Lovely Ireland

My trip to Ireland came out of nowhere. This past week was a blur of getting Evan back to the airport, starting new classes, my school workload multiplying, and trying to readjust to Northern Europe weather. I didn’t pack or prepare at all for this trip until about 8 hours before I had to leave. I was obviously excited to go to Ireland, but I had not yet recovered from all of the running around that was spring break. So, from the very start of this trip, I was exhausted.

Ireland was one of the shortest trips I’ve planned. In order to be able to travel to as many places as possible during my four months abroad, I’ve had to make some trips slightly shorter than I’d prefer. However, I think it’s worth it because I can experience as many cultures as possible this way. Maya and I arrived in Ireland on Thursday morning and left Saturday.

On Thursday we spent the day exploring Dublin. My first impression of Ireland was that it was just such a cheerful place. People were so friendly and actually pretended to care about us! Don’t get me wrong, people in Europe aren’t necessarily mean, they’re just very straightforward. They say hi and ask what you want. In Ireland, I was really confused. They asked, “How are you?” to start the conversation, and I was flustered. I was just ready to order my food, so I had to take a moment and remember how to answer that question.

Dublin was a very clean, safe city. After spring break I got very used to seeing beggars and shady salesmen all over the place. There was little to none of that in Dublin, and it was a very nice change. As we explored, we saw that St. Patrick’s day decorations were still up. There were balloons, banners, and some buildings were lit up with green lights. It was cool to see, and I bet it would be amazing to celebrate there for St. Patrick’s day. The few tourist shops we walked into were playing light, happy Irish music. It made me smile. Guinness and Jameson logos were everywhere, of course.

We went to the Guinness brewery on a whim, and I am so glad we did it! It was really neat – and I got to try my first Guinness for free! The tour was 7 floors high, complete with a really awesome bar at the top that had a gorgeous view of Dublin. Maya and I were sitting, just drinking our Guinness and people-watching when she saw Usher. Yeah, THE Usher. I thought Maya was joking when she said she saw him, but there he was. I couldn’t believe it. We stared at him for a while, took a bunch of sneaky pictures, and I eventually inconspicuously got his autograph. What luck! (You might say we had the luck of the Irish.)

Maya booked this trip after I did, so our itineraries were a little different for the second day. She was also staying in a different hostel, which made coordination between the two of us a little difficult. We struggled slightly with navigation, and I wholeheartedly believe that it has a lot to do with the fact that I didn’t prepare a thing for this trip until a few hours before. I even used the compass on my phone, and I’m pretty sure that was a first. If there’s one thing I’m excited for when I return home, it’s the full use of my phone. If I get lost in the US, I just use Google maps. I can’t do that here because I didn’t get an international phone plan. Unless I’m connected to WiFi, my phone is basically just a watch (I suppose it’s also a compass). So, I’ve gotten really good at reading maps. Well…I’ve gotten really good at depending on maps. It may not be fair to say I’m good at it just yet.

I passed out Thursday night the moment my head hit the pillow. My travels in Europe have definitely changed how finicky I used to be about sleeping in strange places. I used to lie awake all night during my first night in a hotel or even at a friend’s house. Now, I have zero problems. I suppose after you’ve slept in an airport, you can sleep just about anywhere. Plus, I was exhausted. Unfortunately, I had a very early morning to look forward to the next day. It was for a great reason though – a bus tour to the Cliffs of Moher! I’d been looking forward to finally seeing the beautiful Cliffs, and I was really happy to be going on a tour that involved no planning or navigating whatsoever on my part.

The bus tour departed at 6:50am and returned to Dublin at 7pm. The driver/guide was awesome. He was Irish of course, so I got to listen to his awesome accent the entire time. He also turned out to be a decent singer! He sang us a few Irish songs throughout the trip. He started with a really sweet song about sunny days that pretty much put me to sleep. I slept a lot on that bus ride, to be quite honest. In between naps, I got to see Dublin turn into the beautiful countryside, and it was just…well, beautiful! Gosh, Ireland is gorgeous. There were gorgeous rolling green hills, adorable cows and sheep, cute cottages, and really old towers that were built years and years ago. I loved it.

