After saying goodbye to a great friend and an amazing city, we moved on to our next adventure in another country: Italy!
Our first stop after a flight was the city of Pisa. We knew that there wasn’t a ton to do in Pisa, other than take tourist photos with the tower. Basically, it was just going to be a stopover for us to get to Cinque Terre the next day. However, Pisa turned out to be pretty fun – if only for an evening.
After we checked into our hostel, we headed out into the streets of Pisa. Wandering was pretty cool actually – we found street vendors with very unique items for sale, and we even ran into a street procession with a band and everything. It was a ton of fun! And of course, we got gelato for our first evening in Italy.
We headed straight for the Piazza dei Miercoli to see the church and the torre, or ‘leaning tower.’ Many people had told us not to take the ‘typical leaning poses,’ so we went for other poses instead… and making subtle fun of some other people taking the photos as well. We had a lot of laughs and fun. Then we went for pizza at a local restaurant after – and it was probably one of the best pizzas I have ever had before. It was massive and delicious.
The next morning, we hopped on a train to La Spezia, where we transferred to another train to get to the town we would stay in Cinque Terre, Corniglia. The weather looked gross, as we knew a storm was blowing in. We had actually seen rain and lightning on our train ride to La Spezia. But we crossed our fingers for better weather.
Which didn’t happen. We got to Corniglia and had to wait to check in. We went to a little restaurant for a great lunch and coffee (yes, I have taken to drinking espresso for some reason. This was the first of a few through Eastern Europe), and the woman told us to move inside because the sky looked so dark. Well, that’s what we got from the broken English and hand gestures as we all tried to communicate. But it was a good thing that we did move – as soon as we got inside, it started to absolutely pour buckets down. Needless to say, we took our time eating lunch.
That afternoon, it cleared up, so we decided that we would take the shorter hike along the hills to one of the other towns. So, we took a train one town over, to Manarola, and we hiked to Riomaggiore. Matt, a guy staying in the same room as Zach, had done the hikes earlier that day. But, being that he had just met us and we all got along well, he decided to come to do the hike with us! We all had a great time, even with the hike being almost an eighty degree angle for the whole hour and a half. And the towns and views were so amazing!!! Of course, we got some gelato again, because Italy. We went back to shower and hang out for a bit, before we all went out for dinner together in Corniglia. It was a great day and start to our time in Cinque Terre.
The next day was the serious hiking day! We were going to do the coastal hikes from our town, Corniglia, to Vernazza and then Monterosso. It was going to take basically the whole day, a good chunk of hours. And it was definitely hot out. Matt accompanied us on the first leg, to Vernazza, and then we went our separate ways. It was tough going at a few points – there are a lot of stairs, ups and downs, and the heat is impeccable – but the views were amazing and the towns were worth it alone. Vernazza was so pretty, with the harbor and the boats. I think I enjoyed Vernazza and Manarola the most. We hung out in Monterosso before heading back to Corniglia.
After taking the wrong train (we somehow ended up on an express that went straight to La Spezia), and showering, we met up with Matt to head out for a night of dinner. We met a few other girls staying in our room, and invited them along. Annie was from the US, while Megan was from Australia. They were really nice, and again, everyone got along great! We took the train to Monterosso, had a great dinner (after we finally found a place to eat), and then ate gelato by the beach. It was an amazing evening with some great people.
We had another panicky night when we found out that the next morning, there was going to be a rail strike in the area. No one could tell us if it would merely be a regional strike or a country-wide one. We wouldn’t find out until morning. So, we had to attempt to get out of Cinque Terre at least before the strike began at 9. Flash forward to a 5:30am morning, catching a train, and then paying a lot to be able to take 2 trains to Venice.
Once in Venice, we were utterly exhausted. We found our bus to the area we would be staying – a campground outside of the city where we were staying in a cabin. We got on the bus, got to the cabin, were slightly disappointed, ate pizza, and then just hung out in the cabin before crashing. It was an odd day. We didn’t even want to attempt to explore the city yet.
The next day, June 17, was our day to explore the entirety of Venice. And it was our only day. So, we planned to make the best of it! We planned to head out early – but ended up running late and almost missing our bus. This somehow turned into a regular thing for buses, which became sort of annoying…
None of us really knew any of the places that we were supposed to visit in Venice, and maps cost money, so we just set out exploring on foot and following signs. We made our way to Piazza San Marco, the one place Kirstin had knew of. It was cool, but there was scaffolding and tons of pigeons! It was also very crowded, which made it difficult to maneuver and slightly claustrophobic. BUT – it was pretty and super Italian. We wandered along and went to the Grand Canal, a place that we definitely had heard of. The water was gorgeous and there were boats everywhere!
We walked a lot, found some gelato, got into some arguments about what we wanted to do, and decided that it would be best to split up. Kirstin wanted to go and explore more of Venice. Zach and I really wanted to ride a boat. We didn’t want to pay the insane amount of money to ride a gondola, so we decided to catch a vaporetto, a ferry-type boat, to the other island of Murano.
Murano is the glass-blowing island, so there were multiple shops with beautiful glass-blown artwork. The island itself, or at least the area we ended up in, was quiet and quaint. It was a nice break from the crowded and busy streets of Venice. There was room to breathe and relax, with walking space. So we tried to spend a little extra time there. We stopped at a little café to grab a drink. I tried an Aperol Spritzer – basically sparkling water mixed with an alcohol called Aperol. We believe that you can only get it in Europe. It was pretty good! We caught the boat back to Venice, and ended up getting very lost trying to find Kirstin again. I definitely suggest getting a map on your phone or buying one if you can. Venice is quite confusing.
We got some dinner at a little restaurant along one of the main streets. The waiters were hilarious, offering pizza to random people walking by or asking them to pay someone’s bill. We had some good laughs with them. We wandered a little more to see the canal at night, and grabbed some dessert. I had a great chocolate mousse! We caught the bus back to our accommodations.
The next day would be a travel day to yet another city and country – Budapest, Hungary. I was very excited to see my friend, Kitty. I hadn’t seen her in quite some time. But that’s for the next post.
Bye for now
P.S. – sorry I am a little behind on the blog posts. I actually just wrote and uploaded this post from Prague, basically a week after I had left Italy. However, I am trying to keep everyone updated through my other social media when I have wifi, with pictures on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
My last post had us on a bus through the night from London to Paris. Well, that was an adventure in itself.
We had thought that the bus would just take us straight there through the night. Unbeknownst to us, we actually had to get up twice on the bus ride. Apparently, you cannot just “sleep” straight through. You have to have a passport check, and then get off the bus for the two hour ferry ride. Needless to say, there were some tired faces and exhausted bodies wandering off the bus the next morning to say ‘bonjour’ to Paris.
We had booked an apartment outside of Paris through AirBNB, and so after walking for quite some time, we found the quaint apartment. The woman was so nice, and the place was adorable. After a long siesta, we went into the city and wandered the Louvre for the night. Because it was Friday night, youth could enter for free! And it being Europe, twenty-somethings are still considered youth…
It was interesting to wander the Louvre again. This time, I tried to see some new things. Zach immediately led us to see the Venus de Milo, something I had somehow overlooked last time. And we of course ventured to find the Mona Lisa. I feel like you could go through the Louvre for hours and still not see everything. I’ve been there twice now, and I still haven’t seen a large amount of the enormous collection. I mean, that’s probably because I often get side-tracked looking at the architecture, beautiful ceilings, or amazing views out the windows. All of it is just as good as the artwork, in my opinion.
