Among the many other differences in American and British University life is a 3 week combined Easter/Spring vacation. Having the entirety of April for ourselves I chose to first complete my semester essays that make up 50% of my grade then take an extended trip to see Ireland. The first week of break the campus was almost entirely abandoned, library closed and most tragically the on campus Starbucks was no longer providing me motivation. Nevertheless, the few stranglers and I managed to get our work done and have a little bit of fun while we were at it.
Then came the main event, 3 days in Dublin and 4 days in Belfast. Anni, Ida, Mikal and I all met up in Dublin to explore the sites and culture of the Irish Capital. Our group kind of sounded like the start of a punchline; A Finn, a Hungarian, a Norwegian and an American walk into an Irish Pub, but I’m yet to come up with a clever ending. Maybe I will get there by the end of this post. Now for those of you that don’t know Ireland is actually split into two distinct countries, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The Republic of Ireland, more commonly referred to as just Ireland is a separate country from the United Kingdom and a part of the European Union. Northern Ireland is a part of UK and covers 1/6th of the island. The history of the two countries political, religious and patriotic divide is both fascinating and tragic. The culture of both countries runs extremely deep and clear evidence of the strife is still visible throughout both capital cities. There is no way to fully take in the experience of Ireland in one week but I tried my best. Because of this I am splitting this adventure into two posts, the first about Dublin and the Second about Belfast and the cultural impact of the “troubles” that shaped the modern state.
Day 1: Mandatory Tourist Stops
Even though there was a ferry connection available I decided that flying would be the fastest option allowing me to see more of Dublin on day 1. Mikal was meeting me in the airport because he had been home spending Easter with his family. Anni and Ida had headed up a day early because they weren’t going to join us in Belfast so they wanted an extra day of holiday so I was flying alone. Anyone that knows me is familiar with my uncanny ability to encounter problems that no other person would have ever had to worry about. This solo flight experience was no different. To start, something went awry with the plane at the terminal next to mine cause black smoke to start billowing into the air. I saved this picture from my snapchat story but I have somehow lost it. Anyway it didn’t exactly inspire confidence. Next, I sat by an off duty flight attendant who let out a small yelp at take off and landing. Once I touched down I thought all was well nothing could go wrong now all the crises were avoided. Wrong. A short but plum Indian lady on the escalator in front of me did not quite get the concept and decided that instead of looking down to see were her feet were she would just do a trust fall and hope for the best. Luckily I caught her under the armpits keeping her head from smacking the sharp steps. Unluckily I had to let go of my carry on which then bounced down the steps and hit the guy behind me in the face. So there I was holding this ladies head even with her feet as we ascended the escalator. I got her upright much like you would lean a ladder on a wall. Once we got to landing I was congratulated for my good catch and apologized to from the guy who I had hit with my run away suitcase (he said a few choice words before he figured out what was happening). In that small moment of time the embarrassed but determined Indian lady had already mounted the next escalator and begun to fall again. This time I was more prepared and just pushed on her back to keep her upright till we finally reached the terminal floor. Thankfully, locating the rest of the crew was much less eventful. This time around we decided to use Airbnb instead of the usual hosteling. I highly recommend it. It’s more expensive but I thoroughly enjoyed not sharing a room with random crazy people.
We rented a small 2 bedroom apartment for the 4 of us and it was great. Walking distance to Guinness Storehouse and a short taxi to City Center. We also saved money by cooking a couple meals in our quaint little kitchen. The beds were also nicer than the university residences, thank goodness. It was very difficult to convince everyone to leave them each morning.
Our first stop was the of course, the Guinness Storehouse. The 7 floored interactive museum was a great experience. Although none of us were very interested in how beer was made there was still something for everyone to enjoy.
We learned what makes “the black stuff” so special, how to properly taste and pour a pint, and an in-depth look at the many marketing campaigns from a whistling clam to this fish riding a bicycle. Arthur Guinness started brewing in 1759 and since then Guinness has grown into one of the most successful breweries in the world. Fun fact that I thought was interesting; St James Gate is not owned but rented for 9,000 years for 45 pounds a year. Talk about a long term investment. The main reason we were excited to go to the storehouse was the Gravity Bar. This circular glass room lets you enjoy a Guinness with a 360 degree view of Dublin as the back drop. Although Dublin’s skyline isn’t as impressive as other cities the view was still worth the ticket.
