Last Blog Post! (for now)

Hello everyone! It’s been over three months since I returned and I’m finally getting around to my last post. It’s been a busy summer and I’m itching to go exploring somewhere else! But first – back to school. One thing my time abroad has made me realize is that I want to capture pictures of all the places I love and think are beautiful. I don’t have “touristy” pictures of my favorite places on campus, and I’m going to change that this year. Maybe I’ll take a few early morning strolls and try to capture the places I love best.

In writing these posts and looking through pictures, I’m reminded of how much I miss the friends I made abroad and how much I hope we’ll take a reunion trip together someday – even if it’s just meeting up somewhere in the US. One of my first friends from Italy, Rachel, wrote a great blog post about her time abroad. You can find it here. I especially like it because she writes about staying up late talking on Sunday nights – we never went to the same place on the weekends, so when we returned on Sunday nights we’d get together and laugh while we told each other all about the crazy things that happened to us. Sometimes I’ll randomly remember something hilarious that happened and I get a little pang of love and longing for my pals. It was a little rough for me at CIMBA for a while, mostly because I found it hard to make friends at first (too bad there was no band preseason there?) but I’m so thankful that I got to meet some great ladies, even if it means I miss them a lot now that we’re apart!

Now – the eventful day long process of getting home! As I mentioned in some of my previous posts, there was a tube strike during my last three days in London. Without the strike, I would’ve been able to get on the Piccadilly line of the tube at the station near my hostel and ride it all the way to Heathrow. Because of the strike, Piccadilly line wasn’t even operating until Acton Town, so I had to change trains three times. And there were some confusing changes. I took Victoria line from King’s Cross to Victoria, District line to Earl’s Court, a different District branch (almost lost it here because each platform served multiple branches) to Acton Town, and then finally Piccadilly to Heathrow. Luckily, I had a Cadbury Creme Egg from Meghan to keep my energy up on this long journey.

I was assigned the bed on the bottom left. There were six beds in the room.

I was assigned the bed on the bottom left. There were six beds in the room.

Duffin = donut + muffin. Starbucks is after my heart.

Duffin = donut + muffin. Starbucks is after my heart.

the beautiful St. Pancras International Station - across from my hostel, and also where Cassie and I arrived from Brussels

the beautiful St. Pancras International Station – across from my hostel, and also where Cassie and I arrived from Brussels

tube entrance that I became very friendly with

tube entrance that I became very friendly with

My flight left at 3 pm and I left my camp at Starbucks around 11:30 – thank goodness, too, because all of the confusion and crowding on the tube really extended my journey. I got to Heathrow and picked up and paid for the suitcase I left there the week before (also glad I didn’t have that with me on the tube!) and checked in about fifteen minutes before check-in was supposed to close.

I’ve gone through many security checkpoints in my travels, but I have never experienced a more invasive search than the one I went through at Heathrow. Usually, one of the workers will tell you if you need to take your shoes off, and no one told me I needed to take mine off, so I didn’t. This was my big mistake. The metal detector beeped. A guard came over to feel me up. After making sure the underwire in my bra wasn’t suspicious, she discovered that I left my one ounce of lip vaseline in my pocket – shame on me!! I had to put it through the machine to ensure I wasn’t hiding anything in the little tube.

After that scarring event, I bought some food with my remaining pounds and pence and donated the few coins I was unable to use to a little charity bucket. In my haste to buy food and get to my gate, I was distracted by the promise of jarlsberg cheese in a sandwich and failed to notice that there was no meat in it. This might seem like a minor detail, but it was a very sad moment when I took a bite into it and realized that it was just full of soggy cheese and lettuce.

I chose my seat the day before when I checked in online, but I ended up playing musical chairs with all of the people in my row so that two guys could sit with each other. My original seatmate protested that her new one wasn’t as cute as me, so that made up for the jarlsberg sandwich. This was an Air Canada to Montreal, and the guy who originally asked to switch asked me in French – of course since I was in Italian mode for a few months, I responded with “si.” In the two rows in front of my new seat, there were some adorable babies becoming friends. Their moms were lifting them up so they could see each other. It was so cute.

babies saying hi to each other

babies saying hi to each other

tracking my flight on the little screen in front of me

tracking my flight on the little screen in front of me

IMG_5710 IMG_5711I landed in Montreal at 5:25 pm. I went to the desk for connecting flights to the US. I said I had a flight to Hartford and the woman at the desk addressed me as Ms. Rogan. I filled out a customs declaration form (not a landing card, like I had to do when I passed through Toronto – weird). I was the first one at the desk from the London flight and I was irrationally proud to win this nonexistent race. A man at the desk escorted me to the security area downstairs.

I went through security (no one in front of or behind me, yes!) and then showed my passport to a worker, who asked me how many bags I had. I took a seat until I saw my name blinking on the screen, which meant that my bags had entered the airport and were on the next step to getting to Hartford. Once my name started blinking, I got in line to go through customs. I talked to the agent about Italy and London, verified a picture of my bags, and went through. The agent said “welcome back” as he waved me through. I was surprised that this happened in Canada and not the US. I thought it would be cool to go through customs and then exit and see my parents.

I got on the wi-fi and chatted with my mom. We were both excited for our impending reunion. I went downstairs to my gate. At this point I was getting very tired since it was basically midnight in London. Boarding was supposed to happen around 7:30. The pilots came in and I’m pretty sure they laughed at me as they passed since I was curled up around my bag on the chairs, trying to sleep. The gate agent told us that the pilots told her to tell us to go to the bathroom before boarding because there weren’t any bathrooms on the plane. When I chose my seat the day before, I knew the plane was small (eighteen seats), but I still wasn’t prepared for how small it was. There were no overhead baggage areas, no flight attendants, and no bathrooms. One of the pilots gave us the safety speech. It was cool because they didn’t close the door/curtain to the cockpit, so I could see the pilots and all the buttons.

seat map

seat map

inside the tiny plane

inside the tiny plane

IMG_5718I heard a guy talking about how this was only his second time out of the country, and how the first time it was for a band trip in high school. As he continued to tell the woman next to him his life story, I heard him mention college marching band at UConn and Dr. Mills. Obviously, I had to turn around and ask, “You’re a UCMB alum?” and he said he played saxophone from 2002-2004. He was also in the co-ed service sorority that I am a part of. He joined in spring 2002 and I joined in spring 2012. What a small world…

I’m not usually nervous on flights, but this plane was small and it was dark and rainy. I napped as much as I could and was glad when we landed – I darted across the puddles on the tarmac and dashed into the airport. I walked through the mostly empty, quiet terminal and entered arrivals, where I saw my parents. My mom had a “Welcome Home Britt” sign. I hugged her and of course we both got teary-eyed, as I, and I’m sure she, was expecting. I got my bags and we took some pictures. It was so nice to leave the airport in a car and not some form of public transportation.IMG_5720 IMG_5721 IMG_5725

Acclimating to life at home wasn’t too hard. My post-school travels were nice because they were broken up into three distinct parts: traveling with friends, staying with Meghan, and traveling on my own. By the time I left, I was ready to stop spending money everyday and relax a bit in a comfortable place, with no surprises. Traveling alone is awesome and so exhilarating, but you always have to be aware of what’s around you. (Great post about solo travel by new friend Moorea here.) I also found that the little differences between Europe and America could be exhausting. Do I pay at the table or at the “till” (register)? Do I seat myself or wait to be seated? Is this plastic bag at the grocery store free or will I get yelled at because I didn’t pay ten cents for it? Are there assigned seats in this movie theater or can I sit wherever I want? Is this bread on the table free or are they trying to trick me into paying for something I didn’t order?  I guess it’s great that these were the most of my worries!

I still have a few things left to do in order to keep the adventure alive: scrapbook my trip (a winter break undertaking I am greatly looking forward to), printing my blog into book form for my biggest fan (hi Mom), cataloging my souvenirs (the accountant in me), and continuing to journal the random, funny moments that pop into my head. I had an amazing time abroad and I’ve loved writing about it here without worrying that I’m talking too much about “when I was abroad.” Thank you to everyone who read, and especially to those who commented! Ciao e grazie mille!

Tate Britain and Roald Dahl Museum

I started out my day at Starbucks and putzed around for a while, trying to figure out a game plan for the day. I knew I wanted to end my day with a musical or play. I had seen some ads in the tube for a “witty” and “blisteringly funny” play called Other Desert Cities. I looked on their website and saw that PwC offers discount tickets, at twelve pounds, for people under 25! That sold me, so I bought my ticket online and then headed out.

fun Tube ads

fun Tube ads

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I took the tube from King’s Cross to Pimlico on the Victoria line and then walked a short distance to the Tate Britain. The museum has British art through the ages and then a large collection of Turner paintings.

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I started with the paintings by decade. I really liked a painting I saw of young girls holding paper lanterns. The lanterns were really bright and glowed so realistically. I saw a student replicating one of the hanging paintings. I loved a sculpture of a mother and child embracing, called “The Kiss,” sculpted by Hamo Thornycroft in 1916.IMG_5499 IMG_5506

one of my favorite galleries

one of my favorite galleries

favorite painting - Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose by John Singer Sargent

favorite painting – Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose by John Singer Sargent

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The Kiss

The Kiss

Hampstead Garden Suburb from Willifield Way, by William Ratcliffe

Hampstead Garden Suburb from Willifield Way, by William Ratcliffe

I got a 17 pound aka $30 lunch but it was good: fish and chips, grapes, apple juice, and chocolate cake. I was obsessed with apple juice during my last week after having some really good, fresh squeezed apple juice in Ireland. IMG_5520

I went on a guided tour on Turner and learned about his art. He loved painting Venice. Some of his later paintings weren’t finished and were put in storage. They were discovered years later, and many are now on display. I didn’t love Turner’s paintings, but it was cool to see them and to learn more about them.