After the Louvre, we walked around Paris for a little bit. We crossed what used to be the Love Lock Bridge. Now, it is no more. There are merely boards with artwork depicting locks and keys in various and creative ways. It is crazy to think that merely two months before, I walked the same bridge – yet it looked completely different. It scared me a little, as it showed how much can change in such a short period of time.
We wandered along the Seine and ended up in front of Notre Dame. It was pretty late, so the cathedral was closed. But it looked beautiful. We were all pretty tired, so we took the metro back to our little apartment to get some sleep for the next day.
The next morning, it was really hard to get up. But when we did, Kirstin had made eggs for all of us mixed with some peppers. It was delicious. We set out on the metro to see some more sights of Paris. We got some food and ate sitting in front of the Eiffel Tower, feeling pretty cool and like typical tourists with our baguette. Then we stood in line to go up the tower.
We climbed a lot of steps. And I mean a lot. I can’t tell you how many exactly, but it was a lot. Basically, we walked up the steps to the first floor, where we looked around at the amazing views of all of Paris. Then we climbed more stairs to the second level. The view was spectacular! You could even see Sacre Coeur in the distance. It was a little smoggy, but the city looked amazing from up that high. I took a lot of pictures.
It turned into a really touristy day when we went to the Arc de Triomphe next. We walked underneath it to see the memorial, and then wandered along the Champs Elysees. Last time I walked it, it was late at night and I was crazy tired. It was nice to actually look around and see it this time. We hopped back on the metro and headed to see Sacre Coeur. We didn’t really think it through – to get up to Sacre Coeur, there are a lot of stairs. So we climbed more stairs. Needless to say, our legs were pretty tired by the end and a little sore the next day. Word to the wise: don’t do both the Eiffel Tower and Sacre Coeur in one day…
We were again the typical tourists when we wandered the painter’s market and then grabbed some amazing crepes. Last time Zach came to Paris a few years ago, they actually stayed at Sacre Coeur – so, basically, he knew some great crepe places! I definitely ate a banana and Nutella crepe. We bought some groceries and headed back for a relaxing night of cooking and hanging out in our cozy apartment.
On June 7, we got up, caught the metro, and then went to the train station to head to Versailles. I had not gotten to see it last time, so I was quite excited to visit it now. We had to wait in an extremely long line-up to be able to buy tickets to go. We opted for the cheaper version: only going through the gardens and not the palace.
The gardens were beautiful! The palace is ornate with gold trimmings, and the garden reflected the elegance in a more natural realm. There were a lot of trees and some flowers. Most of it was set up as a maze. We had been told that we should see the fountain show that would come on at 3pm. We were a little disappointed when this “show” turned out to be just the fountains being turned on. It was great to see them on, but it should not be called a show.
We had dinner at a cute restaurant in Paris, Le Petit Cler. The food and wine was delicious! We went to a patisserie after for some sweets before wandering Paris at dusk. We waited until it got a little darker so that Kirstin could see the Eiffel Tower lit up at night. Unfortunately, we were all really tired after a long day, and the wind was blowing colder, so we didn’t stay out late to see it sparkle.
Our last day in Paris was a ‘do-what-you-want’ kind of day. Basically, Zach and I ventured to find a café from a movie I had recently watched, a movie that Carlos had recommended to me. There are three movies: Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight. It’s about a man and woman who meet on a train and spend one night wandering a city. I actually loved the movies. In the second one, they are in Paris. I couldn’t find the café, but I was able to find somewhere I had wanted to see anyways: Shakespeare and Company bookstore. It was amazing! I was so excited to finally see a place I had always wanted to visit.
We went to meet Kirstin at a tea shop, one that my friend’s parents own. My friend, Emilie, couldn’t make it to meet us, but her parents were so kind! They were very welcoming and told us about many things we should see in Paris for our last day. I bought some tea from their shop that I cannot wait to try. We wandered some shops, went to the top of a department store for an amazing view of Paris, and headed back to our apartment for some dinner. Paris was definitely different for me this time, giving me a completely different view.
We ended up having a stressful evening when we realized we had no way to get to the airport. Basically, we had to call a cab to take us to the bus station since the metro wasn’t running early enough. So flash forward to a 5am wake-up call, a taxi ride, bus ride, and a flight later until we were finally in Barcelona! We had to take a train and the metro to be able to get to our hostel – basically we took almost all kinds of transportation in one day. I was very excited to be surrounded by Spanish and to start using my minimal knowledge of the language.
We hung out at the hostel, checked in, found some free food in the kitchen, and then I took a siesta. It had been a long day, and I ended up starting properly in Spain. We then decided that we would walk around for a little while, get a feel of the city. We saw our first glimpse of Gaudi with Palau Guell, walked part of La Rambla, and then strolled along the harbor before grabbing some food.
June 10 was the first of a few great days in Spain. We got up and went straight to La Sagrada Familia. I was super excited, as it was the one place I really wanted to visit in Barcelona. The church was like nothing I had ever seen before – the towers and architecture are so unique, with intricate details and special designs. We wandered the outside and sat inside, marveling at the beauty. And waiting until our time to go up the tower.
Yes, we climbed up one of the towers of La Sagrada Familia. We rode in an elevator to the top of the Nativity Tower, and stopped to take in the amazing views as we climbed the stairs down. You could see all of Barcelona, from the hills to the sea. And I was in love with it already.
We decided to head to Parc Guell next, making it a Gaudi day. It was also one of the only other things that was far outside the city. After a lot of escalators and stairs, we finally made it to the top. Again, we had amazing views of the entire city. We didn’t want to pay to enter the other parts of the park, so we wandered around the free areas and died in the afternoon sun. We had lunch before climbing all the stairs to the bottom of the hill.
On our way back through Barcelona to the hostel, we decided to stop at a Gaudi House, La Pedrera, as we would pass right by it anyways. We walked the rest of the way back to the hostel, even seeing another Gaudi work along the way, and we got to walk all of La Rambla. We relaxed at the hostel for a bit, with Kirstin and I drinking sangria and all of us making new friends. We went for tapas, a Spanish food. Basically, it is small-ish foods that you eat while drinking late at night. It works slightly different in the various regions of Spain, but it was delicious!
The next day was the one I had most been looking forward to. I headed down to breakfast, and even though I had been expecting him, Carlos was able to surprise me. It was so great to see him again, and I was super thankful that he had made the long train ride to hang out with us in Barcelona! We got some groceries, Carlos dropped off all of his stuff, and then we headed out.
A friend we had met at the hostel, Shane, was coming with us on our adventure as well. He was from Ireland (Cork), and we had all had great craic (fun) talking about Ireland and my experiences there the previous night in the hostel. So, we headed out for our day: we were going to take a train out of Barcelona to Montserrat.
After taking a gondola up the mountain, we wandered the basilica and then ventured up the mountain. None of us were super prepared for hiking, but we decided to do it anyways. Again, it turned out to be the hottest part of the day, and there were so many stairs! Needless to say, we ended up turning back before we made it the entire way. But before we did, we got to see some amazing views, and I even saw some climbers.
We went back into Barcelona and parted ways with Shane. The four of us headed into the city, finding ourselves at Barceloneta beach – only for a storm to blow in! I put my feet in the Mediterranean Sea, the guys got their shorts soaked from a giant wave, and then it started to pour buckets of rain on us. We ran from the beach to find a metro, but it didn’t really help, as we were completely soaked through. We also saw a man get hit by a car when he slipped on the road. It was quite scary and we were all pretty cautious for a while after that. We grabbed some tapas and beers, and headed to bed after a great day.
