Londoners in Dublin

Standard

My name may be Riley, but that doesn’t mean I’m Irish in the slightest. At most, I’m Polish! But who said you have to be Irish to go to Ireland? Exactly, no one! So thus Jen and I traveled to Dublin on the most budgeted trip I have ever been and will ever be on. Can you say RyanAir and hostels? I’m already shuddering from the memories that are rushing back.

Let’s back up a little bit, though. Going to London, I had little to no intention of going anywhere else. Nothing was pre-planned except the vague desire to go to Disneyland Paris (because, seriously, why not?). So when Jen approached me about going to Dublin, I was on the fence. I told my parents about the idea and they alerted me to the fact that Dublin had a high crime rate and that it was extremely dangerous (you know, like any big city), to keep it short and simple. Naturally, like anyone else receiving that sort of information, I was extremely freaked out and against going to Dublin from that point forward.

Somehow, and I’m still not really sure how, Jen convinced me that it was going to be fine, we wouldn’t get mugged, and we’d return to London unscathed. For some reason, I believed her. It was coming up to 3 weeks until the weekend we’d prepared to go and we still hadn’t planned anything. We were looking for cheap because we still wanted to do one more trip (somewhere in Jen’s convincing me I tossed in a ‘if I go to Dublin you’re going to Paris’ deal), so we decided RyanAir was the way to go.

If you ask any study abroad student, they will tell you RyanAir is the cheapest way to see Europe and the UK. I believe it was only 70 pounds each for the roundtrip plane ticket from London Gatwick (a lovely little airport) to Dublin! The only thing with RyanAir is that, though their tickets may be cheap, you have to pay for everything else. There’s no free food or drink; you have to cough up money for that too. If you bring a bag bigger than they allow, you’ll pay for that too. If you don’t print out your boarding pass beforehand and check-in online at least 2 hours before your flight, you’ll get charged more. So, my advice is to make sure you’ve done everything right, even call RyanAir to make sure, before you get to the airport to find out you’re paying 100 pounds more than you anticipated. It’s annoying, sure, but that’s what you get with cheap flights!

With the thought that RyanAir was cheap, I was expecting everyone to be on top of each other without any room to myself. Fortunately, it was like a normal airplane seat in that I had about as much room as any other airplane seat would have on a normal airline like British Airways. Jen and I were seated 10 rows apart on the way to Dublin, which wasn’t ideal for my ounce of flight anxiety, but luckily the girls seated next to me were also study abroad students and also quite nice.

Now, this has nothing to do with RyanAir in particular (or maybe it does, depending on who you ask), but the flight to Dublin tested every ounce of control I had in me. First, the anxiety of budget flying had me a bit nervous up until we were in the air. The flight itself was completely normal and uneventful, thank God, but when we were right over Dublin, the captain deemed it unsafe to land and turned around to land in Liverpool. Naturally, this caused a bit of a ruckus in the plane and a lot of unhappy campers began to complain. At this point, I just wanted to leave so I wouldn’t have to get back up into the air, but of course that wasn’t an option. The girls next to me pretty much fed into my anxiety as they repeatedly told each other they hated flying, wanted to get off, etc. etc. But, instead of having a nice freak out, I took deep breaths and stared out at Liverpool’s beautiful blue sky. I kinda wished I could stay, but I kept telling myself Dublin would be nice. Dublin would be wonderful. And it was.

But then, after about an hour of waiting, we were off again to find Dublin once more. I’m not sure how the captain deemed Dublin’s weather flyable because when he told us were descending to land, all we could see were dense white clouds. Then, all of a sudden, BOOSH our wheels hit the ground and we were somehow landed amongst the fog that had been too thick to land in before. Everyone in the cabin clapped in relief that we were alive and safely landed. Meanwhile, I just breathed because I was out of the air once more.

Our 7 AM flight to Dublin had promised us a full day of exploring, but with all of the hubbub above we arrived at our hostel just in time for dinner and a couple hours of walking. Once out of the airport, we hopped on an Airline bus to center city Dublin and stopped at Ushers Quay to get to our hostel, Four Courts Hostel. From the very start, the staff at FCH were super welcoming and wonderful to us, two wide-eyed college students alone in (yet another) foreign country. FCH felt homey in that nothing was extremely new; it all looked recycled and well-used, comfortable. There was a common area with computers, a breakfast room for the free continental breakfast each morning, a downstairs with books and a Wii, and naturally the rooms upstairs. They had 3 floors and an elevator to get to those floors.

Our room was a 6-person mixed gender room, which we chose only because the 4-person female room was sold out. We entered the room to find we already had one roommate, a guy, who seemed to be staying there for a long term stay. With us there, we made up half of the roommates allotted to the room. By the time we left to explore, our other roommates hadn’t joined us yet. A part of me hoped they wouldn’t.