Norham Castle, Sunrise, by JMW Turner

Norham Castle, Sunrise, by JMW Turner – first painting the docent showed us

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The Parting of Hero and Leander, JMW Turner

The Parting of Hero and Leander, JMW Turner

We saw one with Turner’s daughters near a river. One was in the sunlight on the bank, and one was crossing the river, almost cast in darkness. This shows that she was growing up and losing her innocence. IMG_5527 IMG_5529

I finished looking through the art by decade. Each decade had its own gallery. There were some big sculptures I liked. The art got more odd and contemporary as the years passed – one piece was a bunch of car doors in a circle on the ground and an elephant on the wall above, with the trunk made of car parts and ears made of maps.

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There was a cool gallery called “Forgotten Faces” that displayed works that were stars of the collection in the early 20th century. There were some huge sculptures made of colorful wood and duct tape, cardboard, etc. The sculptures were as tall as the ceilings and really juxtaposed with the elegant and classy finishings. I stayed til the museum closed at 6.

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I left the Tate and took some pictures of the MI6 building across the river. I walked along the river bank and crossed the Lambeth Bridge so I could get a nice view of Parliament and Big Ben. I walked along the Thames, passing the aquarium and the London Eye. So many people were out enjoying the perfect weather.

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I walked along the river all the way until the Hungerford Bridge, then walked down the street and past Waterloo Station to the Old Vic Theatre. I wanted to see Waterloo, since I had read that it was kind of romantic looking, with a lot of clocks. It was pretty, but I got confused when walking past because I somehow was not on street level anymore. After I fixed that problem, I grabbed a free Evening Standard from a guy standing by the escalators so that I’d have something to read while waiting for the play to start.

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Waterloo Station

Waterloo Station

The play was cool because it was performed in the round, and I was in the 4th row. This means that there were seats and audience members on each side of the stage, so you could see the performers’ facial expressions and body language very well. It was more realistic to watch, since the actors were more free to move instead of just having the fourth wall to act towards. Other Desert Cities took place in Palm Springs and it was about a family getting together for Christmas. Brother and sister come home and there’s tons of family drama with the parents and aunt. Sister had depression and has sold a novel about her childhood with famous parents – Dad was a politician with Reagan (they knew each other from acting together). Older brother committed suicide and the book is about how the sister thinks her parents didn’t help him the way they should’ve. Big reveal: he never committed suicide – the parents helped him escape his criminal charges.The play was good and worth the twelve pounds, but it was very dramatic. Obviously, it’s a play, so I should’ve expected that, but it was definitely more dramatic and stressful than funny. The whole thing kind of felt like a family affair that you were invited to but then turned sour and angry despite the fact that there was a non-family member guest there.

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the stage

the stage

I bought a muffin at Waterloo (saving money after my queenly lunch) and headed back to my hostel. This was the first day of the tube strike, but it didn’t affect me, because it was early enough in the night that the lines were still open.

On Tuesday, I bought caramel waffles and raspberry apple water at Starbucks. I had my eye on the waffles for a while, since Carla loves them and Caroline had one in Amsterdam and proclaimed it “the best thing I’ve ever put in my mouth.” While delicious, they didn’t hold a candle to mascarpone gelato or Belgian waffles.

famed caramel waffle

famed caramel waffle

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I took the tube to Marylebone and took a 9:42 train to Great Missenden. The station was tiny and cute – only two platforms, and almost a Martha’s Vineyard look with blue and white paint. I walked out of the station and down High Street to the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre. It opened at ten. It was also perfect timing because it was closed for the previous five days for maintenance. I’m glad I got a chance to go before leaving. I checked out his book, Fantastic Mr. Fox, from my elementary school library when I was in third grade, and I thought it was awesome, and unsuccessfully told my whole class to read it. Wes Anderson made it into a movie a few years ago, and it was one of those rare instances when the movie is as good as the book!

adorable train station

adorable train station

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charming town - this is High Street

charming town – this is High Street

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First I walked into the “Boy” Gallery, by passing through chocolate bar doors! There were anecdotes about his childhood. He was called Boy. He was Norwegian, and the correct Norwegian pronunciation of his name is “Roo-arl.” He was a prankster and he loved sweets. He went to a private school and he mentioned candy in many of the letters he wrote to his mother and sisters. Cadbury would send chocolate to the boys at his school. They would taste it and then rate it and write their comments. One of his comments was “too subtle for the common palate,” which I think is hilarious. He put his sister up in a tree and wrapped her in pillows and then shot his pellet gun at her to see how far the bullets would penetrate. He also convinced a different sister to yell “one skin, two skin, three skin, four skin!” out of the window. There was a video clip of the sisters talking about these memories and they were still laughing about them in their 80s. One said that it was disgusting that he shot at her but the other one said “oh, it was great fun!” And the sister who counted up to four skin said not include that anecdote, but she and her sister were laughing quite a bit about it!

fun bench outside of the Boy gallery

fun bench outside of the Boy gallery

chocolate doors!

chocolate doors!

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Next, I went in the Solo Gallery. There was a thing on the wall where you could measure your height and see which character is the same height as you. I was the same height as a human-sized duck – a little shorter than Miss Honey and Willy Wonka. Roald Dahl was on the height stick as well – he was 6’2”.

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Roald Dahl wrote in a writing hut in his backyard. They completely reconstructed the interior in the museum, with all of the original objects. There were a lot of weird things on his table, including the ball joint of his femur, which was removed during hip replacement surgery.His surgeon said it was the biggest hip bone he’d ever seen. He was creative and resourceful in a way that reminded me of my grandfather. To balance his wobbly lamp, he hung a golf ball on a long piece of tape from the neck of the lamp.

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Roald Dahl was a pilot in the RAF. He flew a few missions and shot down some enemy planes. He crashed in the desert and would feel pain from the crash for the rest of his life. His helmet was on display – apparently you can still see sweat stains inside. He worked in the US after the crash, trying to give a positive impression of the British military and encouraging America to join the war effort. His first children’s story, The Gremlins, earned him an invitation to the White House from Eleanor Roosevelt. He was mingling with the rich and famous – a good place to launch his writing. While in the US, he met and married Hollywood actress Patricia Neal. They moved to Great Missenden in 1954.

Roald Dahl's RAF helmet

Roald Dahl’s RAF helmet

In the story centre, I saw some of the props from Fantastic Mr. Fox. Mr. Fox’s office was modeled after Dahl’s writing hut. The story centre was basically a creative space for kids to explore and make stuff. There was a cute, crazy group of schoolchildren there.

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At the gift shop, I bought a postcard of a pig reading and a combined book of Boy (about his childhood) and Going Solo (about his time in Africa). There were Wonka gates outside the courtyard. Warner Brothers offered the original gates from the 2005 movie, but they were too big, so they donated a replica instead. IMG_5640

postcard I sent to my grandma, who loves pigs!

postcard I sent to my grandma, who loves pigs!

Another awesome feature of the museum was a pamphlet of Dahl’s “village trail” with a little map that led you to places Roald Dahl wrote about and was inspired by! First, I walked down High Street, turned left on Church Street and then right on Church Lane, and walked up a hill and over the highway to the Church of St. Peter and Paul. Roald Dahl was buried in the cemetery here. There were giant footsteps left by the BFG (his character the Big Friendly Giant). The walk to and from the cemetery was so picturesque. It was the quintessential English countryside. Brick homes, flowers, slightly overrun greenery. It was breathtaking. IMG_5642 IMG_5643 IMG_5645 IMG_5646

BFG footprints

BFG footprints

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On High Street, I saw the butchery where Dahl used to go and Crown House, the inspiration for Sophie’s “norphanage” in The BFG. I also saw the petrol pumps that inspired the description of the garage in Danny the Champion of the World. IMG_5663

I got lunch in a pub called The Cross Keys and wrote out my pig postcard to my grandma. I mailed it at the post office on the village trail map. The office received hundreds of sacks of mail every year from Dahl’s fans all around the world. The postman would deliver up to 4000 letters a week, and they continue to arrive. IMG_5667 IMG_5668

Lastly, I went in the library. It caught my eye earlier because of its architecture. It reminded me a bit of a library near my house. The library in Great Missenden was built in 1970 and it’s the library Matilda visits in the book Matilda. I bought a really cute tote bag that says “love your library” for only one pound.

the library

the library

I went in a few cute shops along the street while I passed the time until my 3:19 train back to London. I bought two Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate bars. I wanted one for the train ride and there was a deal for two…I saved the second one and ate it a few weeks after returning to the US. So yummy!

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The train station was also on the village trail. The station dates from 1892. Dahl wrote a leaflet telling children how they could stay safe on and around railways. The Roald Dahl Museum was so cute and really interesting, and it inspired me to read more of his stories. Now that I’m home, I’ve read Matilda and Boy. I agree with some online commenters who seem smitten with Dahl – Boy is full of interesting anecdotes told in a very charming way.