Our last day was probably my favourite day. Essentially, we spent the entire day just wandering the city with Carlos playing tour guide. We went to St. Joseph’s Market off of La Rambla. It was so cool! There was delicious-looking food everywhere you turned, and we all ended up buying something to do with fruit. We headed farther into the city and ended up at the Picasso Museum. Now, as I’ve already said, I am not the biggest fan of art. But the museum was really interesting! Carlos knew a lot about many of the pieces of art, and we even got to see an exhibition that showed the relationship between Dali and Picasso. I actually enjoyed it – even if I couldn’t tell what any of the paintings were of at some points, or why someone would paint a picture with twenty pigeons in it.
We stopped at the beautiful Catedral Del Mar. Carlos told us that the cathedral had been built by sailors, as they could not afford to enter the other church in the city. It took them eighty years to build the church, carrying the stones from Montjuic hill across the city. I loved the story and the church was stunning. (I didn’t double check the story, I trust Carlos – he’s an engineer, after all.) We went out for lunch at a tapas place – I tried seafood paella (with a shrimp that I had to take apart and cooked rabbit), some kind of fish, and then a cooked apple for dessert. We also drank wine with carbonated water – it was all delicious, the wine almost made better!
We wandered the city some more, seeing the Spanish version of the Arc de Triomph, walking through a few parks, and seeing a beautiful fountain. It was so cool to have Carlos tell us about everything that we saw, or order food for us in Spanish. We went back to the beach, hoping that the weather would be nicer. Kirstin was the only one who went in the water, and Carlos and I laughed from the shore as she got knocked over by a wave and was given back her flip-flop by some kind woman. It’s okay, she wasn’t hurt.
We went back to the hostel and hung out for a bit, trying wine mixed with Coke. Apparently this is something that they do in Spain and some other parts of Europe. It was actually quite good! We met up with Shane and Adam, from San Diego, and we all went to see the Magic Fountain. It was pretty cool! It is basically a fountain that is lit up and does different motions set to music. We ate churros and all hung out together. The top of the hill gave a great view of the city at night, and we had another great panoramic position when we went to the top of a shopping center.
All of us went for drinks and tapas after, staying out late and just having fun. It was such a great day. It was so great of Carlos to come and meet us to show us an amazing city. Barcelona is probably one of my favourite cities thus far, definitely making the top three. Carlos – you were an amazing tour guide, even though we got lost a few times, and you are an even better friend. Thanks so much for making the journey out to show us around an amazing city that I know you love. I’m gonna miss you a ton, but we will all see each other again soon.
“Life is about moments: don’t wait for them, create them.” [Pinterest]
With the end of one adventure, comes the beginning of another. My brother, Zach, and friend, Kirstin, arrived from Canada for us to set out on an epic adventure of travelling Europe as best we can. First stop: I want to show them a little bit of Ireland. So, after having shown them around Waterford for a day, we headed on a bus to Galway.
We wandered the city, exploring the various spots that I knew of but had not seen. We went inside of Galway Cathedral, marveling at its beauty and learning a little history. The cathedral was built on the grounds of the old jail, bought for a minimal amount even for that time. We also walked through the Spanish Arch and into the Galway Museum. If you don’t know already, I absolutely love museums! So I was excited to check this one out.
Walking through the museum was interesting – the beginnings of Ireland are highlighted, and there are artifacts from thousands of years ago found by archaeologists around Galway and in the River Corrib. It was really interesting to look at the artifacts and see if they had come from places I knew. One part talked about Dun Aengus, the fort that I had been to on Inis Mor of the Aran Islands. For me, though, the most interesting was the exhibit on Ireland and Galway’s part in World War I. I had not realized that they had played such a large part in it, from thousands of volunteers going to the front to their deaths, to a very brave leader who died in a gruesome battle. The exhibit was done extremely well, with stories of people on one side corresponding to an outline of events on the opposite side of the room. I really liked it. We couldn’t finish the museum though, as it closed. So we quickly took some shots out the third floor window of the River Corrib and the views beyond.
We wandered and found a small place to eat for an Irish dinner. The rest of the night was just walking around or relaxing at the hostel. I think we are all a little tired, which does not bode well for the rest of the trip. Thankfully, some nights we will hopefully sleep better than others.
On Zach’s birthday, we had booked a day at the Cliffs on a tour, even though the weather did not look too promising. We were hopeful that it might turn into a better day. The tour was different from the one I took last time – including the weather. It rained and the wind was insane! It was so foggy that we couldn’t even see the cliffs. But, despite the wind blowing us over, it did afford us a view of the cliffs for a short time.
May 28 – after a 3 hour bus ride, we arrived in Dublin. After Zach and I grabbed a quick burrito, we headed to Kilmainham Gaol (pronounced ‘jail’). There was so much history, it was really interesting! We then learned to pour our own Guinness at the Storehouse, my second time through. It was super cool to get to pour my own though, especially having lived in Ireland and drinking it on tap. 😉 We hung out at the hostel before heading to The Porterhouse, a pub I knew from St. Patrick’s Day. We enjoyed some beers and live music before turning in for the night.
The next morning, we took a walking tour of Dublin to see some of the sights. It was a ton of history packed into a short session. I had already heard a lot of it over the months, but was still overwhelmed by the enormity of everything Ireland had gone through.
After the tour, we headed to the Museum of History and Archaeology- mostly because they had the bog bodies that I had been hearing about for months. Basically, Ireland is known for its bog lands, and years ago, archaeologists began to find things in these bogs from centuries ago. With the acidity of the bogs, many things are well preserved. We got ice cream, and then wandered around St. Stephen’s Green and Dublin. We had some problems finding transport out to the hotel we were switching to for the night.
The next day, May 30, we left Ireland. It was super bittersweet for me, leaving a country that I had loved to call home for 5 months but embarking on an exciting adventure around Europe with awesome people. I took in the sights from the airplane window as we flew to Bristol. We were staying with Kirstin’s friend, Bailey. Bailey was really awesome, and we were very appreciative of her letting us stay in her tiny, British flat. It was a lot of people in a small flat, but it was so nice to be right in the city. We wandered the city that afternoon, cooked dinner together, and went out for the evening.
We ventured to take a train the following day to Cardiff. It was cool to add one more country to our list of many, and it was possible with only a day trip. Kirstin and Bailey went to the Doctor Who museum, the main reason that we had headed to Cardiff. Zach and I decided to tag along to the city, but we decided to explore instead. It was a great day!
Zach and I found Cardiff Castle and Bute Park, where we walked and sat, just chatting and enjoying our time catching up. We wandered the streets of Cardiff, down cute passageways called galleries. These galleries had really cute cafes and shops, and were all over. I absolutely loved them and took far too many pictures! We met up with the girls after, grabbed some dinner, and then headed back for a night in flat.
Our last day in Bristol was specifically for exploring the city itself. Bailey had an exam, so we ventured to explore on our own. We went to St. Nicholas’ Market, where we wandered through the little stalls and we found Zac’s Café where we had a full English breakfast – it was delicious. We tried to find some street art, but ended up in an area that we didn’t feel entirely comfortable in, so we went back. Kirstin and I went into Bristol Cathedral – it was beautiful! We went to the Boston Tea Party café for some hot drinks on a cold day before meeting Bailey.
Bailey took us up a tower in Brandon Hill Park, and despite the wind being like that at the Cliffs of Moher, the views were spectacular. You could see all of Bristol, including Clifton Suspension Bridge. With the weather, we had decided not to walk all the way there. That evening, we went out for traditional fish ‘n chips, and tried to organize the next parts of our trip.
An early morning the next day had us on a bus to London. Our hostel was quite far from the main area of the city, but we made it work! We settled our stuff in and headed out, making our first stop at Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, and then walking along the Thames. We took a ton of silly pictures with the lions and telephone boxes before seeing Big Ben and the London Eye.
