Out of all of my friends that I have made while in Cork, I've discovered that I'm the only one who isn't Irish so it was nice to be able to explore my heritage while in Germany. We took a train from Zurich to Munich which lasted about 4 hours and was actually very comfortable and easy to sleep on. After checking into our hostel, we headed to the Hofbrauhaus Brewery and indulged in traditional German pretzels and steins of beer. Everyone who went to Oktoberfest spent their weekend in the Hofbrauhaus tent so we knew that was the brewery that we wanted to go to. We walked around the Marienplatz square and the Christkindle Christmas Market for a couple hours that night before heading back to the hostel to get some sleep.
We woke up early the next morning and caught a train to the nearby town of Dachau where the Dachau Concentration Camp was ran during World War II. The concentration camp was actually started for political prisoners who went against Hitler and then held Jews and others deemed unacceptable by Hitler when he started invading countries. There were over 40,000 known murders, but they expect that there were thousands more due to so many people dying on arrival before they were able to be registered into the camp. The entrance gate into the camp has "Work sets you free" inscribed, but our guide said that most prisoners knew that this was the Nazis mocking them and that their death was considered their "freedom". There is a strip of grass that runs along the edge of the camp separating the prisoners from the barbed wire. The prisoners were told that the grass was a neutral zone, but if they were to step one foot on the grass a guard would shoot them from the guard tower. Our guide told us that oftentimes a guard would throw their hat into the grass and tell a prisoner they would be shot if they didn't get it for them, but when they would step into the grass to get it a guard would shoot them anyways. Only one person ever escaped from the camp in all of the years that it was a working camp and he says that he just got lucky. The Dachau camp was the first concentration camp of its kind and was used as a model for all camps to follow. Even though more than 40,000 people died there, it wasn't considered a death camp because they didn't "intentionally" kill the prisoners or use the gas chamber. Our guide told us that the only known time the gas chamber was used was when the camp Doctor wanted to test it out to see how it works, but no one knows how many lives were lost in the chamber at the expense of his curiosity. We were able to see the original crematorium and then saw all of the newer furnaces that were added when the original furnace wasn't able to keep up with the amount of dead bodies that needed to be cremated. It is an incredibly sad and humbling tour, but I would definitely recommend it to anyone. It is unimaginable how something so horrible happened only 20 minutes outside of such an industrialized city like Munich.
The next morning we took the metro to another side of the city and toured the 1972 Summer Olympic Stadium. We were able to see the swimming pool and the stadium where all the track and field events took place. We also were able to learn about the terrorist hostage attack by the Palestinians kidnapping 11 Israeli athletes who all died in a rescue mission gone wrong. After the stadium, we toured the BMW museum. It was a really cool and innovative museum, but definitely would have been more interesting if I knew anything about cars. We ended the night walking around the Christmas market more and trying the traditional German bratwursts before heading back to our hostel to get some sleep before we left early the next morning for Prague.
The morning after Thanksgiving, Bridget and I left for our 9 day study week trip. First stop: Zurich, Switzerland. It is no secret that Switzerland is extremely expensive, and we were told by our friends that had traveled there previously this semester that it's very difficult to get a meal in a restaurant for under 40 francs, basically the equivalent to $40. A cheeseburger meal at McDonalds cost 12 franks and a smallest drink at Starbucks cost 7 francs. We were prepared going into the trip that we would need to buy groceries and make most of our meals because there was no way that we could afford to eat out. Our flight landed during the evening and we struggled with figuring out the public transportation, but we eventually made it to our hostel. It was an apartment style hostel with two bedrooms, and the man who owned it was super nice and said that he would make sure we had our own room during our time in Zurich.
The next morning we woke up early and headed to the grocery store down the street to get food. As soon as we stepped outside we definitely weren't in Ireland anymore. There was so much heavy snow falling and even though I hate the snow, it made the city that much more beautiful than it already was. We took a train up to Uetliburg, the mountain range that surrounds Zurich. We were planning on hiking and seeing some cool observation point areas, but the snow and fog was so heavy that you couldn't see 10 feet in front of you. We took the train back down and walked around Alstadt, the Old Town of the city. We climbed to the top of the Grossmunster Church and saw panoramic views of the city and Lake Zurich. We knew that the one meal we wanted to eat out for while in Switzerland was for cheese fondue. All of the study abroad students rave about it and say it's the food that you have to splurge on while in Switzerland. We found a restaurant for lunch and both ordered a plate of bread and fondue. The restaurants smell terrible because of all of the cheese, but it is SO GOOD. Definitely worth spending money on, however 25 francs for cheese and bread seems a little steep. I'm glad I did it though. It gets dark pretty early in Switzerland and a lot of shops close up around 6 so we found it difficult to find things to do during the night to do. We walked around a Christmas Market for a little bit and were attracted to a huge Christmas tree in the middle of a square. We waited around to see why there was a crowd and eventually a group of little kids climbed into the tree and sang Christmas carols in German and it was the cutest thing. Zurich is very close to Germany so most of people in the city speak Swiss German.