After travel and the storehouse the day was half done so we headed back to the apartment to cook up a pasta dinner and experience the Dublin nightlife. The first thing you need to know about the pubs and clubs in Dublin is that the price of everything is ridiculous. Regardless of price we had a great night together. A little to great as we soon found out the next morning. The district that houses the most vibrant Irish Pub Culture is the Temple Bar. Which is confusing because Temple Bar is both a singular bar and a descriptor used to describe several bars around Temple Bar.
Day 2: The Paddywagon
The Irish Coast was truly beautiful. Rolling hills, fascinating rock formations and breath taking views. To see this natural beauty I coerced the group into mounting this huge green monstrosity, the Paddywaggon.
This Leprechaun clad behemoth took us on a day long journey out of Dublin and into the countryside. It was actually a great deal, we saw several different landscapes, had lunch, and were comfortable all for a pretty affordable price. I would recommend it to those who don’t have the time to rent a car and do it for themselves. The downsides are of course that it’s bus and you are given limited amounts of time at each stop.
Our first stop was Kirvana, a small fishing village on the west coast of Ireland. It was a quaint introduction to Galway County and gave us a photo opportunity for Dunguaire Castle. Click to enlarge.
On the way to our next stop we drove thru The Burren. The Burden was formed from glacial limestone and has a very unique landscape. I only got a few good pictures as we drove through.
Next we stopped at the Mini Cliffs, a precursor to the main event: The Cliffs of Moher. We took full advantage of the photo opportunities.
After stopping for a wee bit of lunch it was off to the Cliffs of Moher. The Irish love using the word “wee” as a unit of measurement. I am not sure if its more comparable to an inch, a centimeter or what. Anyway, at their tallest the Cliffs reach 702ft above the ocean at O’Brien’s Tower which is the tiny little castle pictured below. Like the thousands of tourists before us we were in awe. This site receives over 1 million tourists each year. The land is owned by private farmers to this day. In fact there were cows grazing in a field the bordered the busy walking path. I wonder if these completely unbothered bovines know they have one of the best views in the world.
You can just faintly see the herds of people walking along the cliff edge ruining my picture. In fact it was quite hard to get a picture without someone standing in your way. Before I left for my study abroad I bought a Purdue Flag to take pictures with and never had the chance/ remembered to use it before. I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity. I found some visiting sorority girls (experts in this type of thing) to photograph us.
At first there was some confusion. Ida had no idea what was to happen, Mikal was just trying to laugh off this latest form of public humiliation.
Our gracious photographers then coached us on how to stand. Anni began to get into at this point. Mikal and Ida were still unconvinced.
By the end however there was a finished product to be proud of. Anni even made us do a second pose so I didn’t force everyone to do it against their will. I have my classic and cliche flag photo as a lifelong memory. Thanks guys.
You may think “wow they are really close to the edge that looks dangerous” well get a load of this confidence inspiring picture. When they say watch your step they really mean it.
Here are some more shots of the cliffs.
We finished our long but worthwhile day with a much more low-key dinner and drinks than the night before. A brisk walk through city center landed us at a nice Italian place where we pretended to know what wine we were ordering followed by live music at a bar down the street.
Day 3: Dublin to Belfast
The third day in Dublin was to be split seeing the landmarks of the city and our travel to Northern Ireland later that evening. Even though we spent the majority of the morning enjoying the apartment we still got out to see the sights around noon. Most note-ably the Dublin Castle.
The castle was originally built as a defensive fortress for the first Lord of Ireland, King John, and has been involving ever since. Until 1922 it was the seat of power for the Viceroy of Ireland, The English Monarchs Representative in Ireland. Even after gaining independence from the United Kingdom the Castle is still used for state dinners and some governmental offices. The room pictured above with the rich blue carpet is St. Patrick’s Hall. This hall is still used for the Inauguration of Modern Irish Presidents. Below is a picture off of google images showing the inauguration of current President of Ireland, Micheal D. Higgins inauguration in the same room I admired just this week.
After the castle and a few more stops I wasn’t savvy enough to capture pictures of we boarded a train for our next destination, Belfast. Ireland and the United Kingdom have an agreement for free travel across their borders so you do not need a passport to cross from Ireland to Northern Ireland. Next stop and next blog post, Belfast.