I think the funniest part of the day was when we ended up at The Maple Leaf, a Canadian bar in Covent Garden, for dinner. It was great! We wandered Covent Market before heading back to the hostel for an earlier night.
June 3, the next day, was pretty grand. We ended up going through the British Museum after we eventually found it. I ended up seeing a lot of the same things, but museums never get old for me. I loved exploring the centuries of history stored within its walls.
My parents had arrived in London that day, so while we waited to hear from them, we wandered through the city. After getting a phone call from them, we went to Hyde Park to kill a little time. Except we couldn’t exactly find it. We ended up in a really ‘posh’ part of London, and accidentally found Churchill’s old house! We walked through Hyde Park and saw Kensington Palace from afar, before walking a long ways to see Buckingham Palace.
We had walked almost to Trafalgar Square, a long trek, before we heard from my parents. Without wifi everywhere, it is very hard when you don’t have international phone plans. We ended up meeting them near their hotel at the other end of London, and going out for a nice dinner. It was really great to see them for the first time in 5 months.
We had to check out of our hostel the next morning, so we completely packed up and brought our giant bags with us into London. We stored them for the day at the train station before heading out to meet my parents for a day around London. We sort of went separate ways for part of the day: Kirstin and I would explore while Zach went on the London Eye with mom and dad.
Kirstin and I headed across London via tube to Tower Hill. We wandered around and crossed Tower Bridge to the other side of the Thames, where we had a great view for some lunch. We walked along to the Globe Theatre, where we both decided to recite our best attempts at Shakespeare monologues. It was quite fun. We did a lot more walking when we headed down to the London Eye and made our way towards the Imperial War Museum, the meeting point with my family.
This museum was somewhere that I really wanted to go. It was actually on my bucket list to see it – and I wasn’t able to last time I was in London. I had enough time to wander through two exhibits: the First World War and the Holocaust. The exhibitions were absolutely brilliant! They had so many primary texts, quotes, footage and so much more. It was amazing. I was in museum-heaven.
We hopped on a double-decker bus into the city, and had dinner at Nando’s. I had wanted to try it, as they were everywhere in London. We then went to see the Thames and views lit up at night. It was beautiful and I seriously love London.
The next part of the trip got a little bumpy when we took our bus to Paris. It was an overnight bus and involved us taking a ferry – meaning we were woken up to provide our passports and board the ferry itself. Needless to say, we did not get a lot of sleep, and Paris started off very interesting.
But I’ll save that for another post.
With wifi being difficult sometimes, it’s hard to say how often I’ll be able to update my blog posts. However, I am posting short summaries with pictures on Instagram each day. Those are being shared on Twitter and Facebook as well.
Signing off for now,
Goodbyes are always hard. But a place is only as good as the people in it.
Well, my time in Waterford has come to an end. I won’t be living in Ireland anymore, within walking distance of all my friends and everything else. No more Irish wind or crazy Irish weather. (Except for when it follows me to other cities and countries.)
These months have flown by, but I think that’s a good thing. Talking to some friends, we agreed that we were busy and (almost) always having a great time. I had so many amazing experiences and I now have memories to last me a lifetime. Not only have I lived halfway across the world from my home, but I have travelled a country as best I could and have even ventured into Europe for my first time.
I have seen castles, cliffs, ancient forts, big and small cities, towns, national parks, amazing coastlines, and famous views and areas. I experienced Dublin for St. Patrick’s Day, and the sea of green which consumes it in madness. I’ve tried typical Irish food and have now come to love beer. I spent my birthday away from home for the first time, surrounded by new friends. I travelled to cities in Ireland with people I had known for merely a few weeks.
I experienced the actual European continent for the first time with great friends. I couldn’t have asked for better trip mates or a better trip. We have so many great laughs and memories from that trip, even with the ups and downs of travelling. But, in my opinion, we really grew closer from that adventure and the experiences. I hope to stay in contact and see all of you again very soon.
Of course, my roommate and friend from home definitely helped make things smoother and easier. I can’t imagine how either of us would have survived without the other. There’s always that worry when you are going to be living or travelling with someone you don’t know very well – but we clicked right from the beginning. And I’m so grateful for all of our laughs and talks and walks and trips and 1am too-tired-to-think-so-it-just-becomes-laughing nights. I’m excited for more trips and memories.
Already, I happily look back through my journal and pictures to see the many memories and friends I have made. I am the luckiest person to have met these wonderful people, and to have had such amazing experiences. I cannot even begin to describe in words the positive effects this has had on my life. I learned to live on my own, and deal with whatever comes. It was definitely a learning and growing experience not having any kind of safety net nearby. I was able to discover who I truly am and who I want to be. It was a necessary step towards figuring out what I truly want from life – happiness.
I know it might sound odd to some people, but these past 5 months were truly some of the happiest and most memorable of my life. I was able to gain so much from the experience. I was surrounded by different people and cultures who truly affected me, and people who inspired me to examine myself and my life. I had some serious conversations with some people, sharing life stories in a non-judgmental atmosphere, while the majority of time was just experiencing life, new things, and having fun.
So many people asked me “Why Ireland?” and I never had an easy answer. I think after this experience, I can easily say the cheesiest thing that comes to mind: Ireland actually picked me. Ireland and its quirky ways seemed to be exactly what I needed in my life. I didn’t feel stressed at school, I was going out and doing new things constantly – it was a contrast from my life at home. And I loved it. I really hope I don’t lose any of the things Ireland gave me, but I guess it’s an excuse to visit Ireland frequently to maintain them.
To all my fellow international/ERASMUS students from Waterford, it was a pleasure getting to know you and living this adventure with you! I am thankful for the laughs, the parties, the crazy adventures, and the amazing friendships which have formed from this experience. I wish all of you luck in your futures, and cannot wait to see you again – weather it’s in Canada or your home countries, or maybe even Ireland again!
I honestly don’t think there is anything else I can say, but a certain quote comes to mind that completely sums up my mindset at the close of this adventure:
“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
May the road rise up to meet ya
P.S. – sorry for the very late posts – wifi while travelling Europe can be a tricky situation sometimes.
Okay, so I’ve been pretty busy again. Let me mention some noteworthy things that happened a little bit ago, and then I’ll move on to my trips the past week.
– First, I started climbing at a new, local gym a couple months ago, and got to know the people working there. It was small and a fun atmosphere. On May 11, they were having a fundraiser for Nepal. The goal was to climb 8848 meters, the height of Everest – except with everyone donating and contributing laps on the wall. So, I made my donation and for my day of climbing, I did 50 laps to help Nepal (I climbed 350m total). All proceeds went to the Himalayan Stove Project, and the fundraiser was a great success! (The gym is Activate Waterford.)
– Technically, I was still finishing up school. I had my last exam on Wednesday the 13th. It felt great to get it over with, as that was the final I was most stressed about. It feels weird, however, that my semester is officially over.
– That afternoon, to celebrate, Brit and I went to city centre for some fun, before we met some of the others to do a mini pub crawl. We went to some of our favourite pubs, and tried a few new ones. It was great craic! Later we met up with ‘everyone’ as a sort of goodbye party. There have been a lot of goodbyes the past week, and they have been really hard for everyone. Who knew that you could grow so close in just a few months!?
Alright, now you’re caught up.
On May 15th, Brittany and I set out on a mini-trip to check out another area of Ireland we wanted to see. So, we left the Republic and headed to Northern Ireland to spend 2 days in Belfast. It still amazes me that we can take 2 buses, travelling for 4 hours, and cross an entire country, into another. As we all know, 4 hours would not even get you out of British Columbia…
We took a tour with a black taxi cab. It’s a historical and political tour of the city, and although it is a whirlwind of information, it is fascinating! The history is so tumultuous, from the conflicts and divisions, to the acts of violence which were common until merely 7 years ago. You can still feel the instability in some parts of the city. We went around the city seeing murals, memorials, Catholic & Protestant neighbourhoods, and the peace wall. It was truly interesting, and made me curious to know more about Irish history.