The next morning it was raining so we decided to tour the Swiss National Museum that was recommended to us by my roommate Jennifer. The museum is massive and contains 4 floors filled with history of the country. The coolest part was seeing the original Swiss flag that flew at the country's embassy in Berlin, Germany during World War II. The embassy came under fire and someone managed to save the flag, but not without it receiving tears from the bullets and burn marks. After the museum, we caught a train to a surrounding small town of Adliswil where we were able to catch a cable car to the top of the mountain. The views were phenomenal with the freshly fallen snow and we hiked around for a bit before we were able to catch the sunset at the top of the mountain. We headed back into the city and did some shopping for some famous Swiss chocolates before heading back to our apartment to finish packing for our train to Munich, Germany early the next morning.
This past week has been spent in the library trying to finish up my essays before I left for my trip over study week. My computer broke and I'm not able to get a new one until I get home so I have been having to spend a lot more time on campus and in the library than normal. I'm also not sure how these posts are formatting because I have to write all of them on my phone.
Our friend Pat's hometown friends came to visit him so we showed them around during the beginning of the week. We took them to the Woolshed on Sunday to watch some American football and we ended up spending the night bowling in the upstairs game area.
We have been planning to have a thanksgiving celebration for a few weeks now since we all planned out our trips so that we would be together for the holiday. My friend Kayla has a family friend that lives right outside Cork in Midleton who was nice enough to use her kitchen. She bought us a turkey and made us Irish drinks as long as we fed her a traditional thanksgiving meal. There was originally supposed to be around 15 of us, but the guys's plans fell through so we had way more food than necessary. 5 of us girls somehow managed to perfectly baste and cook the turkey and we were all so proud of ourselves.
The current living conditions at my apartment are terrible. We have mold everywhere in our apartment. I pulled a pair of shoes out of my closet that were covered in it and my walls are covered with it as well. We have emailed and called so many times to make complaints and ask if they can do anything and still nothing has been done. I leave today for my trip to Zurich, Switzerland, Munich, Germany, and Prague Czech Republic so it will be nice to be out of my apartment for a week.
My 22nd birthday was last week; it was weird not being with my family and friends at home to celebrate, but I still had a great time here. My group of friends and I went to Market Lane for dinner, which is said to be one of the best restaurants in Cork. I got chicken, sweet potatoes, green beans, and mushrooms all covered in a creamy mushroom sauce and I'm still having dreams about it. For dessert, the restaurant brought me out a chocolate and raspberry tart with candles in it while singing "happy birthday".
Clare's birthday is this week, and before we even got to Ireland, we knew where we both wanted to celebrate our birthdays - Amsterdam. I have always wanted to go to Amsterdam because it is such a unique city with all of the canals and because all of my friends have raved about it. This was the first trip that Clare, Bridget and I booked at the very beginning of the semester. We had been looking forward to it for so long and now that it's over, it definitely hitting me that the semester is coming to an end. We ditched the low quality RyanAir for this trip and flew out of Cork via Aer Lingus. It felt so great to be able to take a 20 minute bus to and from the airport for once rather than sitting on a 3 1/2 hour bus ride to Dublin. Our arrival into Amsterdam Thursday night could have gone smoother. Clare and I were seated towards the front of the plane and Bridget in the far back, so when we got off first, we waited for her right inside the airport so we could all go through immigration. We waited for 10 minutes and we knew there was no way she got off before us so we started to ask flight attendants if there was anyone still on the plane and all of them looked at us like we were crazy. The Amsterdam airport is huge and confusing, and Clare and I spent the next 20 minutes trying to find our way towards immigration while keeping an eye out for Bridget. There was a police desk right before immigration. Once your passport is stamped, you cannot get back into that area of the airport so I decided to go through first and look around for Bridget near the exit while Clare waited inside immigration. I couldn't find her, Clare was going to go to the police desk. I ended up eventually finding her waiting for us by the exit - somehow she had gotten passed us on the way out of the plane and went ahead through immigration. A quick 10 minute train ride later and we were at our hotel that was located right along a canal at the entrance of the Red Light District. We didn't get checked in until 9:00 PM so we ended up grabbing something to eat and hanging out in the hotel bar for the night.