Great Missenden's train station

Great Missenden’s train station

Wembley Arena from the train

Wembley Arena from the train

last train ride!

last train ride!

I got into Marylebone at 4:05 and took the tube to Charing Cross. I wanted to get off at Covent Garden or Leicester Square, but the tube strike threw me off. I went to the TKTS booth in Leicester Square and bought a ticket to see War Horse for 25 pounds. I still had a few hours before the show, so I looked at a temporary gallery at the National Portrait Gallery called The Great War in Portraits. Most chilling were the plain, simple shots of regular people and the before/after shots of men whose faces were ruined by bullets or gas attacks. I left at 5:30 and planned on eating at The Cafe in the Crypt, which is a restaurant in the crypts of St Martin of the Fields. My awesome finance professor at CIMBA recommended it to me. When I got there, about five minutes later, I saw a sign that said that the cafe was taking the last dinner orders at 5:30 so they could close at 6 for a special meeting. And its sister cafe, Cafe in the Courtyard, was also closing early. The one day I go!! On the list for next time!

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entrance to Cafe in the Crypt

entrance to Cafe in the Crypt

what a buzzkill

what a buzzkill

I got some mediocre pasta at a place called Bella Italia (thinking it was a place I had read about on my map, which was actually Ciao Bella) and then walked to the National Theatre to see War Horse. It was really good. The puppets were incredible, even from my seat in the last row of the theater. As my mom promised, I did cry a few times – including when the baby horse rose up on its legs and then the magnificent, bigger horse ran out.

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I wasn’t sure which stations would be closed due to the tube strike (definitely one of the times I’ve wished for a smartphone abroad), so I walked a bit to Tottenham Court Road (which always makes me think of Harry Potter, because it’s where Hermione leads Ron and Harry after they escape from Bill and Fleur’s wedding). I made it back to the hostel and showered and got in bed for my last sleep in Europe – in preparation for a long day of travelling ahead!

Busy Weekend in Britain

On Saturday, with no train to catch, I woke up without an alarm and then headed to Starbucks for a muffin and some wifi. After I ate, I headed to the London Transport Museum. I got off the tube at Leicester Square and walked through throngs of people who were outside enjoying the warm and sunny weekend. The museum was a bit expensive – almost twelve pounds to get in. For the same price, I could’ve opted to get a ticket that would last for a full year. The chances of me being in London again in 2014 are very slim. I wish they would make the one-time tickets a little bit cheaper!

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The museum was really cool. Because it was a weekend, there were a lot of kids there. There were also interactive parts, including videos, so it was hard to concentrate on reading the signs at some points. I definitely prefer quieter museums. The transport museum is located in the old flower market. I started by taking an “elevator through time” to 1800. I learned about water travel and the start of the railroad. Waterloo and Euston were two of the first train stations in London. There was a lot of information about the evolution of the bus system. There were lots of old buses in the museum, too. The bus lines (like the tube lines) were owned by different companies and they competed against each other. The word bus comes from “omnibus” which means “for all” in Latin. The bus conductors and drivers had hard jobs – working all day in all sorts of weather conditions. Some of the tube stations haven’t changed architecturally at all, which is really cool. There are still some original 1860s stations with glass roofs, and I saw one on Tuesday night at Bayswater. I love learning about things I’ve seen previously.

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The museum had old tube cars, which were really fun to go in. They had the original ads and maps on the walls, too. And mannequins dressed in the clothes of the time period.

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interior of car from the 70s

interior of car from the 70s

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Museum employees chose their favorite transport posters and they were framed and displayed along a wall. They were fun to look at and some of them are works of art. I saw long pieces of fabric suspended from the ceiling with black background and white lettering. There were bus stop names on them and the driver would manually roll up the fabric to the stop that the bus was ending at.

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My favorite room was about the design of the Underground. There were old ads, including the famous, genius paint tube one for Tate Britain. There was also information about the gorgeous font Edward Johnston designed that’s still in use today. I learned about Frank Pick, who was in charge of bringing a uniform look to the Underground, creating the famous symbol of the red circle with the blue bar through it – the “roundel.” He also helped to design the outside buildings of the stations.

the old underground map

the old underground map

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map advertising going to the Tate by Tube.

map advertising going to the Tate by Tube.

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the gorgeous font used for signs and maps on the Tube!

the gorgeous font used for signs and maps on the Tube!

I saw a room about the Transport Department during WWII – sheltering in tube stations, people volunteering in the war, a guy who ran in a bombed garage to save a bus…

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Random facts I picked up: no new lines were built until the Victoria line in the 1960s. Some towns popped up outside London due to tube stops being built nearby. Women were encouraged to go shopping using the tube between 10 and 4 to avoid rush hour.

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I bought a dish towel of the bus stop fabric and then got dinner at Five Guys. The location had only been open for a few months, so there was a line that reached all the way out the door, and there weren’t any open tables upstairs or downstairs. I bought a burger and some Cajun fries and took the tube to Lancaster Gate. I entered Kensington Gardens by the Italian Gardens, which I didn’t see when I visited the park with my mom.

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I thought this little guy was so cute

I thought this little guy was so cute

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I sat down in the grass to enjoy my food and then walked around the gardens. I walked to the Peter Pan statue and then strolled along the serpentine and saw a sculpture across the water called “The Arch,” by Henry Moore. It wasn’t there when my mom and I visited, because it was getting fixed for structural instability. I walked up to the beautiful Princess Diana Memorial Fountain and put my fingers in the water – it was clear and warmer than I was expecting.

Peter Pan

Peter Pan

The Arch

The Arch

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the Shard and the Eye

the Shard and the Eye

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Princess Diana Memorial Fountain

Princess Diana Memorial Fountain

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the Serpentine

the Serpentine

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Next, I walked towards the center of the park, to the Physical Energy Statue. I could see the Albert Memorial from here and decided to walk to it since I learned about how much Victoria loved Albert when I visited Kensington Palace with the girls. It was a longer walk than I anticipated, but it was very grand. Plus, it was cool to see the famous Royal Albert Hall right across the street.

Physical Energy Statue

Physical Energy Statue

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Royal Albert Hall

Royal Albert Hall

Albert Memorial

Albert Memorial

Dusk was beginning to set in, and so I turned around and walked down Lancaster Walk and passed the Speke Monument (an obelisk) and then made my way along the inside perimeter of the park to exit the way I came in. Going to the park was a great way to relax after being surrounded by so many people in the Covent Garden/Leicester Square area.

Speke Memorial

Speke Memorial

Exit = "Way out"

Exit = “Way out”

On Sunday morning, I woke up around 7:30, grabbed some food at Pret a Manger by Euston Station, and took a train to Bletchley. When I was researching places to visit outside of London, I learned about Bletchley Park, home to the codebreakers during WWII! Bletchley Park was just a short walk from the station. My train got in at 9:18 and the museum opened at 9:30. I was the third person in line! Everyone there was really nice. I was going to start with a guided tour at 10 am, but the volunteer guide didn’t show up. So I looked around in the mansion on my own and saw the library and some of the most important people’s offices.

sassy napkin courtesy of Pret

sassy napkin courtesy of Pret

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the lake

the lake

the mansion

the mansion

there were three period cars sitting outside the mansion

there were three period cars sitting outside the mansion

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this is where the most important people ate their meals

this is where the most important people ate their meals

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office of a head honcho

office of a head honcho

library

library

library

library

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I went to a showing of how the Enigma (German coding machine) worked, but there were so many old people crowded around it that I couldn’t see anything. Some of the people who work at Bletchley are experts at using and explaining the machines.

I went to a guided tour at 11 am, and it was so interesting. We started in a building beyond the lake, where we learned briefly about how Bletchley came to be. It was owned by a family and then purchased by someone in the military/government and the first meeting there was under the guise of Captain Ridley’s Shooting Party. The mansion has many different architectural styles because the original owners was interested in everything.

Basically, the brightest mathematical and linguistic minds from all over Britain were recruited to Bletchley. So as not to draw attention from the Germans, the “Y” stations (where they listened for coded messages and wrote them down) were scattered all over the countryside. There weren’t any at Bletchley (sometimes called Station X because of an old transmitting station) so that it wouldn’t be noticed and bombed – also the reason why the codebreakers weren’t working in London. There were girls working at the Y stations who transcribed the morse code from the Germans. These messages were then brought over to Bletchley by motorcycle. The riders came in through a back entrance and then checked their messages in at a specific office, where they’d be brought to the codebreaking hut.

original entrance to Bletchley Park

original entrance to Bletchley Park

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rear entrance

rear entrance

"Station X" was the little room at the top

“Station X” was the little room at the top

the rear entrance is around this corner

the rear entrance is around this corner

Next, we saw the stables/garage area and a few homes where some of the most important people lived, and where a woman broke a code that helped the Allies win a major battle. There was also a memorial to the Polish people who spent years figuring out how to crack some of the Germans’ codes. They offered the info to the British and French, who originally turned them down. The information obviously ended up being extremely useful. This saved the people at Bletchley a lot of time, until the Germans changed their codes and introduced a more complex machine.