Our driver dropped us off at a great place for dinner, and after eating, we wandered the city a little. We found Queen’s University, which we agreed looked like something from Harry Potter, and we quickly walked through the Botanic gardens before they closed.
The next day was the one we most looked forward to – a tour to Giant’s Causeway! Not only did we get to see the natural phenomenon, we also went to Bushmills Distillery for a pit stop, and saw Dunluce Castle from afar. The winds that day were insane, but we were pretty lucky weather-wise. Giant’s Causeway was not what we had expected, but amazing nonetheless. It is seriously busy with tours and tourists, but we had fun walking around and taking pictures, even hiking a trail to get a view from the cliffs above.
Before the tour ended, we stopped at Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, where you can cross to a tiny island that used to be used for fishing. Apparently, the fishermen didn’t have to pay taxes on what they caught there – but they had to lug the fish out of the water and across the bridge. To finish off our trip, we went to the infamous Crown Bar for a pint. Belfast was super interesting and I’m glad that we had the opportunity to see it, even for a couple days.
Coming back to Waterford, there were more goodbyes and parties. Again, it was really hard to say goodbye to people we had grown close to over the past few months.
Lastly, was the trip I just came back from – Brittany and I went to Killarney for a few days. It was more bus rides, and 4 hours (again) to get there, but it brought us to the southwest of Ireland, a part we had yet to see. The bus ride into the city was beautiful, and the town of Killarney itself was cute – like a mix between Waterford and the town of Kilkenny. We took a short walk through Killarney National Park, as it began to pour rain on us, and looked around town before heading to the hostel to make dinner. We ended up sharing a room with 2 girls from Alberta – a whole room of Canadians, eh?
On Tuesday, we got up for what we had been looking forward to – a tour. We found out we would be touring the Dingle Peninsula that day, the Ring of Kerry the next. Weather-wise, we had wanted it the other way around, but it actually worked quite well! It didn’t rain on us either day and we were afforded spectacular views (of course).
The Dingle Peninsula Tour took us to so many amazing places. First stop: Inch Beach. The sun was shining and the views were spectacular as you looked down the far-stretching beach. The tide was out, so you could walk pretty far too. It was a great first stop. We made multiple other stops along the way at viewpoints overlooking beautiful beaches, the ocean, castle ruins, hillsides, the Blasket Islands, and we walked to the smallest church in Ireland. It was so adorably small!
Part way through the day, we stopped at the town of Dingle. It was a place I had really wanted to go, and I was ecstatic to have some time to spend there! We wandered through shops and along the harbor, taking pictures. We got ice cream from Murphy’s, an amazing place! I had Irish coffee ice cream (yes, it had Jameson whiskey in it), and chocolate. We continued our walk and took pictures with the statue of the famous dolphin – Fungie!
Back in Killarney, we went for a walk to Ross Castle in Killarney National Park, as the sun was still shining and it was a gorgeous day out. To finish off the night, we had a quick pint at a little pub, where I got to try a beer brewed locally in Dingle. I’m loving trying new beers now, trying to find new ones I like, and trying local ones whenever I can. Thanks to the guys for making me try new beers all the time – now I find them on my own!
Wednesday led us to our tour of the Ring of Kerry. Now, to be honest, I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to see on this tour other than the landscapes of Ireland from a bus. I actually had no idea what the Ring of Kerry was. Anyways, the tour started off slow and was sort of a letdown in the beginning after we had just experienced the stunning Dingle Peninsula. The first stop was just a viewpoint of the peninsula from the opposite side of the valley, and the second stop was a tourist trap – pay to watch a mini show. We opted out and had lunch instead. Only to find that the next stop was at a single place for lunch. We walked a little to get a better view of castle ruins far down in the valley – apparently a filming site for a movie I love, Leap Year!
Then it only got better. The sights became even prettier as we ventured further into the valley and weaved through the mountains. We made multiple stops at viewpoints, including Ladies’ View, where the Queen (I don’t remember which one) saw the mountains and lakes of Killarney. It was beautiful.
After the tour, we decided to wander Killarney National Park since it had become such an amazing day. We ended up finding an open field and taking tons of pictures of the amazing views: fields, mountains, lakes, and just nature. And deer. Weirdly, I became obsessed with the fact that there was technically no proper fence up, and there was a massive herd of deer in the center of the area we were walking. And I became fascinated watching them as they attempted to ‘escape’ their enclosure – literally just stepping over the fallen fence. But one deer left and multiple others followed. And I got to fulfill a wish of mine for Ireland: walking through a wide open field. It probably wasn’t illegally trespassing, as I’m pretty sure it was somehow part of the park…
To end off a great day, we had dinner at a restaurant called Failte, the Irish word for ‘welcome.’ It was great! But the best was yet to come – we walked around the corner to The Shire, a Lord of the Rings themed pub. Yes, it was amazing! We walked into Mordor, and I ordered a tankard of Gandalf’s Ale. We met some Americans, listened to live music, and had a great night!
I’m so glad that we got to have these last trips to explore the other areas of Ireland. It’s such a beautiful country, and I am so glad to have had the opportunity to travel around it in my time here. I cannot wait to come back to explore some more.
This weekend, I get to see some familiar faces – my brother, and friend Kirstin are coming to Ireland so we can begin our epic European adventure. The 3 of us, one month, 11 countries, 17 cities, friends along the way, and multiple stories. It’s going to be legen- wait for it -dary. Legendary. 😉
Now, I had to say some more goodbyes the other day, and many more are coming. I am going to save these for one post – when I leave Ireland. So get ready guys, it’ll be a sad one.
“Travelling tends to magnify all human emotions.” – Peter Hoeg
May the road rise up to meet ya
P.S. – Sorry for the lack of pictures of Belfast… I actually lost all of the pictures from that trip from my camera. And my videos. I’m super bummed about it. But at least I had pictures from my phone and the memories!
Well, honestly not a lot has happened since I last wrote here. I will highlight a few things but try to keep this one short.
Over the past week and a bit, my friend Kirstin and I have been doing a lot of planning for our trip which will be happening very soon. If I haven’t mentioned it, or you don’t know, Kirstin and my brother will be coming to Ireland at the end of May. I will then show them some of my favourite places before we set out to travel Europe for a whole month!
It’s quite daunting, but I couldn’t be more excited. We are going to see so many amazing places and have wonderful experiences together. I know that it will be great. Taking it in steps of planning definitely makes it much easier as well. So far, we have all our places planned, and plane tickets bought to travel between quite a few countries. Then we will take trains and buses for the rest.
On Sunday May 3rd, quite a bit happened. It was my friend, Carlos’ birthday. So, the day before, I had helped a few of my friends to bake a cake for him. For his birthday, he cooked a lot of Spanish food and invited a large group of us over to his apartment. We ate and hung out for a while, and it was a lot of fun! The food he made was delicious, and the cake was a huge success.
I ended up being late to the party however, as my friend, Alexis, was coming to Waterford! After a little mix up, I found Alexis at the bus station. We walked back to my apartment catching up on everything that had gone on in the months we hadn’t seen each other. It was really nice to see a familiar face from home.
Alexis and I went to Carlos’ for a bit, before she headed back to my apartment to sleep, as jet lag sucks. I went back to the party after making sure she was settled, and hung out with everyone. Then, a few of us helped Carlos clean the apartment afterwards. It was a lot of fun!