We knew that we wanted to get the Anne Frank house out of the way on our first full day since we knew that we were going to have to wait in line for awhile. We woke up early and headed towards the house and only ended up having to wait in line for about 45 minutes. These 45 minutes were miserably cold and windy though. We spent about 1 1/2 hours touring the house and the secret annex where Anne, her family, and other Jewish friends hid during World War II. I had imagined a tiny little room where everyone hid, but the annex was much bigger than I expected and had multiple rooms that were shared by 2 or 3 people. The house was incredibly sad, but it was so surreal to see her original preserved diary at the end of the tour. It remained in a display case and you weren't allowed to take any pictures, but they had pages displayed all over the room and translated her words. After leaving the Anne Frank house, we got a deal on a canal cruise and admission to the Amsterdam Ice Bar. We got onto the boat and the cruise took us on an hour long journey around and through the canals of Amsterdam. After the cruise, we headed over to the Rijksmuseum, where the (I Am)sterdam letters are located and spent too much time trying to get a picture on one of the letters without anyone else in it. There were way too many tourists though and we figured out that it just wasn't gonna happen. Our next stop was our reservation at the ice bar. Ice bars are all the rave in Europe right now so we thought that this would be a lot of fun. Haha. NO. There are 3 drinks included with your entrance ticket and we got the first one while we waited at the main bar before it was our turn to go inside. This drink was actually really delicious; so far so good. Once we put on the winter coats and gloves that they provide you, they led us into the ice bar and we didn't know whether it was a joke or not. The room was TINY and had no music playing - just 20 people standing there looking at each other. You are given your other 2 drinks once inside the bar and these were tiny and you were only given 2 options. You also only get 20 minutes in the ice bar before they kick you out and let the next group in. 10 minutes was all we needed and we ended up leaving early. If you are ever considering an ice bar, don't waste your money.
The next morning, we all woke up to numerous emails and texts from family and friends asking if we were ok. Confused, we turned to CNN and found out about the ISIS terrorist attacks in Paris. Thankfully, I knew no one in Paris that weekend, but my roommate and a few of my other friends were there just last weekend. Amsterdam is only about 300 miles from Paris and I think being so geographically close to it all makes it sink in a little harder and seem more real. I was there just in September and fell in love with the city, so it's so sad to see how empty and broken Paris is after these attacks.
We were told to take a tour of the Red Light District while in Amsterdam so we decided to make a booking for later on that night. Since we were so close to the district, we wanted to see it during the day as well and be able to compare it to the nighttime. Prostitution is completely legal in the Netherlands. Women display themselves in windows that are illuminated with a red light, hence the name of the district. If a man wants to pay for a woman, he opens the door to her stall and the curtain shuts for a few minutes until it is over and the woman goes back to standing in her window. It is incredibly sad to see this as it happens, but it is all apart of the Dutch culture. We found Chinatown and had authentic Chinese food for a late lunch before our tour started. Our tour guide knew an incredible amount of history regarding prostitution and was able to answer all of our questions. The girls in the window at night are completely different than the girls during the day. During the day, the women are older and almost looked to be drugged up. At night, the girls are all young (you have to be 21) and completely normal and sober looking. Our guide explained to us that since this a taxed and legal profession, these girls make their own choice of selling themselves and that their choices should be respected. I was shocked to find out that a woman must rent out each stall space for €150 a day. I was even more shocked to find out that a woman can make up to €20,000 a month. Our guide walked us through a brothel and I can't say that I have ever seen anything like it. The last part of the tour pertained to the drugs in Amsterdam. I always thought that marijuana was legal, but it is actually just tolerated and there is a limited quantity that the coffeeshops can sell to one person in a day. The girls get really upset if they see you taking any pictures, so I unfortunately don't have any pictures of the district at all.
We had been wanting to rent bikes all weekend, but it was so rainy and windy every day besides our first day there. We decided to go to a museum about Amsterdam's history in the prostitution business. Afterwards, we came outside to the main street being fenced off and people surrounding the fences and waiting. It ended up being a Christmas parade so we stayed and got a bunch of free treats. All of the people in the parade were dressed in renaissance costumes and had their faces painted black, which we thought was a little racist but didn't think anything of it. After the parade, we decided to google why they were dressed the way that they were, and we figured out that we went to a traditional Dutch parade that has been extremely controversial the past few years because of the blackface. We noticed that most of the people that were at the parade were tourists and didn't see many locals, so this must be why.
On our final day, we finally caved in and each bought a nutella waffle with whipped cream that we had been walking by every day. It was raining again so we weren't able to rent bikes at all during our time in Amsterdam. Amsterdam has more bikes than people and how I didn't get hit by a bike this past weekend is beyond me. We came across a statue by our hotel where people were placing flowers for the Paris victims and noticed other areas where this was being done as well. The entire European Union did a minute of silence in remembrance of the victims. The minute of silence occurred while we were at lunch and I could hear many people crying. This was incredibly sad because I didn't know if they knew someone in the attacks or if they feared for their own safety. We decided to head to the airport earlier than normal since we figured airport security would be much tighter after the recent events. All in all, Amsterdam was a great place to celebrate my birthday and I will definitely be back.