 

the stables

the stables

memorial to the Polish codebreakers

memorial to the Polish codebreakers

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Most of the people at Bletchley were between 18-25 years old, with the exception of some professor types. Alan Turing was mentioned a lot. He was in charge of Hut 8 (codebreaking hut) for a while. He also invented the Bombe, which went through combinations quickly and helped to decipher codes, and was instrumental in the building of the Colossus, a more sophisticated codebreaking machine.

replica of a Bombe

replica of a Bombe

statue of Alan Turing

statue of Alan Turing

People at Bletchley were sworn to secrecy, and to keep things as quiet as possible, they worked in specific huts. If you met someone at Bletchley who you didn’t know, you’d just say you worked in Hut 6 or Hut 3, but you didn’t explain the actual work you did in the hut. The less information people knew, the less information they’d accidentally let slip.

some of the huts

some of the huts

Cracking codes was difficult for many reasons. First, they had to crack the code. Then, it had to be broken up from a string of letters into words and translated from German to English. The original German was broken slang, with abbreviations. Even the most sophisticated German speakers had trouble translating. Then they had to use the information in a way that didn’t alert the Germans to the fact that the Brits knew the codes. Historians estimate that the existence of Bletchley Park shortened the war by up to two years. Imagine how many lives were saved…

When the tour was over I went in the mansion and saw the senior staff dining room. There was also a room where they projected movies during leisure time, but there was a lecture going on inside so I didn’t enter.

I got lunch in Hut 4 and then went into the extensive museum. I learned about Alan Turing, who was basically the father of computer science. In addition to creating the Bombe, he also helped invent the first computer. Everyone thinks the Americans invented the first one (ENIAC), but that’s because the one at Bletchley wasn’t declassified until the 1990s, so it’s not in older history books. People were sworn to secrecy about their activities at Bletchley even after the war was over in case they ever had to return.

messenger motorcycle

messenger motorcycle

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Turing was prosecuted for homeosexuality and accepted treatment with estrogen injections rather than prison. What terrible treatment for such an important person to our world. The prime minister issued an official public apology in 2009, and it was on display in the museum. I finished looking through the museum, including a section on Bletchley’s role in the Pacific Theater, which is where efforts shifted after the Germans surrendered. IMG_5468

I prowled around the gift shop and eventually settled on a dish towel with the mansion on it and the caption “Britain’s Best Kept Secret.” I also bought a clotted cream fudge bar to tide me over on the train ride 🙂

memorial sign that says "We also served"

memorial sign that says “We also served”

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As I walked back to the station for my 5:17 train (I knew I’d want to spend the whole day at Bletchley!), I thought about how crazy it must’ve been to take the same steps I was walking, having no idea what you were being recruited for or what you were getting yourself into. I’d love to go back in time to Bletchley for a day. It was an interesting atmosphere since there were so many geniuses – sometimes very socially odd people. I read that they would throw their dirty mugs into the lake instead of washing them.

Bletchley Park was really interesting and I highly recommend visiting there. Your entrance ticket is good for a full year, so it’s really good if you live in the area and want to break up your visit. The museum is so extensive, and they offer different lectures and explanations, so there’s something new to learn each time you go.

sign on the train platform

sign on the train platform

My next post is about my final days in London: the Tate Britain, the Roald Dahl Museum in Great Missenden, two plays, and a lovely three-day-long tube strike! Thanks for reading!

Birmingham and Bath

My mom and I spent a few days in London before my sixteenth birthday, so I had done many of the more touristy things the city has to offer. Before leaving school, I researched some cool places outside of the city and bought a bunch of train tickets. I was originally going to come home on April 23rd, but extended my trip til April 30th. Part of the reason why I did this was so that I could go to Birmingham to see one of my favorite bands, Pentatonix, perform. Pentatonix is an a cappella group, but they’re so amazingly talented that you wouldn’t even know they’re only using their voices. Take a listen:

Birmingham

On Wednesday morning, I took the train to Birmingham. I snagged a table seat and an outlet and started working on a blog post, which I finished at a cafe when I got into the city. I walked to my hostel, checked in, and then went to the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, which a girl in my room recommended. It was free so I went. I saw an exhibit about the emigration of women from Pakistan to Birmingham and what their lives were like in England. They really seemed to be welcomed and treated well in Birmingham. It was an interesting exhibit and probably very beneficial for Birmingham residents. Many families came to England after being displaced due to the construction of a huge dam in Pakistan.

lunch spot

lunch spot

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

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my room at the hostel

my room at the hostel

I saw a permanent exhibition about the history of the city. It started out mainly as a manufacturing town and is now a huge city. It was bombed extensively during WWII since it was such an industrial center. I also learned that Cadbury is based in Birmingham. Next time I will go to Cadbury World! I’d also like to go to a museum called “Back to Backs,” about the back to back houses that were extremely common in poor neighborhoods.

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original stone carving and replica of its replacement

original stone carving and replica of its replacement

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nice building in town center

nice building in town center

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exterior of the Back to Backs

exterior of the Back to Backs

I ate dinner and then walked to The Institute in Digbeth. Pentatonix were great, as usual. I saw them with my friends at UConn last year and was so impressed by how similar they sounded live to their Youtube videos. When I was walking home, I passed a Five Guys restaurant under construction and heard two Brits wondering what it was, so I did my duty as a meat-loving American and educated them and also recommend the Cajun fries.

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On Thursday morning I took a taxi to the train station. I had read on the hostel website that a taxi to New Street Station would cost about 5 pounds. I had the guy at the front desk call for one.Unlike the nice driver in Edinburgh, who came inside to get my friends and our stuff, this driver honked from outside and didn’t help me with my bags. All he did was complain about the roads in Birmingham. Through conversation, it came up about three times that it was my first time in Birmingham. Yet when I asked how much the fare was, he said “how much do you usually pay?” So of course I said “five pounds.” He accepted that but didn’t seem too happy about it. Thank God I read about it earlier, or I could have been screwed out of a lot of money! Research pays!

Bath

From Birmingham, I took a train to Bristol Temple Meade and then to Bath. My mom told me I had to see Bath, so I took her advice. I took a taxi to my Bath hostel as well. The taxis aren’t allowed to turn right out of the train station, so they have to unnecessarily cross the river and then come back over to go towards their destination. The driver told me his friend got caught turning right out of the station one too many times and got fined 650 pounds – about $1,170!

my room at the hostel

my room at the hostel

I checked in and put my stuff away and then went to explore. I wandered in a few cute shops and then got a piece of carrot cake and some amazing apple juice at a place called Chando’s. then I kept walking and saw the Circus and the Royal Crescent – beautiful and expensive rows of townhouses, basically. I picked up a pamphlet about this year’s celebration of the Georgian era and its museums and chose my next places based on it. First I walked down the Gravel Path (mentioned in a Jane Austen novel) behind the Circus to see a recreation of a traditional Georgian garden. It was a beautiful day, and as I passed the Crescent, I saw that the lawn was full of people relaxing and enjoying the weather. The garden was a quick, free thing to do. Typical of gardens of the day, it didn’t have any grass, because ladies wouldn’t want to dirty their dresses and shoes. There were some shrubs and trees, some flowers, and gravel.

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obviously had to wander into a bookstore

obviously had to wander into a bookstore

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the Circus

the Circus

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No. 1 Royal Crescent

No. 1 Royal Crescent

actor standing outside No. 1 Royal Crescent

actor standing outside No. 1 Royal Crescent

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people relaxing on the lawn outside the Royal Crescent

people relaxing on the lawn outside the Royal Crescent

the Gravel Path

the Gravel Path

entrance to the Georgian Garden

entrance to the Georgian Garden

Georgian Garden

Georgian Garden

Then I walked to the Bath Postal Museum, located in the basement of the post office. Bath was where the postal service really grew and took shape. A guy named Ralph Allen sent the first penny stamp from Bath and had the idea to send mail through routes other than London. It was a cute museum. I also learned that the mailboxes have the symbol/logo of the monarch in charge. I saw the evolution of the mailbox, too. They added the little roof and a ramp inside to protect the mail from the weather.

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Then I walked across the Pulteney Bridge. It’s covered with shops on both sides, like the Rialto Bridge in Venice and the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. There’s another circus of houses on the other side. Everything is made of the same beautiful stone color.

Pulteney Bridge

Pulteney Bridge

River Avon

River Avon

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circus of houses

circus of houses

floral shop on the bridge

floral shop on the bridge

I bought dinner at a grocery store near the hostel, called Waitrose. Much more of a bargain than if I had eaten at a restaurant! I met a girl in my room from California. She goes to Wellesley and is studying in Aix-en-Provence, just like one of my friends from high school did. She gave me some suggestions of things to do since she’d already been in Bath for a few days.

church across from the hostel

church across from the hostel

even the grocery store in Bath was gorgeous

even the grocery store in Bath was gorgeous

On Friday morning, I grabbed my umbrella and headed out into the pouring rain. I wasn’t going to let some rain stop me from going on a walking tour! I slowly walked to the meeting point, tasting and buying some amazing fudge at Fudge Kitchen on the way. The tour was given by the Mayor of Bath’s Honorary Guides. They’ve been giving tours since 1934 and have only cancelled because of poor weather twice! There were four guides and they were all elderly – very different from my usual tours! They work on a voluntary basis and do not accept tips. My guide was named Islay (eye-luh). She had a great sense of humor.