When we got to the Cliffs of Moher, the luck I’d experienced the previous day seemed to have evaporated. We got off the bus and pretty much all we could see was fog. I actually don’t think I’ve ever seen fog so dense, and I grew up in a farm town surrounded by a bunch of corn fields which were frequently covered in fog. When we approached the edge of the Cliffs, I heard many sarcastic remarks such as, “Wow, great view!” People were pretty upset. We couldn’t see anything. I could hear the ocean, I could smell it, and I could even feel it…but I could not see it. It was kind of heartbreaking, but I forced myself to be positive. I did what a lot of others did and walked back and forth to different locations, straining my eyes to try and force them to see through the fog. Every now and then the fog would lift a teensy bit and I could just barely see the water, but only for a second.

A lot of people headed back to the bus early, but I was not about to give up. I had an hour and half on those cliffs, and I was going to enjoy it one way or another. I’ve seen plenty of gorgeous pictures of the Cliffs of Moher, and sure, I would’ve liked my own pictures, but isn’t the point of being there to actually experience it? So, that’s what I did. I stood there, closed my eyes, and just listened to the ocean. I felt the breeze, heard the waves crashing, and breathed in the smell of the sea.

After a while, I opened my eyes and saw there was a path I hadn’t taken yet. I’m not kidding about this fog, it was so dense I could not see further than about 20 feet. So, navigating the area was kind of tough. That path seemed to be a way to get to the highest point of the Cliffs. I don’t know much about how fog works, but for some reason I could see the ocean significantly clearer from that point. Ignoring a sign telling me not to climb over this little fence that was begging to be climbed over, I got as close as I possibly could. I saw that ocean after all! I know my view of the Cliffs wasn’t as great as it could have been, but I did get to see and experience them. It was amazing.

After the Cliffs of Moher, our bus drove away from the fog and to The Burren, which was incredible. The fog did not follow us there, and we had a clear view of the ocean and the amazing terrain around us. I had never seen anything like it. The ground was just rock; there was hardly any soil to be seen. There were many large “cracks” between them, and it made walking a little tricky. I didn’t care, though. I wish we could have spent more time there so I could have walked all over the park. It was breathtaking.

We took a few more stops on the way back to Dublin, and it was all gorgeous. Ireland took me by surprise, it really did. People have always told me how beautiful it is, but it’s not something you can really comprehend until you see it. Everything about it was gorgeous – the friendliness of the people, how green everything was, the peacefulness, the tiny villages, the animals grazing everywhere, and obviously the amazing geological sights such as the Cliffs of Moher and The Burren. There are so many more things I want to see in Ireland, and I know I’ll have to go back.

When I was deciding whether or not to study abroad, people (myself included) kept saying, “You have to do it, you’ll never have an opportunity like this again.” After seeing and doing everything I have, I’ve realized that I absolutely must have opportunities like this again. This isn’t something I can do just once. There is so much in this world that I haven’t seen yet, and I refuse to go home and believe that I won’t be able to come back and see more (and revisit some things). I am so happy I did take advantage of this opportunity, because I got started early. I have years and years to keep exploring the world, so that’s exactly what I’ll do.

I’m home in Leiden now, and I’m still exhausted. I have also had a perpetual headache which recently brought its close friend, sore throat. Sleep is definitely calling my name. Luckily, I have plenty of time to rest and tackle the enormous amount of homework that keeps piling up. My next trip isn’t until the first week of April when my mom comes to visit! I’m taking her to see London. After that, I just have Geneva, Prague, and Santorini. It’s crazy how all of this is flying by. Anytime I’m out and about in Leiden, I find myself walking slower and taking in the sights longer. I have fallen in love with this place, and it’s going to be very hard to leave. Like I said before, I will most definitely have to come back.

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