We went to a pub down the street from FCH that claims to be the oldest in Ireland and had some delicious dinner food. Jen ordered a Guinness stew (DELICIOUS), whereas I ordered a chicken tikka masala sandwich (ALSO DELICIOUS). Afterwards, we explored O’Connell Street, bought some amazing hot chocolate at Baker’s, and hopped into quite a few department stores decorated for Christmas. Everything was so delightful and it made me feel a part of the city.

One of the unconventional things we did during our stay in Dublin was see a movie at the theater: Mockingjay, Part One to be exact. In our defense, the theater was close to the hostel and only 7 euros/10 dollars, whereas a movie in London (at least in Leicester Square) is circa 14 pounds/20 dollars. I’ll save you the time and say that Mockingjay wasn’t the most amazing movie (Catching Fire was so much better), but it was certainly worth seeing if you plan on seeing the series through to the end.

Among other things on the list of exploration we visited Christ Church, St. Patrick’s, the Guinness Storehouse, multiple museums, countless shops, the Book of Kells at Trinity College, and so many other things in a surprisingly short amount of time. To save you the agonizing details, I’ll describe each thing rather briefly:

Christ Church: a beautiful old church not too far from FCH with gorgeous statues, woodwork, and a fascinating crypt included in the price of admission.

St. Patrick’s: we didn’t go in because we did this on our last day with a flight at 4, but the outside and accompanying courtyard were absolutely breathtaking. It certainly helped that the sky was bluer than I’ve ever seen.

Guinness Storehouse: Guinness is disgusting, just going to throw that out there, but the storehouse museum itself is pretty cool. With the price of your ticket (if you’re over 18), you get a free pint of Guinness that I only finished three sips of. Tip: they tell you the key to drinking Guinness and enjoying it is holding the glass with your arm at a right angle, inhaling, and taking a large sip past the head to let the flavors coat your tongue. Pro-tip: it still tastes pretty rank no matter which way you drink it.

Grafton Street & O’Connell Street: a lot of websites will tell you not to go here because of the supposed pickpocketers, but I didn’t see any nor did I encounter any. Jen and I just went into a bunch of stores and enjoyed the decorations, including a cute Disney store on Grafton. They have some pretty amazing shopping malls in Dublin, too, so check those out as well.

The Book of Kells @ Trinity College: the Book of Kells is an amazing thing to behold, but boy is it small. The set-up for it is fantastic, so many snippets of history no one tells you about regarding the book, but then when you finally see it it’s a bit underwhelming. Don’t let that keep you away from it, though; it’s still pretty cool! And, from there, you can go into Trinity College’s library where they have a bunch of little exhibits regarding different genres of literature. For a literature nerd, it was enjoyable.

Queen of Tarts: the cutest bakery and cafe I have ever been to that offers the best soup and sandwiches I’ve ever had (sorry, Panera). Jen and I happily spent 3 hours here drinking tea and enjoying our chicken sandwiches with carrot soup. Everything is homemade, and you’ll never want to leave, trust me.

Other than those highlights, I’m sure we did plenty more ordinary things that were fun to us but meaningless to others. Plus, we were only there Thursday-Saturday, so there wasn’t a whole of room to explore extensive areas. All of the places I mentioned above are within walking distance of FCH, which is helpful because I had no idea how the bus system worked in Dublin. Even though it was cold, all we needed were hats and gloves with our coats and we were golden.

The people in Dublin were probably some of my favorites. No matter where we went, they were accommodating and so friendly. The guy at the pub that first night was very nice and eased us through pub etiquette in Ireland (in terms of paying and tipping at least), the guy selling tickets for the Book of Kells asked where we were from and held a wonderful conversation with us about the United States, and of course the people at FCH were wonderfully friendly, constantly joking with us and making us feel welcome. Websites and people in general may tell you that Dublin has an alarming crime rate and all that, which may be true, but we certainly didn’t see it. I would go back in a heartbeat and, if I do, I’ll be sure to get the Guinness stew and visit a castle or two.

P.S. the RyanAir flight back to London was effortless and Jen and I somehow managed to be seated next to each other. No stops in Liverpool! Rest assured, though, I won’t be willingly taking RyanAir anytime soon or in the future. I like my free snacks.

Oxford is Hogwarts

Standard

It is a Tuesday night as I write this and I am happy to say my cold has diminished to a tedious cough that attacks out of nowhere. Hey, it’s better than the blocked up sinuses I had last week!