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cute souvenir store

cute souvenir store

We met by the pump room and the original Roman baths. We learned about the nearby abbey. Islay said it was a great example of 15th century advertising because there were sculptures/signatures of the builder. There were two statues flanking the door and one was shorter than the other. His head got destroyed and they carved a new one out of his beard.

the Abbey

the Abbey

statue with beard-head

statue with beard-head

Next, we went into the foyer of the Pump Room restaurant to look out the windows and see the old Roman baths. People would come to Bath for the healing properties of the water, the amazing shopping, and to have a good time. People would walk around in the baths and apparently the hot water would activate their bladders. People didn’t wash themselves very often back then, so the baths smelled foul. The water was great for health issues. There would be a bathing attendant for the ladies. They would wear long dresses with weights sewn into the bottom to ensure that the fabric didn’t rise up. They often carried bouquets of flowers with them as well, to mask the terrible stench. Bath is the only place in the country with natural hot springs. In Latin, Sanitas Per Aquam means “health through water,” hence the name “spa.”

the famous Roman Baths

the famous Roman Baths

a very expensive spa lies beyond those walls

a very expensive spa lies beyond those walls

We saw what used to be an almshouse. There was a metal sun on the outside wall near one of the windows. This was fire insurance. If your house was on fire and it didn’t have one of those suns, the firefighters would let it burn. We saw some arches that the road is built over. Basically, there is an arch from the road to the door that you can see if you stand to the side. Apparently the arches are all built really well. Out of all of the arches built, only a small fraction needed to be reinforced.

almshouse

almshouse

fire insurance

fire insurance

Islay and her umbrella

Islay and her umbrella

arches under the street

arches under the street

We walked up the Gravel Path and past the Georgian Garden. We saw what looked like a shed on the side of one of the Circus houses. The homes weren’t built with bathrooms, so some people added them on to the sides of their homes.

Gravel Path

Gravel Path

bathroom addition

bathroom addition

Next, we learned about the Royal Crescent. Now there are trees and a park in the way, but the residents of the Crescent used to be able to see all the way to the river. I think the Crescent has 30 homes inside – one is No. 1 Royal Crescent, a museum, and it uses space worthy of 2 houses. The Royal Crescent is a UNESCO World Heritage spot. The homes go for 4 or 5 million pounds. John Cleese owns one. One has a yellow door. The lady who used to own it insisted that she be allowed to paint it yellow, and in the deed of the house, it says that the owner can have a yellow door if he or she chooses.

Royal Crescent

Royal Crescent

yellow door

yellow door

There’s a line of houses near the Crescent that people joke was built to keep the stench of human waste from reaching the people in the Crescent, since it was tossed into a nearby field. Islay told us never to say that to anyone who lives there!

Next, we went to the Assembly Rooms, where everyone who was popular used to gather. Islay was able to get us in to see rooms that we normally would’ve had to pay to see. The rooms have been renovated since there was bomb damage. There are huge, elaborate chandeliers that were taken down and hidden during WWII. The Assembly Rooms/town of Bath itself used to have a Master of Ceremonies. The men in charge of Bath liked to make sure that everyone was having fun, and more importantly, spending money.

exterior of the Assembly Rooms

exterior of the Assembly Rooms

people were setting up for a wedding

people were setting up for a wedding

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We saw some buildings made of new bath stone – much lighter than the old buildings. There was a family from New York on the tour. The daughter is doing a two year master’s program for violin in London. Her sister lives in West Hartford!

better view of the arches under the street

better view of the arches under the street

new Bath stone

new Bath stone

original paint from a Circulating Room - libraries where ladies would hang out

original paint from a Circulating Room – libraries where ladies would hang out

^You can read a brief, interesting history of circulating libraries here!

We followed Islay down to the area where we started the tour. I had the family take a picture of me in front of the abbey and then I took a picture for them.

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I walked to Sally Lunn’s for lunch. Wellesley girl told me that she ate here twice! It’s a historic restaurant that has been serving its famous buns since the 1600s. I would’ve preferred a sweet bun (duh) but I went for a savory one because I figured I’d be fuller. I got a bun with ham, honey mustard, and some pickles. It was only half a bun and I totally could’ve eaten a sweet half, but I refrained.

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After Sally Lunn’s, I went to the Holburne Museum. It’s a free art gallery at the end of Pulteney Street. The gallery started as Holburne’s private collection.  There were a lot of different artificats. The museum is well known for its Gainsborough paintings. Holburne liked to collect spoons. Back then, each person had his or her own spoon to reuse at every meal. Spoons were good gifts and often passed down between families, so the engraving on a spoon might be much newer than the spoon itself.

the beautiful Holburne museum

the beautiful Holburne museum

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In one of the galleries there was a table set with lavish dishware. There were interesting food-related quotations on circles set between silverware. My favorite one: “A man seldom thinks with more earnestness of anything than he does of his DINNER.”

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I also liked the story behind a painting I saw of the Mouth of Truth in Rome, which I had meant to see while I was there, but didn’t. The stone mouth is said to bite the hands off liars. The painting showed an unfaithful wife tricking the public lie detector. Her lover pretended to be crazy and rushed up to kiss her as she was led towards the Mouth. When asked if any man other than her husband had kissed her, she responded “none but that madman just now” and escaped with her hand and reputation intact.

the painting was a bit hard to photograph

the painting was a bit hard to photograph

After the museum, I stopped at The Bridge Coffee Shop on the Pulteney Bridge and bought a delicious piece of strawberry rhubarb cake. I got my stuff from the hostel and took a taxi to the train station. The driver picked up his son on the way after he got a call from him. He told his son he drove away because he had already waited for him, and his son responded: “for three seconds!” I was totally amused by their relationship.

the view from the front of the Holborne Museum

the view from the front of the Holborne Museum

the Bridge Coffee Shop

the Bridge Coffee Shop

YUMMM :) I'm a sucker for rhubarb

YUMMM 🙂 I’m a sucker for rhubarb

My train brought me into Waterloo Station in London, and then I took the tube to Euston and walked to the hostel. I stayed at the YHA St. Pancras. YHA has locations throughout England, which is good if you’re a member. Non-member wifi prices are outrageous. Five pounds for a day. No way am I paying that! Good thing there was a Starbucks next door! I stayed in a dorm with five other girls. It was nice and quiet. The only bad thing was that we had a tiny sink and they all left their stuff on the counter, so I had to move their stuff around and then move it back after I used the sink. But being the distinguished hostel user that I am, I was at least able to recognize the blessing of having the toilet and the shower in separate rooms! I stayed in London for five nights and then flew home. My next post will be about the first half of my London adventure!

My Week with Meghan: Part 2

On the way back from the Rock of Cashel, we got an Irish staple, 99 Flakes! It’s a cone with vanilla soft serve and a Cadbury Flake bar stuck into the ice cream. It was a ton of ice cream and so yummy.

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We made the potica when we got home! I made one half of the filling (nuts, flour, cinnamon) while Meghan did the egg whites, and then we combined it and made the rolls. John did a wonderful job documenting the whole process ☺ Chili for dinner and then more Supernatural. Living the life!!

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On Saturday we had a lazy morning (are you noticing a trend? Not complaining!!) and then left for Killarney around 1:30. Before going to our hotel, we stopped at Torc Waterfall. It was only about a five minute walk from the park’s parking lot and trail were full of people. It was the Easter Bank Holiday. People in Ireland and the UK get Friday-Monday off for Easter! Then we went to the hotel. We stayed at The Malton and it was a far cry from my stays in hostels! I got my own room with two twin beds and contemplated spending half of the night in each bed.

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We tried to go to a Mexican restaurant, but it was too crowded with empty tables reserved for other people, so we went somewhere else. When we left John told us that the Lord of the Dance himself, Michael Flatley, was in there, but neither Meghan nor I noticed. We ended up going to a place called The Smoke House. I got free range roasted chicken with potatoes au gratin, cherry tomatoes, and asparagus. It was so good! I got a Bulmers Irish cider as well. In the UK and US it’s marketed as Magners, so maybe you’ve heard of it before! I had Banoffee for dessert and WOW was it amazing. It’s graham cracker (aka digestives) crumbs, banana slices, and whipped cream/banana-y pudding. It looked so cute in a little mason jar, too. YUMMM.

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We did some shopping and I tried on a deerstalker hat (aka Sherlock Holmes hat). I contemplated buying one for Halloween but decided that was way too authentic and expensive of a Halloween costume. We went to Courtney’s Pub, where Meghan and John taught me about rounds. Basically if you agree to be in one, you buy your alcohol in rounds. So someone will buy a round for the table, and everyone has to buy the same amount of rounds. If this ever happens to me, my strategy is to immediately decline joining the round (allowed) rather than bowing out at the wrong time (not allowed). John taught me about rugby (what I learned: rugby players are cute) and whiskey (good Irish whiskey is TRIPLE DISTILLED, THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT).

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^downtown Killarney

DSC_0118^John took this pic of me taking a selfie in my deerstalker

On Sunday morning, we had breakfast at the hotel. I was mature and refrained from uniting with my one true love, pancakes, and ate a healthier poached egg sandwich, with tomatoes on an English muffin. We checked out of the hotel and started driving on the Ring of Kerry. The roads were really tiny and windy. We saw Ladies’ View, a view of three lakes. Lots of sheep and so many adorable lambs. We saw one taking a nap in its trough!