"I hope you fall in love someday with being alive." Budapest did just that for me. It is a city with so much to see and so much beauty, but thankfully lacks the heavy amount of tourists. The best part about it? The exchange rate is really good, making it a very cheap country to visit. 1 Euro is equivalent to about 315 Hungarian Forints. Bridget and I were supposed to go with Meghan and her friend Alex who is studying in Dublin, but Meghan missed the bus to the Dublin airport so it ended up just being the 3 of us. We met Alex's friend Anna and her roommate Molly who are both studying in Rome. Our hostel coincidentally ended up being 3 buildings down from their Airbnb, which was super convenient. Budapest is split by the river into 2 cities, Buda and Pest. Buda is a lot more hilly with older sites and Pest contains most of the nightlife, the shopping, the Jewish quarter, and the Parliament building. We stayed on the Pest side. Once we all got checked into our accommodations, we took a free walking tour of the city. This was nice because we saw most of the main sights. However, it gets dark around 4 in Budapest so we saw a lot of the sights in the dark on the Buda side. We went to a restaurant recommended by our hostel for dinner and afterwards we went to Szimpla, Budapest's most famous ruin bar. Budapest is famous for its ruin bars, which are bars built in old abandon buildings from World War II. They are filled with flea market furniture and random art - we ended up sitting in a bathtub for seating.
The next morning we went to a cute local cafe for breakfast that Alex's friend had recommended. We only had to wait about 20 minutes, and after we were sested they told people that it was a 2 hour wait because of reservations so we got super lucky. The fresh squeezed orange juice and mushroom wafflini were definitely things to write home about. After breakfast we headed towards the Great Market and explored the food stands and the traditional Hungarian souvenirs. We were going to head to the Buda side to see it during the day, but it started raining so instead so got gelato shaped like roses and climbed to the top of St. Stephen's Basilica. We wanted to see the city at night so we took a river cruise and were given 2 glasses of champagne with our tickets. Afterwards, we headed to a very traditional Hungarian restaurant that Alex's friend highly recommended. Alex and I wanted to try the most Hungarian thing we could, so we both ordered the Chef's special - pork chop and goose liver with paprika gravy and potato croquettes. Hands down without a doubt the most amazing meal that I have had abroad. And all for $4.
The next day, all the girls wanted to spend a few hours in the famous thermal baths, but I wanted to see more of Buda before we had to leave so I opted to do my own thing that day. I took the metro to the Szenchyi Baths and tried to buy a visitor's ticket to hopefully just take some pictures, but the guard informed me that they weren't taking visitors that day. I explored the Vajdahunyad and Heroe's Square before taking the metro back to the city center. I walked towards the beautiful parliament building and spent some time taking in the Shoes on the Danube memorial. The shoes are a memorial to the Jews who were shot and killed during World War II. They were lined along the river bank, ordered to remove their shoes, and were shot into the river so they were carried away. On my way to cross the river, I ran into my friend's mom from back home. She was on a Danube river cruise and we knew that we were both in Budapest but we never made a plan to meet up. Such a small world! I spent the rest of the day exploring Buda and all of its sites including the Matthias Church, the Fisherman's Bastion, Sandor Palace,and the Labyrinths underneath the Buda Castle where Dracula was imprisoned and tortured in the 15th century. I met back up with the girls for dinner and afterwards we enjoyed some traditional Hungarian street food at the Christmas markets before enjoying some drinks at another ruin bar.
Everyone left early the next morning, but our flight wasn't until 4 so we walked the main shopping street and explored some of the Hungarian fashion stores. We ended up eating at a little burger and pasta bar right by our hostel and it was easily the best burger I have ever had. Leaving Budapest was hard, but I will definitely be making it back to Hungary at some point in my life.
Although the past couple of weeks spent in Cork have been relaxing, I am definitely ready to travel again so it's good that November will be filled with new countries. I will be in Budapest this weekend, am celebrating my 22nd birthday in Amsterdam, and am going on an 8 day adventure during our study week to Switzerland, Munich, and Prague. My host brother that I stayed with while in Spain during high school is currently living in Milan and really wants me to come visit him, but I might end up having to sell an organ to afford it by the end of the semester.
We spent the last week celebrating Halloween in Cork. We heard at the beginning of the semester that Halloween is huge here, so we knew that we wanted to definitely be in Cork for the holiday. We started celebrating on the 29th and went to a party at our friends' apartment. After spending a majority of the night there, we decided that we wanted to go to Holy Cow, the nightclub that we spent so much time in at the beginning of the semester. When we got there, it was too full and they weren't accepting anyone for the rest of the night. We all knew what we needed at this point - pizza. We discovered Fast Al's, which is terrible for both our diets and bank accounts, but it's SO GOOD. Way better than Jeff's back at Iowa State.
