Thursday, April 9, 2009

Spring Break '09: UK & Republic of Ireland

Spring Break ’09 London, Edinburgh, Dublin, Cork & Blarney

My friend Christine and I chose to spend our 11 day spring break exploring the UK and Republic of Ireland. Rather than lying on a warm Grecian beach, we chose to head for cold, windy and somewhat rainy; nonetheless, it was amazing in every way.

We left from Rome for London Stansted, arriving around 11:30pm. Thankfully, we were able to catch the last train out from the airport to the city center and made it there without a hitch. Unfortunately, we had no idea where we were in proximity to our hostel, the subway was shut down and the bus system appeared to require some sort of flicker of genius, which we did not possess after a full day of traveling. Exhausted, we hopped on the first bus we saw, hoping we were headed in the right direction. We must’ve looked completely lost because the next person to get on asked us where we were headed. We told him the address and name of our hostel and he said he’d be willing to take us there since he was getting off at the same stop we’d need. 1- this meant we had jumped on the right bus! 2- we made a new friend within an hour of being in London. Lamar walked us to our hostel door, told us which sights to see first, how to get to the subway from where we were and even what the weather was supposed to be like during our stay. The next couple of days were spent exploring the city of London, mostly on foot. We saw everything from Buckingham Palace, to Big Ben & Houses of Parliament to THE Abbey Road. We also managed to stumble upon the palace during the changing of the guards and were able to see tradition alive right in front of us. It was completely amazing, really. Seemingly against the laws of the physical elements for England, it was sunny and beautiful during our entire 3 day stay. We spent our last day, Sunday, sitting on a bench in Hyde park talking to locals and enjoying a brunch of Hob Nobs (sent straight from God, I’m convinced) and hot tea. Next up, we hit the train station, headed for Edinburgh, Scotland.

We arrived in Edinburgh around midnight or so, stepped off the train and were greeted with a blustery wind and odd mist that you could feel but not see. Also, we discovered that we’d forgotten to book a night in the hostel for the night in which we actually arrived. Go team. Anxious to get out of the cold and wind, we stumbled into the first open venue we could find- a pub of course. Inside this tiny little one-room pub there were people laughing, talking and singing while crammed wall to wall. We threw our backpacks down under the bar and found a corner, just thankful to be someplace warm for the time being. As we sat there listening to the guys on the other side of the room playing fiddle, banjo and guitar music, we became lost in the atmosphere of strangers (who would later become our friends), good music and an overall feeling of contentment. We obviously stuck out, but they welcomed us into their circle, asking about our lives and our plans while we’re in their city. A couple of hours later, the pub was closing and we were wandering the streets once again, only now it was 2am. Walking up a never-ending set of stairs, we found our hostel and asked if they had any room at all for the night. Luckily, he had one room left with only 2 beds available and it just happened to be the room in which we were booked for the following night. We then had 3 full days to explore what Edinburgh had to offer and even took advantage of the free 3 hour walking tour. For me, it’s important to not just see a city and appreciate its beauty by photographing and documenting, but to also learn its history and background while meeting the people who call it their home. Don’t just hop on a tour bus, take pictures of “a cool looking building” and hop off, heading to your next destination. Take time to learn the customs, the history and introduce yourself to the locals. Personally, I found Edinburgh’s history to be truly fascinating. Witch hunting, gothic structures, body snatching, knights and never-ending fights with England make Edinburgh’s history eerie and real. One night, I even took the opportunity to participate in a walking ghost tour with 2 girls I met in our hostel room. We learned about the underbelly of Edinburgh’s history as well as experiencing the breath-taking view of the city from high atop Calton Hill. One thing I learned. Edinburgh = hills (everything is uphill both ways, it seems), wind and an odd sunshiny-rain. Next stop, Dublin, Ireland.

We left from Edinburgh for 3 days in Dublin, Cork and Blarney Ireland, arriving around midnight again. This time we were prepared and even knew which bus number to catch, knowing it would take us right to our hostel door in Dublin. We got off the plane and found that bus #41 stopped running at 11pm and our only other option was the shuttle to the city center then walk. We got to our hostel, checked in and passed out, exhausted. We only had one day in Dublin, but again, took advantage of the free 3.5 hour walking tour of the city in order to learn the history and see all of the sights Dublin had to offer. We learned about the Viking history, saw Dublin Castle and the Temple Bar district- huge with tourists. I was fascinated to learn that the Temple Bar Music Theater was where Bono of U2 got his start at age 14 and made sure to duck inside to sneak some pictures. The next day, we caught the 5am bus back to the airport and left for Cork- a mere 30 minute flight. Cork was beautiful. No walking tour here so we spend the 2 days we had, walking around, talking to locals and taking photographs. We also managed to hop a bus to Blarney and the castle. The Irish countryside in the spring is truly something to experience. In Blarney, we walked through the fields, woods and paths outside of the castle for 2.5 hours before finally making our way up the hill to the real tourist draw- the Blarney Stone. We walked through the castle and up windy straight-up staircases to the very top where we tempted the “gift of gab and eloquence” by kissing the stone. I’m still waiting for that eloquence thing to set in….

Finally at the end of our trip, we headed back to Dublin and would fly home to Italy from there. Since we’re “poor college kids” and didn’t want to pay for another hostel, we set up camp in the McDonald’s within the Dublin airport and slept there until our flight back to Bologna, Italy in the morning. Even though we are still rather shaky in our Italian language skills, stepping off of the plane in Bologna and hearing that now-familiar language we truly felt that we were back home.