The next morning, May 4th (or Star Wars Day), Alexis and I got up and walked to city center for an Irish breakfast along the Quay. It was delicious. We wandered down the Quay and ended up going into Reginald’s Tower. I had already been through it, but decided to go through again with Alexis. It has so much history throughout it! We walked part way to WIT before giving up – it was a long walk and she didn’t really need to see my campus.
So, we went to the bus stop to catch a bus to Tramore. Some of my friends were going to be there, so after we walked along the beach and took lots of pictures, we met up with Nathan. We ate lunch while some friends finished surfing. Yes, surfing! It was fun to watch them. (You can see pics and read about it on Brittany’s blog if you’d like.)
We came back to the apartment, and while Alexis slept and Brit studied, I did the dishes and made dinner. Later, Alexis and I met up with Anna, Eva, Nathan and Sarah to go to Katty Barry’s pub for a pint and some live Irish music. It was a lot of fun! It was my last chance to hang out with Eva before she left for Germany, so I really liked going out with them.
On Tuesday, Alexis and I ended up starting later than planned and missed the first bus to Dublin. Instead, we got a hot drink and bite to eat in city centre, before relaxing in the giant book store. Then we caught the bus and were on our way to Dublin!
We found our hostel, which had been recommended by my friend, and checked in. It was a cool hostel, and just across the river from Temple Bar and the main attractions. We decided to look for food, and ended up at a Mexican restaurant for a burrito called Pablo Picante – on Cinco de Mayo! It wasn’t even planned, but it was a really good burrito and we ate in Temple Bar.
We walked to Dublin Castle and saw St. Patrick’s Cathedral and its park, before heading to the Guinness Storehouse. It was really cool! We got to learn how they make Guinness, and I got to drink a pint of Guinness while overlooking the entire city of Dublin. It was a great experience! I will probably learn to pour a pint when I go back at the end of the month.
After wandering back through the city, we tried to decide where we would go next. We finally decided to just go straight for dinner at a pub which Carlos had recommended. So, we got dinner and spent the evening at O’Neill’s. The food was delicious – I had an Irish beef and Guinness stew and it was so good! Then we grabbed some beers and relaxed watching the football (soccer) game before the live Irish band and dancers came on to perform. They were really good and it was interesting to see! (I have no photos of this because my phone had died…)
After a packed couple of days, we were both pretty tired. However, Alexis had to get up the next morning to catch a bus to her ferry for the UK. I got up to say goodbye before we parted ways. I ended up hanging out in Dublin for part of the day, shopping and wandering, before catching a bus back home. Needless to say, I was pretty tired and slept pretty well after I Skyped my family.
On Friday, I had my first exam here in Ireland. It was a very odd experience for me. Usually, anything within the academic world stresses me out a lot. But, here, with everything being so relaxed, I was not super worried at all. I studied the few days before, and felt pretty prepared. It was interesting that being an international student, I had no idea what I was doing – but the Irish didn’t seem to know much more than me either. They seemed just as lost. Luckily, the few Irish lads I know, knew exactly what to do.
Walking back from my exam, it rained ridiculously hard. By the time I reached home, I was absolutely sopping wet. My jeans were completely soaked through, and my socks were squishing in my boots. I quickly changed before walking with Bruna to meet Brittany and Evelyn at a small restaurant close by. We went to a little diner (Rockin’ Joe’s) for lunch where we ordered a ton of food! I was so full, but it was delicious and totally worth it – a burger, fries and onion rings, and a chocolate milkshake! It was fun to hang out with the girls before Evelyn was leaving to go back home.
That night, a group of us got together to hang out, play some games, and say goodbye to Evelyn. It was great fun, but really sad as it became all too real that our time here is ending. There were tears and lots of hugs. After some people left, I ended up chatting with a couple friends until really late into the night. We talked about everything: gossip, politics, our lives, reasons we studied abroad, cultural differences. It was so great! A few of us stayed up almost all night just talking about everything. It was so great to have a conversation and really connect with people who I have known for only a few months. We have so much in common, and found out that we really understood each other.
On Saturday, after getting up quite late, Brittany and I met up with Anna, Nathan, and Sarah to go to city centre. We went to Blackfriars, a coffee shop, after wandering around Penny’s, the clothing store (kinda like Forever 21). It was great to relax, drink some tea and coffee, and just chat!
Later, we all decided to pitch in and split Chinese food for dinner. Again, we had a great time just hanging out together. I feel like we all get along really well, and I sincerely hope that we can stay close and in touch over the next while – until we meet again for a reunion. 😉
Honestly, although not a lot happened this week, I feel like I learned a lot about myself and just life in general. Goodbyes are hard – but for me, not saying goodbye to these wonderful people is even harder. And if you lads are reading this, get ready for a post that will make us all tear up coming in the future.
“I am thankful for nights that turned into mornings, friends that turned into family, and dreams that turned into reality.” – Pinterest quote.
May the road rise up to meet ya
I think one thing that I will miss about living in Ireland, is the fact that I am so busy and see people everywhere. It seems like we always have something happening, either here in Waterford or we are all travelling. And honestly, I love that I can be walking across campus or around town, and I see so many people I know. Not just international students either. Yes, I know some Irish. That just doesn’t happen for me at home.
This week I had a few days that I am excited to tell you about. Basically, this week there was no school as a “study break” before exams begin next week. Of course we all studied, just probably not as much as we should…
We started this event with our large group of friends where some students from the same country will host a dinner night. Before the Easter break, there were Mexican and Brazilian nights. Unfortunately I couldn’t go to either. After the break, we had an American night – complete with amazing mac ’n cheese, chicken fingers, pb&j, and homemade delicious cheesecake, with beer and games of course – and then a French dinner – with amazing food that our friend had cooked for the first time, and made into a meal of courses.
Last Friday, Brittany and I had all our friends over for Canadian ‘breakfast for dinner.’ We really wanted to serve maple syrup, and this was the best way we could think of. We made French toast instead of pancakes, so we could keep it gluten free for our friend. Then we made fruit salad, scrambled eggs, and sausages. It was a pretty big hit, I think! Brit and I were cooking basically the whole time, but everyone said that they loved the French toast – and we did get to eat some. Our friend, Nick, from Newfoundland, brought chips (fries) and made some gravy to serve a version of poutine. It was pretty good – but made me miss poutine with cheese curds! Then we made s’mores for everyone, a North American treat that they loved. It was a pretty fun night!
On Monday, our friends held a Bavarian dinner. It was delicious. We ate Breze mit Butter (pretzel with butter), and for dinner we ate Semmelknodl mit Pfeffersoβe und Schweinsbraten (please never ask me to pronounce this). I’m honestly not too sure what it was exactly – some meat, I think pork, and a ball of dough-type substance with a gravy sauce on top. For me, though, dessert was the best, and it’s a German word that I can actually say: kaisershmarn. It was delicious! Berries, powdered sugar and cinnamon with something like a pancake, but less sweet. I loved it, and I’m not going to lie, I had two servings… [The full German name is: Kaiserschmarn mit gemischten Beeren, Zimt und Puderzucker.]
With lots happening this week, and many attempts at studying, Brittany and I decided that a day off in city center might be a fun idea. So, on Wednesday, we headed downtown to go to Reginald’s Tower. It was so interesting (and only 2 euros)! Honestly, if you ever come to Waterford, it is a must see. It does a great job of outlining the rich history of Waterford, the oldest town in Ireland. There were a lot of cool Viking artifacts and the tower itself was pretty interesting – albeit built for people who were possibly a bit shorter, as Brit and I had to duck under many of the doorways and along the spiral stairs.