Clare and I made the executive decision to stay in on the 30th because our friends were all going to a haunted house. I get scared to the point of near tears at the haunted hike in my hometown that is made for children, so I knew there was no way that I would be attending this. We walked down the street to the movie theatre and got popcorn and candy and came back to our apartment and had a 20/20 marathon. If you haven't seen the "Mystery in the Mansion" episode I highly recommend it.
The next night, our guy friends were throwing their big halloween party at their apartment that they have been planning all semester. We all brought food and ended up having a huge feast. The hit was definitely the dark chocolate guinness brownies with cream cheese frosting that Erin made. The party ended up getting massive and so many Irish students we didn't know were showing up, so we decided to head into town. This is when things got good. On our way, Meghan got EGGED. Actually egged by a car of guys driving by. I felt so bad, but I couldn't stop laughing. We got to Rearden's, a popular bar that we frequently go to, and they weren't accepting anyone under 21. A lot of bars in Cork become 21 or 23 and older on the weekends which is really weird because the drinking age is 18. I haven't had any problem with this since I am 21, but all of my friends are all only 20 so none of them could get in. At this point we decided we, again, needed pizza so we headed towards Fast Al's. I wish I was lying when I said that Bridget got 4 pieces of pizza and ate them all.
The next morning, we all met up for brunch at a popular restaurant in the city center, Amicus. Our early start professor recommended it to us, and it definitely didn't disappoint. The croissants were actually the best croissants I have ever had, which is saying a lot since the ones in Paris were so good. We decided to buy some cleaning supplies and go help the guys clean up their apartment. It was an absolute disaster and smelled terrible, but it ended up not being that bad with 10 of us all cleaning.
The end of the semester is approaching, so I began writing some of my essays to get them out of the way. It feels like I just got here, but somehow I only have a little over 6 weeks before I head back to Iowa. I am not homesick the slightest bit, which I'm kind of surprised about, but I am getting excited to finally be getting closer to seeing my family, dog, and my friends. Only 45 more days.
This past week has been a much needed week of relaxation. All of my friends were traveling last weekend so I was able to literally sleep the entire weekend away. All the traveling has definitely caught up with me and I have been so exhausted. On Sunday night, I met some of my guy friends at the Woolshed Baa and Grill for pints, wings, and something we all have been craving - American football. The Woolshed broadcasts all of the football games every Sunday so it is a popular bar for international students. It was also the semi finals of the rugby world cup so the bar was packed with Irish students.
2 of my classes were cancelled this week so I only had class for an hour on Tuesday. I never thought I would say this, but I miss having homework. I find myself watching so much Netflix here to try and pass time since I don't have any schoolwork to do. Since I'm not traveling for a couple of weeks, I wanted to spend time exploring Cork more. Clare and I ventured back to the English Market, and I found myself at the gourmet olive stand again. I always just sample the olives and don't buy any because the prices are €15 per kg so I thought that they were really expensive. I finally figured out that a kg is way heavier than a pound and that I could actually get a lot of olives for a really cheap price, so I finally caved and bought some. SO GOOD. We also discovered that meat is way less expensive in the English Market and much better quality than what we are getting at the grocery store. A lot of international students have been raving about O'Conaill's Chocolate Shop, so I decided to check it out for myself. I always pass it on my way into the city center and am surprised that I have never noticed it before. According to all of my friends, the dark espresso hot chocolate is the thing to get and it definitely didn't disappoint. Paradise Crepes is also a very popular cafe among the people in Cork, so I decided to try one of those as well. I ordered the Cork City crepe that had chocolate and homemade caramel and was topped with homemade vanilla ice cream. I didn't think that anything could beat the crepe that I had in Paris, but this one definitely took the cake.
I spent the last weekend traveling with my friends from Boston College around Dublin and the home of The Beatles, London. Our flight to London left early Sunday morning out of Dublin, and since none of us had explored Ireland's capitol city yet, we decided to catch an early bus on Saturday morning and spend the day sightseeing. The bus dropped us off in Dublin's city center and we walked the 2 miles to Kilmainham Gaol (pronounced jail). We have been recommended by numerous professors and tour guides to take a tour of the jail because of the history behind it. The jail was built in 1796 and was controversially used during the Irish War of Independence before it was shut down and turned into a museum. We were able to see where the beams used to extend from the front of the building where public hangings used to take place and also where the leaders of Easter Rising were executed. Our next stop was the famous Guinness Storehouse. It is a self-guided tour of 7 floors with the option to retrieve your free pint at the Guinness Academy on the 4th floor or in the Gravity Bar on the top floor. We chose to drink ours in the gravity bar and enjoy the 360 degree views of Dublin city. One of the girls's roommates from Boston is studying in Dublin this semester and recommended we eat at Queen of Tarts for lunch, a well-known lunch and dessert shop around the world. I got a caprese bagel sandwich for lunch and a blackberry and apple crumble for dessert and they definitely didn't disappoint. We spent the afternoon and evening walking around the famous Temple Bar area, Dublin Castle, Trinity College, and enjoying gelato while relaxing in St. Stephen's Green. We had a late dinner at Bobo's Gourmet Irish Burgers and it was hands down the best burger I had ever had.