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^very windy roads!

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^Meghan and me in front of Ladies ViewIMG_5049

^Ladies ViewIMG_5052 IMG_5053 IMG_5057IMG_5060^this little guy was running around and playing by himself – and he was very vocal!

We drove through the Gap of Dunloe, which was basically a one-lane road. We had to pull over or reverse a few times to let other cars pass us since we couldn’t both drive by at the same time. We had beautiful weather once again. Default Irish weather is supposedly kind of gray and rainy but it was sunny for my whole visit! We saw the base of Ireland’s tallest mountain, Carrauntoohil. Then we headed back home and had a wonderful Easter feast of pizza and garlic cheese chips (fries with melted cheese and garlic mayo on top). Garlic mayo seems to be a big deal in Ireland, and I understand why.

IMG_5069 IMG_5073 IMG_5074 IMG_5078 IMG_5083 IMG_5084 IMG_5085^potica for dessert!

On Monday, Meghan and I intended to check out Bunratty Castle and the folk park (kind of like a petting zoo), but it was overrun with little kids and their parents because of the nice weather and the bank holiday. Instead, we went shopping at the Blarney Woolen Mills and then got lunch by the river in Limerick, at a seafood place called Curragower. I got brown bread as an appetizer, which the waiter laughed at, but it had been four days since I last had it, so it was necessary.

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^where we went shopping

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^view of King John’s Castle from across the riverIMG_5094^fried scampi, yummmm

When we got back from lunch, we went to Meghan’s friends JD and Margaret’s house. Meghan is learning to be an EMT and JD is in her course. Margaret was a waitress at an American café in Limerick that Meghan used to go to. And now they live in the same neighborhood as Meghan and John. We walked to their house and were enthusiastically greeted by their light blonde golden retriever, Barley. They also have a two year old daughter named Katie. We drank wine and had some crisps. Margaret and JD were really friendly and welcoming and I was glad to meet some of Meghan’s friends. Then we had some whiskey and I learned that the right way to drink it is by adding a little bit of water, and you’re just supposed to sip it. It actually wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.

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Margaret, Meghan, and I went back to the house for some chocolate and then continued on the The Valley, one of the neighborhood’s two pubs. I had a Bulmers and we had crispy bacon chips and Taytos, two fine Irish products. We threw around the idea of a Fugina ladies’ trip to Ireland, with Margaret as an honorary Fugina. We also need to introduce our Aunt Pam to Ireland, because Meghan makes a dip that Aunt Pam gave her the recipe for, and all of Meghan’s friends call it “Aunt Pam’s Dip,” so she’s quite famous here and would probably get a nice reception!

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^Margaret and me, awwwwIMG_5112

On Tuesday morning, I packed my things. We drove into Limerick since Meghan had to work. We ate lunch at a nearby Italian restaurant called Papa’Z (very good despite the name). After lunch, we got my bags and walked to a nearby taxi rank, where I said goodbye to Meghan. I was sad to leave but glad that I got to spend more than a day with her for once! And it was nice to have things planned out and taken care of after doing all of the planning for three months!

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The taxi driver was really nice. I like taxis in Ireland because they seem pretty highly regulated, unlike Italian taxis! In both Irish taxis I’ve ridden in, there’s been a card in the backseat saying what to look for – the driver’s license, fare calculator, etc., and explaining the meaning of the numbers and letters on the license. The driver was very impressed that I was traveling to England and staying for a week on my own, and highly supportive of my decision to stay in an all-girls room. I flew to London from the Shannon airport. The airport was so empty. I’ve never had a less stressful security experience. There was only one person behind me, the security worker told me exactly what I needed to send through the machine…it was great. I used up my remaining euro coins to buy some Butler’s Irish chocolates and was on my way.

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One of the airport staff members asked me if I forgot my bag and didn’t get my boarding pass stamped. But you only need your pass stamped on RyanAir, and I was flying Aer Lingus. He told me I made the right choice or something like that. He was basically badmouthing RyanAir, which seems to be an Irish pastime! We landed in London 20 minutes ahead of schedule. I landed in Terminal 1 and dragged my suitcase to Terminal 3 so I could store it there for the week. About ten minutes in I realized that situations like this were why the luggage trolley was invented, but it was too late. Took the Piccadilly Line to Earl’s Court, switched to District and got off at Bayswater. Ate dinner at McDonald’s out of necessity and because I had my eye on the Cadbury Creme Egg McFlurry. It was as good as I had dreamed it would be. I walked to my hostel and rested up for my last week abroad!

IMG_5140^JFK visited Ireland once and it had quite the impact

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^had to do a lot of walking at HeathrowIMG_5144

It was so fun to spend a week with Meghan and John. Spending time in all of the beautiful European cities is amazing, but the countryside and smaller towns also have a lot to offer, and it’s much easier to see the parallels between my life and Irish life when you’re in a suburb. Thanks so much to Meghan and John for letting me stay for a week and being the most generous and wonderful hosts! Can’t wait to bring the sunshine back to you guys!

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My Week With Meghan: Part 1

My extended family has always been spread out around the country, with branches in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Massachusetts, Ireland, and now Japan! Because of that, we never see each other for very long periods of time, and the first day when we all get together is usually spent getting to know one another again. My cousin, Meghan, studied abroad in Ireland when she was in college, and to the delight of my girlfriends abroad, she married an Irishman and lives there now (and is coming up on her tenth anniversary of living there full-time!). So I was very excited when Meghan and I touched base and found a time when I could visit.

After she picked me up in Dublin, we drove to Newgrange, which is a 5000 year old passage tomb. It was built around 3200 BC. We watched a video about the sun’s role in Newgrange and then walked outside the visitors’ center, crossed a bridge over a little river, and then got on a school bus that drove us to Newgrange. It wasn’t far – maybe a five minute drive. I liked that we had to take a bus to Newgrange. The scenery around the tomb is calm and not sullied with views of parking lots. Our tour guide was great. She was really passionate about Newgrange and told us about the history of it. It was used as a gathering place, a tomb (though they only found remains of five people, which leads experts to believe that those people were very important), and a monument to the sun. In 3200 BC, people didn’t know that the seasons changed and the sun would continue to rise, so they built Newgrange (I’ll explain soon). We got to walk inside and see how they built it for the sun. To walk in, you have to go through a very narrow passageway, and then you are in the main area. It’s so narrow that we had to carry our bags in front of us so that they wouldn’t rub against the stone. Once we were inside, the guide told us that we had actually walked two meters uphill, and we were now level with the lightbox, a window above the entrance.

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The inner chamber was really cool. Looking up at the roof was amazing. The stones were overlaid so carefully and there were smaller rocks and pebbles to prevent water from getting in. There’s green grass on top of the roof, and I think the guide said the roof weighs 200,000 tons! Or some other ridiculously large number… Inside, we saw the original stone basins that they put the cremated remains in. There were some beautifully decorated walls and ceiling areas. There was also graffiti – carvings in the stone from the 1800s! Newgrange was rediscovered in 1699. It’s interesting that graffiti seems like an eyesore at first but then becomes just as historic, if not more, as the surface it’s on (like the awesome graffiti in Ljubljana and the carvings in the prison doors at Edinburgh Castle).

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The coolest part came when our guide showed us what happens on the winter equinox. The people built Newgrange so that every morning during the equinox (December 18-23, the shortest days of the year), the sun enters through the lightbox and lights up the passageway. The light lasts for 17 minutes. The guide demonstrated this for us with artificial light, and it was really cool. She turned off the lights in the main room and then slowly turned on the “sun.” I can only imagine how cool the real thing must be. You can enter a drawing to see Newgrange during the equinox. They have winners every morning of the equinox, and each winner gets to bring a friend. She asked if anyone wouldn’t want to see it, and a young girl who was afraid of the dark raised her hand. It’s incredible to think that the architects of Newgrange were able to align the monument with the sun – and 5000 years ago, at that!

 ImageImage^entryway and lightbox

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^grass growing over the stone

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After lunch in the visitors’ center, we drove about 2 ½ hours to get back. It felt weird to sit in the front left passenger seat! In Ireland, cars drive on the left side of the road. Stepping foot in her house was so much more satisfying than I was expecting! I had the guest room and A QUEEN BED to myself and it was so comforting to sit on a couch and watch tv!

Image^cool visitors’ center

 John, Meghan’s husband and sous-chef, came home and they made a delicious dinner of carbonara pasta after making sure I wasn’t sick of it from Italy! It was way better than the dining hall pasta in Paderno… Meghan and I watched Frozen after dinner and started season one of Supernatural. Simple joys of home!! I remember saying to Meghan, “Wow, it feels so nice to be inside a house!”

On Thursday, we had a leisurely morning and then went into Limerick for lunch. I was introduced to brown bread and am now a fan for life. After lunch, we walked to a shopping center to pick up a map of Limerick and then continued on to the Hunt Museum, and Meghan gave me some ideas of things to do while she was at work. The museum was cool. It’s a collection of antiques and artifacts collected by John Hunt and his wife. The collection wasn’t overwhelmingly large, and it was located in the old Custom House. The Hunt family used a lot of the antiques in their home. Some antiques in museums are so well preserved and still in existence because they’ve been handed down through families and used practically. Throughout the museum, there were different works made by art students, inspired by art in the museum. I thought most of them were pretty bad, but there were a few I liked.