After the museum, we decided to go to Christ Church Cathedral. For those who don’t know, I had a pretty hard time when I learned that my Gramma had passed away at home (a week and a half ago now). It was something I was going to have to go through by myself, very far from home and family. I spent a few days just walking and exploring Waterford by myself, collecting my thoughts. The one day, I ended up in this Protestant cathedral. You would never guess that it is from the 18th century. It looks so modern inside, but is very beautiful.
Of course, being downtown, we decided to stop somewhere for a warm drink and a snack. We ended up at Blackfriars, one of the first coffee shops we entered when we got here. The owners and staff are so friendly and welcoming, and the drinks and sweets are always amazing. I love their hot chocolate!
My last bit of interesting news is what I did yesterday: my friends and I got dressed up ‘fancy’ to attend WIT’s International Student Black Tie Event, or Mayoral Reception. It had a few names. Basically, we all got to get dressed up in fancy clothes and shoes, do our hair and makeup (well, the girls), and go to City Hall. We listened to some speeches, drank some wine, ate some great food, and took a ton of pictures. It was fun! There were so many international students, and I realized that even though our group of friends is quite large, it is small compared to the number of students studying here from other countries.
After the reception, many of us went to a friend’s apartment to hang out before heading to the after party. (Yes, there was a planned after party, by the school, at a night club.) My friends and I had gone to our apartments and changed out of our heels, so we were able to dance and have a lot of fun at the club. It was great to relax, hang out with everyone, and forget the stress of exams for a little bit.
Even with the ups and downs of losing someone I was very close to, I had a busy and interesting last few weeks. With school ending, we are now gearing up for exams – my first of which is next Friday. Honestly, I feel like I should be a bit more stressed out, seen as it’s worth 100%. But, I’m not. I figure that it’ll all work itself out. I am studying and that’s all I can do. (For those who know me really well, you will understand how huge it is for me to say something like that. Apparently Ireland has changed me.)
This weekend my friend, Alexis, is coming from home. With everything that’s happened, and all of my friends having their friends and family visiting, I am beyond excited to see a familiar face from home. I can’t wait to show her around and take her to the awesome spots I have discovered here.
And on that note, I want to add something that some of my friends have done over here: a brief list of things that I miss at home.
– Obviously I miss my friends and family the most. And Finn, my puppy.
– My bed. I miss my double bed that I can roll over in, and my feather-down comforters.
– Tim Hortons. I want an Iced Capp and Timbits, please!
– Hot water. Man, I took it for granted before. Cold showers here suck. (I do have hot water most of the time, but only if it doesn’t run out or if I heat it up first.)
– Dishwashers. I am sick of handwashing all the dishes. And boiling a kettle to have hot water to do it.
– Fast internet. Seriously.
– Driving. I love driving, and it’s been weird not driving here. Although, I wouldn’t want to on the opposite side of the road…
– Stores being open really late. Everything closes so early here! The grocery store that is open the latest closes at 21:00 (9pm).
What about things that I will miss from Waterford?
– Again, obviously I am going to miss the amazing people that I have met here. It sucks that we are going to be separated by expansive oceans, expensive plane rides, and a 5-9 hour time difference. Guys, I know I’m far away, but please stay in touch!
– Walking. I honestly have begun to love walking. I walk everywhere here. And I enjoy it.
– Cafes. There are so many great cafes here.
– The pubs. Yes, I know we have pubs at home, but the atmosphere here is completely different. And I love it.
– Okay so this is more for Europe in general, but I love the fact that it is somewhat cheap and easy to get between different countries and places. It is mostly impossible at home unless you have a car or a ton of money…
– The accents. Enough said.
– The friendly people. Everyone here is so welcoming and friendly! I just don’t get the same vibes at home.
I’ve probably forgotten some in my attempt to finish this post, but this is basically everything I’m missing. Mom, I didn’t put Starbucks because technically it is here in Europe. I found one in almost every city while travelling. It was just that they didn’t have my one summer drink…
To my family and friends back home: thank you for all of the kind messages. It is definitely hard being away from my family at this time, but I am doing okay. I have a few friends here who have been amazing through it. I was very lucky that I got so many years with my Gramma, and that I have a lot of great memories. Although I didn’t get to see her right before I left, I got to Skype her twice while I’ve been here. I know that she loved me and was proud of me. I loved her very much and will miss her a lot. But I know that she would want me to keep moving, continue my studies and travels, and just live life. She was a beautiful and amazing person – she will be in my heart everywhere I go, just like others I have lost.
“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” – Elizabeth Kubler Ros
May the road rise up to meet ya
Let’s just pick up where we left off, shall we? (Warning: this is a long’un, but there are lots of pictures!)
Thursday April 2, 2015
Amsterdam had been an amazing city, but it was time to move on. After attempting to wake up early (which didn’t necessarily happen), we caught a tram and metro to arrive to catch our bus.
We arrived to our next stop, Brussels, Belgium with excitement for another country – only to be slightly disappointed by the huge modern buildings we found surrounding us! We had been looking forward to the old, the history. We walked to our hostel (which turned out to be really cool actually) before wandering the city.
And that’s when it got much, much better. We had Belgian waffles with chocolate sauce, and stopped to get “frites” or ‘fries.’ Fries are actually not French, for those who do not know – they were invented in Belgium, and are probably the best fries I have ever had in my life!
We went on a walking tour around the city with SANDEMANs New European Tours (I’d recommend). Our tour guide turned out to be Irish – what are the odds!? We leave Ireland to find an Irishman. We had a good laugh with him over that one. Walking around the city, we saw amazing sights and learned so much history. The history of Belgium is actually quite interesting, and I can’t wait to look into it some more. We saw Mannekin Pis, Grand Place, Royal Park, cathedrals and more! I drank a Belgian beer, and we met some people on the tour from other places – I ended up talking to a guy from Melbourne, Australia, and another from Galway, Ireland. They were really cool!
After the tour, we wandered some more, bought some Belgian chocolate (of course), and then tried to find some late dinner. We ended up eating Italian (a recurring theme on this trip), and talked for a long time. It was a lot of fun! But we ran out of time to go and see Atomium, a giant metal atom structure close to Brussels. So we explored the city at night and went to the Statue of the Unknown Soldier, a sight I had wanted to see. It was very cool to see at night, and especially interesting to see for me, the history student.
Friday April 3, 2015
Again, we got up late and ended up taking a later train than planned. But, we were on our way to our next city – Bruges! (or Brugge in Dutch)
The city didn’t look too exciting when we arrived, but we took a bus farther in and found it had a lot to offer. “The buildings were old, streets narrow, and it seemed to be older Brussels on a smaller scale” (journal entry). One difference – it had little canals, similar to those of Amsterdam. Talking about it after, I decided that the city, to me, was exactly that: a mixture between Amsterdam and Brussels.
We explored the city for a while, eating more waffles and fries (we all really like food, okay?). We found some windmills, walked through the streets, and took a lot of pictures. I even stole Carlos’ camera for a bit and had some fun taking artsy photos. Brittany bought some new shoes, as hers were literally falling apart. We went back to our hostel (which was literally a part of a bar) to go on a walking tour through the city at night.
Now, we had taken the amazing free tour the day before, and we had gone on a free walking tour previously in Galway as well. This tour, however, was nothing like we could have imagined… but not in a good way. This tour included a tour guide with some of the crudest and inappropriate jokes I have ever heard, and facts that we later found out were from a movie. Yes, we got to see the city, the sights, the beauty of it at night – but we all agreed that it would have been best to simply wander by ourselves. I think the tour put a tinged feeling on the whole city for us.