I wasn't sure what I would think about Dublin because I have heard a few people say that it's not what they were expecting and that it was a let down. Personally I loved it, but if you are looking for the traditional Irish experience, Dublin isn't the place to visit. It's more of a modern city and if you need to travel to places like Galway, Cork, Kerry, and Killarney to experience what a traditional Irish city is like.
Our flight left at 7:30 AM on Sunday morning and all of the hostels in Dublin were either booked or ridiculously expensive so we chose to rough it and sleep in the airport for a night which turned out to not be bad at all. We arrived in London and took the tube into the city, stored our luggage at the train station, and had a quick lunch before heading out to sightsee. Our first stop was Buckingham Palace. It was everything I expected it to be from the black and gold gates to the red-coated guards with black furry hats and rifles. On our way to Big Ben, we enjoyed the views in St. James's Park and got to experience a drumline and armed forces that marched the entire length of The Mall, the long road lined with British flags that leads to Buckingham Palace. Big Ben's name serves the clock tower well. It is HUGE. Way bigger than I expended. It is attached to the parliament building and the entire structure is beautiful. We were able to stand outside and get some pictures of Westminster Abbey, which is where Prince William and Princess Kate were married. It costs a ridiculous amount to go in, so we decided to just enjoy it from the outside. We went on the hunt for the famous postcard picture of the red phone booth situated perfectly in front of Big Ben that everyone takes a picture in while visiting London. We ended up easily finding it and took more photos than is socially acceptable until we all got the perfect one. Our next stop was the London Eye, the giant ferris wheel that offers 360 degree views overlooking the city. It costs 23 pounds which ends up being $35 for a 30 minute ride, but since it is "the thing" to do while in London and we weren't paying for any other tourist sights we decided to ride it. Sarah's roommate is studying at Queen Mary in London this semester and let us stay with her so we didn't have to pay for accommodation. After figuring out how to get there on the tube, we dropped our stuff off and grabbed dinner before heading to bed early.
The next morning we woke up and took the tube to the Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. We found an authentic Italian restaurant for lunch and each got a pizza. They were so good, and it felt like I was back in Rome. We met up with Meghan and her roommate Alex at the Borough Market. London is famous for its markets and this is just one of many. We sampled a ridiculous amount of chocolate and nuts and each got ourselves a honeycomb-filled donut. We made our way to Trafalgar Square, where Mary Poppins was filmed, and Piccadilly Circus, London's version of Times Square. Our next stop was Harrods, the world's most famous department store. We walked around a couple of the stores and we were able to point out dresses that we had seen Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner recently wear. Meghan made the mistake of falling in love with a leather skirt and looking at the price tag - 2,000 pounds. There is an entire room dedicated to luxurious desserts and chocolates so I decided to get a couple of macarons. I almost laughed when the cashier asked if I had a Harrods card. When planning the trip to London, I knew that there were two things that I HAD to see. 23 Egerton Terrace, AKA 7 Pembroke Lane, AKA Annie James's house in The Parent Trap, my favorite childhood movie. The second being Abbey Road crosswalk, the location of the album cover for The Beatle's Abbey Road album. The Parent Trap House is located in Chelsea, the most expensive part of London. Harrods was also in Chelsea so it wasn't a far walk to the house. I have wanted a black Range Rover ever since middle school and the amount of black Range Rovers that I saw while in Chelsea was basically a reassurance that I will have one someday. After seeing the house, we caught the tube to a stop closer to Abbey Road. It was almost dark by this point so we were lucky to make it in time to be able to take a picture. Walking across the crosswalk is absolutely terrifying so how anyone gets a good photo of them crossing it is beyond me. There are no traffic lights and the cars only stop for a few seconds before going again. My picture turned out blurry, but I'm just glad that I got to see it. We were also able to see Abbey Road Studios where the album was recorded and we signed the wall outside. We all had to wake up early the next morning for our flight so we decided we wanted to have a relaxing night. The first thing that we saw when we arrived in London was the Apollo Victoria Theatre advertising the broadway Wicked. I had never seen it but have heard great things about it. All of my friends had already all seen it, but they said that it was amazing and they would go again so we found some cheap tickets since it was a Monday night and barely made it in time. It was absolutely amazing and I would highly recommend it to anyone. It was also a great experience to be able to see my first broadway show in London since it is such a big deal there.
I say this about every place that I visit, but London has hands down been my favorite place that I have visited so far. The city is massive, but the public transportation makes it so easy to get around. I have always seen myself working abroad somewhere in England, and I can definitely see myself living in London. The city is beautiful , the life is fast paced, and there are so many different neighborhoods of the city to cater to any type of person. My next two weekends will be spent in Cork, which will be nice to be able to relax after 7 straight weekends of traveling - it ends up getting so exhausting after awhile.