This past Saturday, Jen and I decided to take a bus out to Oxford to see some sights. Unfortunately, most cool things like museums and botanical gardens close at 5, so not much sightseeing was done as we had hoped. But, what we did see was fantastic and definitely worth the trip. We woke up rather early to get to the Tube station for 8:30, rode the District Line to Victoria, and made our way to the coach stations there. We took the Oxford Tube bus from Victoria to St. Aldate’s and it was only 13 pounds roundtrip (we paid the bus driver when we got on the bus, no reservations needed)!

As many of you may know, Oxford is famous for Oxford University, but also the origins of Alice in Wonderland and the shooting of scenes from Harry Potter. Jen and I are a fan of both things, so of course going to Oxford was a no-brainer! The first stop on the monstrous list of things to do was Christ Church. We had to pay to get in, 7.50 pounds, but it was well worth it. One of the social halls on the Church’s property was used as a model for the Great Hall in the HP films, so seeing it in person was extremely cool. The stained glass windows were gorgeous and intricate, the ceilings even more so, and pretty much everything about the entire Church felt historical. But, history aside, I was mainly interested in the locations from Harry Potter.

I am pleased to say that I walked up the stairs McGonagall greets the students on in the first HP film (Christ Church), sat in the room where they filmed the dance lesson scene from the fourth film and any shots from the infirmary (Divinity School), and saw the library where they shot the “Restricted Area” scene from the first film and the library shots (Duke Humphrey’s Library)! It was so cool and surreal to be in the same places that some of my favorite movies were filmed; I can’t even really describe the feeling!

After Christ Church, we ran off to the Bodleian Library and purchased a half hour tour of the Divinity School and Duke Humphrey’s Library (5 pounds), both extremely cool because of their historical contexts and Harry Potter associations! If you like the smell of old books, Duke Humphrey’s Library smells IMMENSELY like old books. You walk up the stairs and through the doors and WOOSH you are assaulted with history and time. Even though it is cool, the smell does get a tad overwhelming.

With the library behind us, we only had fifteen minutes before any museums closed. Luckily the Science museum was across the street from the library, so we hopped in and ran about the ground floor taking pictures. Even though we didn’t get to see even a fraction of the place, what we did see was extremely cool and interesting. I would definitely go back! We also hopped into a bookstore nearby called Blackwell’s and had some coffee at the indoor Cafe Nero. The bookstore was really cool, but the coffee I had was what made it great. Caramelatte… yum!

Of course in between our tour of Christ Church and the Bodleian Library, we had about a four hour gap. In that time, Jen and I finally ripped off the band-aid and decided to eat at… believe it or not… PIZZA HUT. And, let me tell you, it was fantastic. We got cheesy-bite margherita pizza and it was heavenly. I’m not sure if the pizza itself was actually great or if I just really needed some actual pizza in my life, but either way I was a happy camper. After the best Pizza Hut experience of my life, we went to do some shopping as our families requested various clothing items donning the “Oxford” moniker. I will admit I spent some serious cash that day, but it was worth it. Between walking tours and a cool sweatshirt and t-shirt saying I’ve been to Oxford, I couldn’t have asked for a better day!

I can’t say our flatmates had the same, however.

When Jen and I returned from our fun day at Oxford, we walked past one of the buildings to see a lot of people sitting in a common room. I commented that they must be a club having a meeting or something, but we soon found out that was not the case. We were just about to walk towards our dorm when a lady stopped us and asked for our flat numbers. We told her, and then she told us to sit in the room where all of those people were sitting. Needless to say, they were not a club and they were not having fun. They had been sitting in that (cold) room for four hours, were promised pizza and drinks, and only received the latter. A bunch of our flatmates were in there livid because they were woken out of naps and had to come out in pajamas in the 50-degree weather. Turns out there was a fire in one of the flats’ kitchens and everyone had to evacuate, naturally, but security checking the rooms took almost five hours to finish. I’m glad I missed most of that waiting, but I still feel terrible for everyone from our dorm building that had to wait that long. Gotta love college, am I right? Thankfully no one was hurt and the person who unintentionally started the fire now knows that trying to put out an oil fire with water NEVER WORKS.

I am now in Week 3 of school and things are going by a little too fast! In just a couple weeks, my first assessments for classes are due. Jen celebrated her 21st birthday yesterday. Jen and I did the London Eye today (finally) because the weather was nice. Side note: it was fantastic and really breathtaking! Definitely worth the money. In terms of school, my readings are getting longer and more convoluted. I’m simultaneously missing my friends from home and absolutely LOVING my new friends here. It’s a weird feeling, both liking here and missing home, but it’s so much better than pouring all my feelings into homesickness. I’m already a fourth of the way through the semester… is it going to slow down any time soon?