We wandered the streets a bit more after the tour, trying to get a better feel for the city. We found a little bridge that the guide had mentioned: when you crossed the bridge, the next person you made eye contact with would be the one you married. We had a lot of fun and jokes with that one! From Brittany and I finding no one on the other side, to us joking about the guys crossing the bridge together.
We found dinner, and went back to our hostel, ready to move onto Paris. It was interesting: everyone had told us that Bruges was amazing while Brussels was boring. Our experience, however, was the complete opposite.
Saturday April 4, 2015
Our last day of travel as a group. We headed to the train station for a complicated day of switching trains, and long travel time. After a few hours, we arrived in Paris.
Our view of Paris was immediately skewed when some man tried to basically con us in the metro station. He claimed that he worked there and would help us buy tickets. The whole situation seemed sketchy, and we agreed that it wasn’t right – so we lied and told him we had changed our minds, we’d buy tickets the next day. After he walked off somewhat miffed, we headed to the tourist office, bought our tickets, and were on our way to our amazing hostel in the Montmartre district (Le Montclair Hostel, I would recommend it).
We got in sort of late, so by the time we were settled, it was already dark. We knew that one sight was close to our hostel, so we headed there. The beautiful church and basilica, Sacre Coeur, is really a sight to see at night. Lit up with all the lights of Paris below it, there is a magnificence. Especially if you can get past all the people trying to sell you trinkets on the street and walkways in front.
We ventured inside the church to find ourselves in the midst of a service. In all our travelling, we had temporarily forgotten that it was Good Friday, with Easter Sunday just around the corner. It was amazing to see the service for a few moments.
We went around the corner, possibly to an area we weren’t supposed to be in, and found an amazing view of the Eiffel Tower from very, very far away. We took many pictures of it lit up at night, we waited for it to sparkle, and then we headed back to our hostel to crash after a long day.
Sunday April 5, 2015
We woke up and had breakfast at the hostel, hoping that our second day in Paris would be much better. The first impression of Paris had left us a little weary, but we were ready to give it another chance!
We took the metro into Paris, getting off somewhere in the center. We walked along the streets, marveling at the different architecture. Walking along, we found the Louvre. (I think the guys knew where we were, but for me, it was even sweeter coming up to the building not knowing what it was.)
Apparently, on the first Sunday of the month, the Louvre is supposed to be free. Now, for students of the European Union, it is technically free the majority of the time. We didn’t want to take a chance for Brittany and I though, so we decided to go on the Sunday – and got in no problem!
The Louvre is amazing. If you have never been, you need to go there. Even if you don’t like art. The ceilings and rooms are masterpieces themselves. I found myself continually looking up at the beautiful ceilings, only to remember I was supposed to be looking at the art on the walls. We wandered for probably two hours. We found the Mona Lisa, a lot of Biblical paintings, and the enormous Egyptian section. I also took one selfie that I am particularly proud of in the area for art from Holland and Flanders.
Upon leaving the Louvre, we ventured to walk some more. We crossed the love lock bridge, marveling at the sheer number of locks along the way, and wondering how many of these couples were still together. We continued on to encounter Notre Dame. It loomed over that part of the city. All I could think of was the Disney movie, The Hunchback of Notre Dame – and yes, I sang some of the songs in my head. We waited in a decently short line and entered the cathedral. It was beautiful. The stained glass alone had me awed, but the number of people and candles, and the structure – it was amazing.
We wandered the streets along the Seine after, trying to find something to eat. We found a place that sold crepes, so we stopped. It was delicious, but just as good as the crepes my flatmate has made! Carlos was upset when he found out that his coffee cost him 4 euros. It became a sore spot but also a great joke.
Later, we met up with our friend, Hubert. He was visiting Paris with his girlfriend, so we all went out for dinner together. Following a pretty great dinner, we hopped on the metro to stroll underneath the Eiffel Tower at night and walk the Champs Elysees. The Eiffel Tower up close at night is beautiful. I couldn’t stop taking pictures – which may have annoyed some of the others…
After a lot of walking and a great day, we all headed back to our accommodations with tired limbs, saying goodbye until we were once again in Waterford.
Monday April 6, 2015
We got up, ate breakfast, and headed to Sacre Coeur, so we could see it in the daytime. There was a group performing there that were amazing, and we stopped to listen for a while (the guys even bought cds). We wandered through souvenir stores and around a painter’s market, where beautiful paintings and drawings were being sold by local artists. We grabbed some baguettes for lunch and relaxed in the shade.
Catching the metro, we headed to the center of Paris and the Eiffel Tower. This was our first instance of seeing the Eiffel Tower up close in daylight. It was really exciting. We spent a couple hours relaxing on the grass, taking silly pictures, and just basking in the sight.
We took a “stroll along the Seine” (yes, that is a Disney reference), and ended up in a Spring Market – so Brittany and I bought macarons, while the guys went for crepes and cotton candy. We walked through the grounds of the Army museum before finding somewhere to eat.
For our last night, we went to the 56th floor of Montparnasse, a very tall building. Unfortunately, tickets to go up the Eiffel Tower had been sold out, so we went here instead. It was great! We went close to dusk so that we got to see all the lights of the city come on, including the sparkling Eiffel Tower. We went back to the hostel after to relax and hang out for our last night together on the trip.
Thursday April 9, 2015
Now, you may wonder why I skipped a few days here. Let me briefly explain.
Basically, on our last night in Paris, I somehow got food poisoning. It was not pretty. I was up most of the night. In the morning, I said goodbye to the others, waving them out the door. I felt super ill, and ended up missing my train to Nice. Commence some problems, but I got it figured out – stayed an extra night in the hostel, and had a ticket bought for me for a train the next day (thanks Carlos!). I still wanted to go to Nice, and that’s where I was flying home from. So, after a 5.5 hour train ride, and some issues trying to find my hostel in the dark, I was finally settled in. And this is the day I walked Nice.
Nice was beautiful.
I ended up exploring with a girl from my hostel room. Her name was Kate and she was from Melbourne, Australia. We had a great day just wandering the city, and getting lost. We found a harbor and the coastline which was beautiful. There was a lot of stairs in a cliff that we decided to climb. We ended up in Chateau de Nice Ville, affording an amazing panoramic view of all of the city below.
We stopped for a bite to eat before walking the boardwalk and eating gelato by a fountain. It felt sort of Italian to me, but it is very close to the border. Then we got lost trying to find our way back.
Even though I only had one day in Nice (and didn’t get to go to Monaco), it was a great experience. I learned that I am not particularly a fan of travelling by myself, that I can get myself through bad situations travelling, and that no matter what happens you just have to roll with it. Plus, I discovered that after you have been to the sandy beaches of Hawaii and Mexico, the rocky beaches of Nice are nice, but definitely not for laying on a beach.
That evening I had some stress with my flight possibly being cancelled due to a flight strike. But it wasn’t, thankfully. The next day I spent in the airport, just in case. France was not very good to me. And yet I plan to go back! I also found it interesting how excited I was flying into Ireland. The trip had been amazing, and it was exciting to see mountains in France and Nice, but the green of Ireland was a beautiful sight. It felt like coming home. I’m going to miss this place a lot.
Well, there you have it. My entire two week trip condensed into two blog posts. Obviously a lot more than this happened, and there are tons of pictures. I am trying to upload some to Facebook, but with internet here, it may take a while.
For those wondering, I am fine now and I thoroughly enjoyed this trip. I am so lucky to have met these amazing people that I can travel with for two weeks and we all don’t want to kill each other by the end of it. Actually, I missed them after they left. I don’t even want to think about the end of the semester…
May the road rise up to meet ya