This past weekend, Clare, Bridget, and I traveled to Edinburgh, Scotland. We had heard nothing but great things about this city and the flights were so cheap so we decided to check it out for ourselves. Plus I knew that this would give me the opportunity to travel to St. Andrews, the Home of Golf. The night before we left, Clare and I found out that our roommate from UC Santa Barbara was also traveling on our same flight to go visit her grandma who lives in Edinburgh. Our flight was supposed to leave at 12:30 on Thursday afternoon, but it ended up getting delayed almost 2 hours. When we finally got into Edinburgh, we parted ways with Shelby and the 3 of us grabbed a cab to our hostel. The hostel ended up being located in an old converted church, had the nicest and biggest bathrooms out of any hostel we have been to yet, and was super cheap. We passed a ridiculous amount of Chinese restaurants on our way into the city, so we asked the guy at the check-in desk for some good recommendations. After fulfilling our Chinese cravings, we decided to walk a half hour across the city center to Wetherspoons, a chain of restaurants in the UK and Ireland that serves really cheap food and drinks. One just opened up in Cork, and we also went to two while we were in Northern Ireland. We spent a couple hours socializing and decided that we wanted to listen to live music, so we found ourselves at a hotel bar right outside of Edinburgh's Old Town. We listened to the guy singing and playing guitar until bar close. The amount of musical talent that I have heard throughout my time in Europe so far is honestly amazing.
We woke up early the next morning and trekked across the city center to Hollyrood Park and to the base of Arthur's Seat. Arthur's Seat is the highest point in the park and is a dormant volcano. It's a relatively easy climb since there is a winded path of stone stairs going up to the top. We spent 2 hours climbing and enjoying the view and decided we wanted to head back into the city. When climbing to the top earlier, we saw a guy and his dog coming down a more secluded path on the mountain. From the top, it looked like it would be a quicker and less crowded way down than taking the stairs. Yeah we were SO wrong. We ended up spending an hour scaling down the side of the mountain and questioning whether or not it would be worth it to climb back up and take the stairs, but we decided to keep going since we already made it so far down. Towards the bottom, the stair path came into sight and two fellow climbers yelled and asked if we needed emergency medical assistance. At this point, we were all stuck in thorn bushes and could only help but laugh. Once finally reaching the bottom, we looked back up, realized how steep the path was, and wondered what was even going through our minds when we thought that was a good idea. We grabbed lunch and headed to explore Old Town, the historical part of the city. On our way, we passed a church with a bagpiper outside. The guy at the front gate told us that there was a wedding taking place and that the bride was 30 minutes late. He told us that we were welcome to wait outside the gate and listen to the bagpiper play when the bride finally arrived. After waiting a few minutes, the bride finally showed up and we were able to hear our first Scottish bagpiper, kilt and all. We kept heading towards the city center and finally reached The Royal Mile, the main street that runs through Old Town. All of the buildings were so old and charming and was so clean compared to all the other cities I have been to. We went into St. Giles' Church and explored around the Edinburgh Castle. We wanted to go into the castle, but it cost 18 pounds, which ends up being almost $30. We decided the price wasn't worth it, so we settled for ice cream outside of the castle instead before heading back to our hostel to get ready for dinner. After dinner, we ended up listening to music again at a bar, but we were all exhausted so we headed back to the hostel early to get some sleep.
I woke up early the next morning to catch an 8:30 AM train to Leuchars, where I would then catch a bus to St. Andrews. St. Andrews is home to The Old Course and 6 other public golf courses and hosts the British Open every year. The Old Course is said to be the home of golf. I have been an avid golf fan for as long as I can remember and knew that visiting The Old Course was something that I needed do to while spending the semester abroad. Clare and Bridget aren't fans of golf, so I made this trip by myself. Once arriving in St. Andrews, I found the 18th hold of The Old Course and watched players tee off. Seeing the course was plenty enough for me, but for some people the experience isn't complete without playing the course. However it is extremely difficult to get a tee time, and usually requires you to stay in The Old Course Hotel or to enter your name into a lottery type of system and hope you get chosen. It also isn't cheap. An 18-hole round will cost you 170 pounds which is about $260. After spending a couple hours watching the golfers and walking the course, I got my picture taken on the famous 18th hole bridge that has been walked on by golf's greatest players like Arnold Palmer, Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Tiger Woods, and many others. I explored around the town for a little bit and grabbed lunch before catching my train back to Edinburgh. When I got back to the city, we still had a few hours before our plane left for Dublin so we walked around Old Town again and discovered The Elephant House, the birthplace of Harry Potter. It is said that J.K. Rowling thought that it was cheaper to buy a cup of coffee and sit in the cafe than to pay her heating bill every day, and this is the place where she first began writing the first Harry Potter book.
