. After dinner we headed to a pub to listen to some traditional Irish music. I learned that I’m actually a fan.

Day 10: Onwards to Killarney! The journey continued as we took a train from Cork to Killarney. Killarney’s a relatively small town. Most tourists stay there because it’s a good starting point for the tours of the Ring of Kerry. It’s also home to Killarney National Park. Liza and I spent a good chunk of the afternoon walking around the park. It was brilliant. We went towards the end of the day, so we got to see a beautiful sunset and the lighting was great for photos. On the walk there we even saw a couple posing for wedding photos with their bridal party.

We walked to Ross Castle, which wasn’t open, but pretty nonetheless. We both wished we could have stayed and explored longer, but the setting sun was a bit of an issue. I didn’t really want to be walking back through the forest at night. That night we tried out an Italian restaurant for dinner and followed it up with drinks and live music at the Grand Hotel. A local band was playing and their songs ranged from unpleasant to listen to, to covers they semi-butchered. Either way, it was a lot of fun.

Day 11: We signed up for a tour of the Ring of Kerry through our hotel and another outside company. We boarded the bus at 10:30 and were driven around by a nice Irish fella. He was challenging to understand, so I really tried to focus on what he was saying. It was a nice, big bus and not very full so Liza and I were able to sit in separate rows allowing us both to have window seats for the amazing views. We made several stops along the way to have a better look at the beautiful scenery and for some obligatory photos. We stopped in a teeny, tiny town for lunch…whose name I’m forgetting. I can only imagine how gorgeous the trip must be during the spring and summer months when everything is green and in bloom. Guess I’ll just have to visit again!

After our tour we went to the cutest little teashop called Miss Courtney’s Tearoom for an afternoon tea before heading back to the hotel to get ready for New Years Eve. We didn’t really have any particular plans for NYE, just mingling and bar hopping. We went to this horrible place for dinner where the fish and chips were practically inedible. Things perked up after dinner when we headed to the bar across the street to get our night started. This bar ironically had several Illinois license plates hanging on the walls and a sign about living in Sevilla. I think it was made with me in mind.

I randomly started talking with these women standing next to us. I offered to take a picture for them and we struck up a conversation. There were four women and one guy from Bray Co., just outside of Dublin. They were truly a hilarious and charming group, so we spent the rest of the night with them. And boy, could they drink! They brought drinking to a whole new level. I thought I’d seen it all after going to a Big Ten school, but they put our heavy weights to shame. Not only did they consume a ton of alcohol, but also they didn’t exhibit any signs of being drunk. We spent most of the night at the first bar we went to, but after getting bored there we went across the street to another bar that had some good music playing. We danced the night away while ringing in the New Year. It was a great time and lovely meeting our new Irish friends.

Day 12: I felt absolutely splendid (I hope you can sense the sarcasm) when we woke up early the next morning to catch our train to Dublin. Getting to the hostel was easy because it was the same place we’d spent our first night in Dublin. We dropped off our bags and left to hit up the town. I had really wanted to visit Kilmainham Gaol (the old prison,) so that was our first stop. The tram ride there was as bizarre as bizarre get. The first strange thing was a man sitting on the floor in the middle of the tram, smoking a cigarette and drinking something that resembled cough syrup, but was probably a lot stronger. We were very happy to see him and his lady friend get off the tram. They made sure to make an exit, though. While they were getting off another very strange couple was getting on. The woman exiting the train shared a very passionate and long kiss with the woman getting on the train. We couldn’t really tell if they knew each other. What we could tell was that everyone was cracked out. It seemed to be a general trend in Dublin.

The Gaol was interesting, but lacked a little something since I’m not very familiar with Irish history. It was also freezing inside, which made it hard to concentrate. After that little stop we ran back to the hostel to put on more layers. After we were sufficiently bundled we went to the movies to see Love and Other Drugs. Parts of the film are supposed to be set in Chicago (however it’s not actually Chicago. Last time I checked there was no 7th street. Also, they don’t even use real Chicago street signs. Come on, Hollywood.) Despite the offensive slipups, that any true Chicagoan should notice, I really liked the movie. When I first saw the Chicago skyline flash on the screen I audibly gasped in a very crowed movie theater. Luckily, my tears were a little quieter. (I miss Chicago!)

Day 13: We started our day off with the Sandeman’s walking tour. It was very interesting and we met a couple of nice girls and decided to have lunch with them and the rest of the group. We went to this great pub where the portions could kill. I didn’t even make a dent into my fish and chips (see a pattern here?) and I was starving. After stuffing ourselves silly we wanted to continue the trend with the Guinness Storehouse and Brewery. The storehouse was interesting, but a little boring. It’s something like six or seven stories tall. I mean how much is there to learn about Guinness? Either way, we went through the whole storehouse/museum and enjoyed our free pints on the top floor. Both of us could only muster a few sips. It was my first Guinness and after that lunch there wasn’t much room in my belly. We kindly donated our barely consumed beers to the gentleman sitting next to us. At least someone could enjoy it. On our way back to the hostel we picked up some Thai food for dinner. I needed to do laundry because I was only going to be back in Sevilla for about 13 hours and our lack of a dryer makes doing laundry quickly impossible. I forgot how much I love normal size washing machines and dryers. At first I thought I’d have to do two loads and then I realized I was judging that against the size of my washing machine here…which barely fits two pairs of jeans. Luckily, I still had room to spare. The best part of it all was the dryer. I hugged my clothes upon taking them out until I remembered there were security cameras in there. After remembering that I tried to slyly place them back in my bag…only to go back to my room and continue to hug my clean and very warm clothes. Boy do I take my dryer for granted at home! Do me a favor and give your dryer a little wink or love tap for me. I seriously miss having the ability to dry my clothes quickly and have them shrink back down to a normal size. (As I type my clothes have been drying on the terrace for three days now.)

Day 14: We had to wake up at an ungodly hour to catch the shuttle and make it to the airport for my 7am flight. Saying goodbye to Liza was so difficult. Heading back to Spain (even if it was only for 13 hours) was not what I wanted to be doing at the time.

All in all, our trip to Switzerland and Ireland was all and more that I could have possibly dreamed of. I loved every minute and it was really special to be able to travel just with Liza. I hope we have the opportunity to do it again.

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