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^our lunch spot

There were two temporary installations by European artists. One was a tower of trays, glasses, and nine TVs, and you were encouraged to take pictures of it. On the TVs, there was a 90-minute loop of black and white security footage from a local bar. There was also a room with debris from demolished houses in the Middle East and maps of where the house was. There was also information about who lived in the house and how many people were displaced by the demolition and bombs.

 Image^trays, glasses, and TVs

The staircase from the 2nd floor to the ground floor was full of student artwork from past years. Every year, the director chooses one to remain at the museum. My favorite piece of student art was in the religious art area. Each piece was accompanied by a short essay explaining the inspiration behind the piece. There was a piece of religious art formed kind of like a dartboard, with a central area and then a door hinged on either side. The student replaced each figure in the religious one with a modern celebrity, including Britney Spears, Madonna, Beyonce, Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, etc. There were lots of photographers in one panel and a bunch of people looking at their phones in another one. The artist wrote that people today worship these celebrities like gods and feel like they can watch their every move and judge them on everything they do.

 Image^The Hunt Museum

Next, I went to King John’s Castle, which was recently redone. The museum was different from most of the other ones I’ve seen – it had lots of kid-friendly, interactive stuff, but was also overwhelmingly full of information. I bypassed a lot of the info inside and went outside and downstairs to see the original foundations and walls of some of the castle’s structures. Then I went into the courtyard of the castle and saw a little church, the blacksmith’s area, and the armory. I went on two different towers for some nice views of Limerick.

Image ImageImageImageImageAfter the castle, I walked around the city a little bit. Earlier, in the shopping center, I noticed a milkshake place called Moody Cow, so I obviously had to go there and get a Reese’s peanut butter cup milkshake. I went back to Meghan’s workplace, worked on a blog post (you’re welcome), and then we picked up dinner from a cute Japanese place.

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After dinner, Meghan and I made potica dough! Meghan’s mom and my mom are sisters, and their father (our grandfather) was Slovenian. Potica is a Slovenian bread traditionally made for Easter and Christmas. I was still at Meghan’s house for Easter, and most of our relatives make potica, so it was awesome to take advantage of our time together and make it with each other!

On Friday morning we sat in the garden for a little while. One of the neighbor’s cats hopped the fence and was purring and climbing all over Meghan. Meghan brought me to the Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary. The town was pretty cute. We got lunch at a place called The Bake House and then hiked up a hill to the Rock. We explored for a little while before joining the guided tour with guide Cian. He had a dry sense of humor, so, naturally, I liked him.

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We started outside the complex, by a concrete copy of a really old cross. It’s different from typical Irish crosses because it didn’t have a circle on the top. It was on a huge stone base, and there was a hole in the base – possibly for treasure. The real cross was on display in the museum and there was a mirror under it so that you could see the hole – it took up almost the entire base. It was much bigger than Meghan and I were expecting. Over time, there have been some sieges and violent fights at the complex. One area of the castle was designed so that right-handed shooters would be at an advantage when exiting – meaning that left-handed shooters had to be the first ones in during a siege.

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^Cian and the replica cross

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^the original cross

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A piece of one of the walls fell to the ground and is still sitting there. A priest from Watertown, Wisconsin, visited and asked if he could have some of the stone for his church. They sent him some and it’s used as the cornerstone of a church there. Cian asked if any people were from the US and some people raised their hands. Then he asked if anyone was from WI and Meghan and I both laughed under our breath a little bit since it was such a coincidence (for my few readers who don’t know, our moms are from Wisconsin).

Image ^the church cornerstone came from this

There weren’t any furnishings inside, but you could see the remains of some paintings on the ceilings and walls. Blue paint was quite the status symbol, as it was made in Afghanistan and you had to be wealthy to get it from such a faraway place. In the vicar’s house, Cian showed us a tapestry on the wall. He said it was Flemish, which made me laugh, because on my walking tour in Brussels, PJ said that if we saw any tapestries with a greenish tinge, we should ask our guide (and impress him or her) if it was made in Flanders. And this one was indeed green and Flemish!

Image^you can see old paint on the stone

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^Flemish tapestry

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^other ruins you can see from the Rock

The interior of the main church area had windows that were partially filled in. Meghan correctly guessed that this was because the cost of stained glass was too high. Cian said he’s had very few people guess that correctly! This big room was the last part of the complex to be built, so it’s squeezed in between the other buildings and oddly sized. Lastly, Cian told us (and we saw prominently displayed pictures) that Queen Elizabeth visited when she came to Ireland in 2011. He said she really liked the Rock of Cashel and that she asked for him personally by name, haha!

 Image^partially filled in windows

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^view from inside the complex

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^the guestbook Queen Elizabeth signed is on display in the museum

When Meghan and I were planning my trip, she asked if I preferred castles or natural scenery. I said I liked both but that I was tired of palaces. She said “Ireland doesn’t really do fancy castles” and I definitely found that to be true! It was a nice change from the other countries I visited.

Stay tuned for part 2!

Last Dance in Dublin

Hello again! I know some people are surprised that I’m still blogging, more than a month after returning home, but I’m determined to finish up the rest of these posts! After this, I still have at least four more planned!

Early Sunday morning, we flew from Edinburgh to Dublin, Ireland. Cassie and I were two of the last people off the plane and into the airport. One of the airport workers asked which flight we were coming in on and it took me a second to remember which city we were just in. The customs line was really long and Rachel, Caroline, and Blair were ahead of us. They called me over in a panic because they thought that we were over our 90 days, and I had the privilege of delivering the exciting news – Ireland is not in the Schengen Area, so the 90 day rule does not apply.

Image^water fountains at the airport are a sight for sore eyes! we made it to the land of free water!

 We took the Airlink bus into the city and dropped off our stuff at Jacob’s Inn, where we met up with our friend Kyle from CIMBA. He spent the night in the lobby since he couldn’t find a place with any vacancies. Kyle led us to our lunch spot, Eddie Rocket’s Diner. After lunch, I was going to do a walking tour. It took me about 25 minutes to walk to the meeting point, only to find out that the English speaking tour guide was sick.ImageImage ^the Spire

I walked down the street to Costa Coffee, which seems to be the European equivalent of Starbucks – although there are plenty of Starbucks locations here, too. I bought hot chocolate and a scone (scones are on my list of favorite foods, slightly below Belgian waffles) and used the free wi-fi to figure out what my next move was. I decided to walk to the National Gallery. It was under renovation, so there was less to look at, which was actually kind of nice.

ImageImage ^National Gallery

I really liked the first set of galleries, called “Governors, Guardians, Artists.” The art was easy to understand and enjoy, and you were allowed to take pictures of some of the art. I like to take pictures of my favorites, since I’ve visited so many museums that it’s hard to remember what I saw and where I saw it! There was a landscape by Paul Henry that I really liked, as well as a painting of a convent garden in Brittany, France. I thought the greens of the garden were really vibrant and vivid, so I bought a magnet of it.

ImageImageImageThen I checked out the Masterpieces collection, which I didn’t like as much. There was a painting of Piazza Navona in Rome with a lot of extra structures between the permanent fountains. It was cool to see a painting of a historic place I’d visited and to know what didn’t belong.

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 ^Fete in the Piazza Navona, Rome, to celebrate the birth of a Dauphin in France – Giovanni Paulo Panini

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^Lady on the Terrace – Paul Signac

Lastly, I went into an exhibit called “From the Archives: The Story of the National Gallery of Ireland.” There were letters, photos, minutes from meetings, etc. all concerning the development and evolution of the National Gallery. My two favorite things in this exhibit were a funny and warm letter from contributor Sir Alfred Chester Beatty to curator Thomas MacGreevy. I also loved an article about the retirement of a porter. He lived and worked in the museum for 38 years. Two of his children were born there. He started in 1948, when he was 25. He was married and had a six-month old baby. When he retired in 1986, he had raised seven children in the Gallery. He didn’t consider himself educated in art, but he was passionate about it, and some of the paintings really moved him. One of the famous artists told him that if it moved him, that was enough, and he had already taken something away from it.

ImageImageI walked back to the hostel and we all went out to Bad Bob’s in the Temple Bar District for dinner. We had a great time enjoying what would be our last nice dinner with Kyle!

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On Monday, we woke up really early so we could be across the river at the Discover Ireland center at 6:50 am. We booked a day trip to the Cliffs of Moher. Our bus guide, Paddy, was an older Irish man. He was very knowledgeable, but a bit hard to understand at times. Our first stop was Galway. We got off the bus and had a walking tour of the city from a guy named Paul Norman. The French Normans founded Galway a long time ago (in the 1100s. We learned about the Galway Hooker – fishing boats with red sails. The most experienced sailor had a white sail, and his was always the last boat to come in. When people saw the white sail, they would be relieved because it meant everyone was home safely.