Edinburgh is by far the most beautiful city that I have been to yet. The city was so medieval, charming, and clean and the Scottish people were so friendly. I would recommend Edinburgh and Scotland to anyone planning on visiting Europe in a heartbeat.
We took our last student tour to Northern Ireland this past weekend and visited Belfast, Derry, the Giant's Causeway, and a lot of shooting locations of Game of Thrones. Northern Ireland separated from the Republic of Ireland in 1921 and became it's own country in the United Kingdom under British rule. This means that Northern Ireland operates on the Great Britain Pound rather than the Euro, which was not friendly to my wallet because the current conversion rate is $1.55 for every 1 pound. We had some free time when we got to Belfast so Bridget and I grabbed some lunch and found an Urban Outfitters store to walk through. We finally felt like we were back in America. We went on a political tour of Belfast later in the evening. Belfast is where the Titanic was built and docked before setting sail. It was the center of 'The Troubles' in Northern Ireland from the 1970's to the late 1990's brought on by separation of the Catholic and Protestant people. The people who lived through the times describe it as what we see going on in Iraq and Afghanistan today: bombs sporadically going off taking out streets at a time, soldiers constantly patrolling the streets, and violent riots between the people. Belfast is home to Europa Hotel, Europe's most bombed hotel, that was bombed 33 times during this period. Our bus driver took us to the International Peace Wall where artists from all over come to paint murals of present and past world conflicts. We then drove on Shankhill Road, the main road in the Protestant community, and Falls Road, belonging to the Catholic community. Both roads were considered 'no-go' areas during the troubles and were a constant scene of violence. They are covered in peace murals and there are shrines to the Queen of England all along Shankhill Road. Our bus driver then took us to the Belfast Peace Wall. I thought that the troubles in Belfast had gotten a lot better over the years, but I learned that this is the wall that still separates the Catholic and Protestant communities to this day. Every night, the gates to the wall close at 10:00 PM and are heavily armed. If you get stuck on the wrong side, you are forced to walk around the entire outskirts of the city before being able to get to the other side. The walls are lined with barbed wire and the walls of the guard station have been built so high up in order to keep bombs from being thrown over. We drove through both the Protestant and Catholic communities and almost every house had the British and Irish flags flying respectively. Our tour guide told us that the city wants to take the walls down, but it's up to the people living in the community. They refuse to let them be taken down because they still fear what might happen once they are removed.
The next morning, we toured the Titanic Belfast. The museum is built on the port where the Titanic was docked and directly next to Titanic Studios, the filming location for all of the indoor scenes of Game of Thrones. We were able to see recovered artifacts, hear voices of the survivors as they told their stories of when the ship went down, and see live footage of exploratory footage that is currently going on. After the Titanic Museum, we drove to two famous locations where Game of Thrones is shot, the Dark Hedges and Ballintoy Harbor. There were Game of Thrones obsessed people on my bus actually acted like the world was ending when we were at both places. I don't watch the show and was still equally as impressed. Our next stop was Giant's Causeway, home of 40,000 basalt hexagonal columns lining the coast that were formed by an ancient volcanic eruption. Out of all the places I have been in Ireland, this was by far my favorite. We went later in the afternoon so a lot of tourists had already begun to clear out. You hike down the side of a cliff that has a winding road all the way through it and the views are incredible. We had 2 hours here and I could have spend 2 days exploring everything.
On Sunday we had a walking tour of Derry, home to the infamous Bloody Sunday. Our tour guide, Garvin, was the cutest old man I have ever seen. He has lived in Derry his entire life and experienced firsthand the troubling times in Northern Ireland. I'm pretty sure he's also the most popular man in Derry because everywhere we went someone said hi to him. He gave us background history of the city during these times before we started our tour. British soldiers arrived to patrol the streets in 1971. At first, they welcomed the soldiers with open arms because they thought that they were going to halt the violence between the Catholics and the Protestants. However the British turned to internment and were locking people up for no reason, granting them no trial, and telling them that they were in jail due to the Queen's pleasure. The people of Derry had seen the impact that Martin Luther King Jr.'s marches had, and they began to hold their own civil rights marches every Sunday. Bloody Sunday refers to January 30, 1972. During a peaceful protest march, the British soldiers shot 26 innocent people. 14 of them were killed, our tour guide's relative being one of them. All of the victims were shot while fleeing the protest or while helping the wounded. The street where Bloody Sunday occurred is lined with murals dedicated to those who died. In 2010, the British Prime Minister issued an apology to the people of Northern Ireland after the victims were finally all proven innocent. Today, the river still divides the Protestants and Catholics in the city of Derry. The European Union donated the Peace Bridge that combines the two sides. At the end of our tour, Garvin told us that someone in Hollywood had recommended his tour to Will Ferrell. In 2008, he gave a private tour to Will, his dad, and his brother.