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Galway is also where the Claddagh ring originated (the one with two hands clasping a heart with a crown over it). If you wear it on your right ring finger with the heart pointing away from you, it means you’re single and looking for love. Heart pointing in means you’ve met someone. Left hand, pointing in means you’re extremely in love. Pointing out means you’re heartbroken. We saw a really old tower that used to be part of a castle – now it houses Costa Coffee. We saw St. Nicholas’ Medieval Church, which was built in the 1300s. Columbus sat in it when it was about 150 years old. Charlotte Bronte also sat in it. There was a plaque to Jane Eyre from before the time the book was written, so I guess she was a real person.

 ImageImage^the plaque on the right has Jane Eyre’s name on it

 The St. Nicholas clock tower was cool because it was missing a clock face on one side. The people near the church were feuding with people who could see the clock face, and they took the face down to signify that they wouldn’t even give them the time of day. So, that phrase originated in Galway!

 ImageImage^guitarist playing between statues of Oscar Wilde and Estonian writer Eduard Vilde

 After the walking tour in Galway, we got back on the bus. Paul Norton saw me eating some candy I bought the night before and told me about a really good chocolate shop near the pub we were going to for lunch. We drove through some Irish countryside and saw stone walls built to corral the animals. There were also fields of rocks with cleavage from the rain.

ImageImageImageImageWe stopped at Poulnabrone Portal Tomb in the Burren (basically a vast, rocky, and grassy landscape). It’s basically some rocks standing with a flat rock on top.

ImageImage ImageImageImageWe passed a castle where a red-haired lady named Mary lived. She had three husbands. Her first, Connor O’Brien, was injured in battle. They tried to bring him in the house and she said “don’t bring a dead man in here.” Despite that, she was buried next to him when she died.

Image^not Mary’s castle

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^Mary’s castle (I clumsily took this from the moving bus)

We got lunch at O’Connor’s Pub. Lots of tour groups were eating there, so we had to split our group of 7 up in order to find a table. I got a tuna sandwich and fresh apple crumble. I also went next door, to the Doolin Chocolate Shop and bought some delicious fudge – a flavor called Malteser (Maltesers are malted milk balls, just like Whoppers) and peanut butter and milk chocolate fudge.

 ImageImageImageImageImage^YUMMMM!

Then we went to the Cliffs of Moher. Paddy said that this was the best weather he’d seen all year. We really lucked out – it was a beautiful day. The sky was blue and the air was comfortably warm. We had an hour and a half to explore, most of which we spent taking pictures. Caroline, Blair, and Cassie recorded a video for their sorority sisters, and watching them decide what to say was hilarious.

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We got back on the bus and stopped at Dunguaire Castle. We had a few minutes to walk around the outside of it. We drove back to Galway. Paddy said he had a good day with us. I was going to thank him since he did a good job telling us facts all day but when I came back from the bathroom, we had a different driver. There were some more people on the ride back to Dublin. I sat next to a girl who left Dublin yesterday and spent the night in Galway. She told me she was getting her master’s in England but that she did her undergrad at UConn! I said “that’s where I go!” She played soccer at UConn and had a scholarship to play in England at Durham University but tore her ACL and was assistant coach instead. Her friend, a few seats behind us, went to UConn as well. She played field hockey. We chatted a bit – what a small world!

 ImageImageImage^walking up the path along the side of the castle

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 ^view from the castle

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Got back to Dublin around 9:30 pm. Rachel and I got sandwiches and everyone else got food at McDonald’s. What a dinner for Kyle’s last night in Europe…We went back to the hostel and said goodbye to Kyle since he had to leave for the US early in the morning.

On Tuesday morning, I did my walking tour while the girls went to Trinity College and did the Guinness tour. It was a nice day and there were a lot of people on the tour. My guide’s name was James. He was born and bred in Ireland. We started at Dublin Castle, where James gave us an overview of the history of Ireland and Dublin. He also told us three “you know you’re Irish if…” jokes and made us get our “trumpets” out and do the noise Ryan Air flights make before he said them. (Ryan Air puts an applause track over the speakers after a successful, on-time landing.) The castle isn’t all old – there’s one old tower and I think the rest has been rebuilt. We learned some Irish: “cead mile failte” which means “a hundred thousand welcomes.” James said it’s plastered all over the airport and you’ll hear people say “you’re very welcome” all the time. There was a cool garden behind the castle, which used to be a black pool Dublin got it’s name from “dubh” (black) and “linn” (pool).

Image^Dublin Castle

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 ^where the black pools were

We went into a smaller garden and learned about a journalist named Veronica Guerin, who wrote reports on the huge crime problem in Dublin in the 90s. She was threatened and attacked a few times and died after being shot by a hit man.

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One of the buildings in the castle complex is used for state events. James told us about two important recent visits. Barack Obama visited because has Irish ancestors. But it was a much more historic and important affair when Queen Elizabeth visited. It was the first official visit by a British monarch since Ireland became its own country. James mentioned three great things she did during her visit: she stepped off the plane wearing green, she started her speech by saying “President and friends” in Irish (shocking even the President), and she visited the rebellion memorials. I watched the beginning of the speech on YouTube, and the reaction of the President when the Queen speaks in Irish is awesome. She’s visibly surprised and impressed and the audience breaks into applause.

Then we walked through a staircase that was in the movie PS I Love You and saw the building where Jonathan Swift was born. James explained that the character in the movie runs out of a bar and onto the steps, even though the bar she’s in and the staircase she goes to are very far apart. This was just like a movie my tour guide in Prague told me about – a character goes from one landmark to another in an unrealistically short amount of time.

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^PS I Love You stairs – how exciting

We saw Christ Church Cathedral, the oldest cathedral in Dublin. There is a mummified cat and rat inside – Dublin’s own Tom and Jerry. Gross. We saw where Handel’s Messiah was performed for the first time. We walked through the “cultural” area of Temple Bar and saw where U2 formed. Now Bono owns a bunch of buildings on that street. Apparently he’s signed autographs for the pub crawl tour groups before since they start out of one of his bars. I was pleased to see that Bad Bob’s, where we ate dinner on Sunday night, was located in James’ approved section of Temple Bar. We took a break in this area and I got falafel for lunch.

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 ^Christ Church Cathedral

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^fun Guinness ad

We crossed the Ha’penny foot bridge and walked along the boardwalk. We saw a fake plaque on the O’Connell Bridge. Two guys put it up to commemorate a fake priest’s death. People left flowers and wanted it left up after they found out it was fake because, according to James, the Irish “never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

 Image^Ha’penny Footbridge

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^walking along the river

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^plaque to a fake man

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^The Spire – very expensive and very pointless (HAHA) – nicknames include “Stiffy by the Liffey,” “Stiletto in the Ghetto,” and “Erection in the Intersection”

Next, we went into Trinity College. It’s a historic college in Dublin. It was cool because it was graduation for the post grads. My cousin, Meghan, later told me that they wear their gowns open, which is different from what we do in the US. The campus was really beautiful.

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Lastly, we ended at St. Stephen’s Green. We saw a statue of Wolfe Tone, leader of the 1798 rebellion, and a memorial to the Great Famine – three sickly figures and a dog. After the tour was over, I walked through St. Stephen’s Green a little bit. It was beautiful and full of fountains and flowers. It was a really nice day to be outside. Every bench was full and people were strolling along the paths.

 Image^Wolfe Tone

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^St. Stephen’s Green

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I walked around the shops by Grafton Street. I bought a t-shirt that I had my eye on. It has two sheep on it, and one is knitting a sweater with wool from the other sheep. I thought it was so funny. Then I went to Queen of Tarts, a bakery that Meghan recommended to me. I ordered a warm piece of chocolate fudge cake and a glass of milk. It was delicious. I also bought a blueberry scone to go (aka takeaway) for the next morning. After that, I went into the Gutter Bookshop. I felt right at home! I wrote down almost all of the staff recommendations to look up later.

 Image^Queen of Tarts

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^YUMMMM

I walked back to the hostel to meet the girls but they were at Guinness longer than expected, so we ended up meeting at a place called Against the Grain for our last dinner together. It was nice to sit and chat and take in our last moments abroad together.

Image^four of the six of us at our last dinner

We took taxis back to the hostel. We bought our bus tickets for the next morning for five euro each. Cassie bought hers with five euro worth of coins. Carla and I were helping her count it out and it definitely came down to pennies. We went upstairs to pack and it was definitely the most fun I’ve ever had packing – Rachel had the music blaring, and we were giggling and reminiscing.

 Image^paying for her bus ticket

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^not messy at all

We said goodbye to Carla around 6:30 am and the rest of us headed out a little after 8:30. We all wore our Ireland clothing and took a picture together under the Departures sign. I said goodbye to Rachel and Blair, who were flying to Chicago together, then Cassie, and then Caroline. It took a while for me to find a friend group but once I did, I really found some keepers!

 Image^love these girls!!!

I ate my scone and bought some stamps to mail some postcards (90 cents in Ireland rather than the outrageous 2 euro in Italy!!) and then waited for Meghan to pick me up!

In the fall, I was considering studying abroad in Dublin, but I ended up choosing Italy because the program sounded really fun, I liked the idea of having American classes (because it’s hard to get used to the European syllabus), and I wanted to be on the continent. Dublin wasn’t one of my favorite cities, but I wonder how I would’ve felt about it after a whole semester. I’m sure I would’ve had some favorite spots. Overall, it was a nice “last hurrah” with my girls and a great end to the first leg of my post-exam travels! In my next post, I’ll write about the wonderful week I spent with my cousin, Meghan!