My Birthday Weekend

As you all probably noticed, I’ve taken a month-long break from my blog. In that time I’ve taken a great final trip (which I will get to in just a minute), finished all of my assignments, taken one of my final exams on campus, and started working on studying for the final pieces in my other two classes. I’ve also returned to the States, readjusted to the time (my friend who studied in India was right; coming back is worse!), and spent some time with my family and friends.

Like I said, I took one last trip for a grand finale travel weekend. The sixth of December was my birthday, so I thought, why not travel? Since I had not yet been to the Cliffs of Moher, I made seeing them my goal. My usual travel partner agreed to go with me provided I did a good chunk of the driving. (And yes, that means that I do have some sort of ability to drive a manual!)

We left after classes on a Thursday night, heading to Sligo where we would stay that night. This took quite a while as the only way out of Belfast was through considerable traffic. Belfast is big compared to what I’m used to, but it’s not that big. Where on Earth did all the cars suddenly come from?

Anyway, after we escaped the traffic, we ran into rain. My favorite. Not. Eventually, we did make it to Sligo, to a hostel which clearly had no heat. The weekend wasn’t starting off well, but that’s okay. What was coming made up for it.

The next morning we got started straight away after breakfast. The weather was still rainy, but the sun was making a valiant fight to come out. And it did. And then it rained. And then it was sunny, again. Repeat. Though, at the time, I was quite irritated with this annoying and unpredictable weather pattern, it made for an amazing day (well, weekend) of rainbows. I honestly couldn’t tell you how many rainbows we saw over Friday and Saturday.

Yes, we had seen rainbows in Ireland before, but we had never seen them like this. I remember remarking at the first rainbow that I had never seen one so vibrant and clear. Well, I’m happy to say that first rainbow was a weakling!

 

It became an enjoyable hunt for rainbows, trying to find places to photograph them, and doing so as quickly as possible before they faded away. The rainbow above is the best one we got all weekend at a beach down a tiny one lane road. It was gone not even a minute after I snapped the picture.

I should point out that we weren’t just looking for rainbows the entire first day. We were actually traveling down to the city of Galway and stopping any time we saw something interesting, including random beach signs. One which we followed led us to a gorgeous beach where the sun became our best friend for some truly amazing photographs. I’ll share just a few with you….

Some other things we stumbled upon that day were one of St. Patrick’s churches, a Dark Hedges look-alike, many sheep (it is Ireland, after all), and some pretty intense Irish mountains.

Some of those intense mountains. On the right is Mweelrea Mountain. Climbing that mountain is officially on the bucket list!

I suppose I also can’t get away without mentioning that I also learned how not to drive a manual. We were okay, and the car was too. It just wanted to slide around the wet road and eat a little grass.

I’m just glad that, in the moment of this chaos, for once no pictures were taken of this extremely embarrassing event. I also admit that yes, looking back it’s kind of funny that I tried to go off-roading in a little Mazda.

Moving on… We got to Galway unharmed and sought out our B&B. Since it was my birthday, we decided to splurge a little, and boy am I glad we did! The B&B we stayed at was gorgeous. The beds were comfortable and the home was incredibly warm. The woman who owned the place was so sweet and welcoming. We stayed two nights and the other guests were very quiet and courteous. The breakfast they served was delicious and completely made up for the fact that we had no access to a kitchen as we would at a hostel. I really can’t find a single thing to complain about at this place.

We found the city centre of Galway to be equally as lovely as the B&B. That first night we took a walk around past the Christmas market and all the little shops. We visited a bar which was decorated “American style.” Apparently their definition of America is Texas country, cowgirls, New York city lights, and 80’s rock mixed with 90’s grunge. It was my type of music for the most part so I can’t complain, but the band playing wasn’t all that great.

I did have fun looking at all the license plates and finding Missouri’s state plate as well as Virginia’s. After the band at the first bar finished we went to another bar, which at midnight started playing live music. This band was definitely better. It was a great way to ring in my birthday.

The next morning we took a little trip around Galway and visited the markets and shops. When we had finished looking around we grabbed the car and headed off toward Moher making a little stop along the way.

I had looked up Corcomroe Abbey and it seemed like a nice little place. It wasn’t too far off the way to the cliffs, and when we got there we saw, you guessed it, another rainbow. Unfortunately, I failed to get a photo of this one.

The place is well maintained and it even seems that the cemetery is still in use. I really enjoyed that it was so large originally but still quite intact despite the years and weather.

Moving on along, we finally got to the Cliffs of Moher. Shortly before we arrived, a dense cloud of fog descended on us. We bought our tickets anyway and decided to have a lunch in the car before we ventured out.

Luckily enough, it was windy, so there were periods during which the weather cleared enough that we could at least take some pictures and see the cliffs. Unfortunately, it was windy as I said, so every time we were getting some good photos, the fog would obscure the view again. I guess the wind proved it was both good and evil that day.

When you first arrive there is a pretty decent view of the cliffs going off into the distance… which you can view behind some safety barriers which are quite a way back from the edge. However, if you keep walking the barriers disappear.

 

We hiked along this direction until it started to get dark. You see, I was very concerned about falling off the cliffs in the dark. Obviously, falling off a cliff in the daylight is much better. For this very concern, we walked back before it got too dark. I’m glad we did because it started to rain  heavily.

We got back to Galway safely and dried off before we went into the city centre for an amazing dinner at a pasta house. I’ve never had pasta made fresh like that before, and it was a meal made in heaven. The next day we headed back across Ireland to the university. We stopped along the way at a castle in Trim.

The castle at Trim.

It was a really great three-day weekend adventure. This was also my final adventure away from Belfast. It was bittersweet and, despite the finicky weather, I’m glad we went.

After that weekend I only had one more week of classes, a weekend to say my goodbyes to all my friends and do a few last-minute things in Belfast before flying back to the States. So I guess that’s it. That was the end of my trip.

But that’s not the end of the blog! I’ve got a few more things that I want to say in a few more posts, so keep checking back in the future to hear more. Eventually, I’ll also share which international adventure I’m planning next!

Before I forget, I need to say a very special thank you to my travel partner. He put up with my incessant talking, strange eating habits, an unintended car accident, and so much more all while recovering from having his appendix out the weekend before. So, thank you, A, for a fantastic weekend and the truly unforgettable memories!

Cheers!

Two Radically Different Days

Last weekend my friend and I decided to take a last-minute trip to Dublin. That’s fine, but only if there isn’t a really important game and a Passenger concert that same night.

I’ll be honest with you all. I really didn’t like Dublin. It just wasn’t my type of city, I wasn’t impressed, and it did not live up to its reputation in my mind.

Besides the horrible traffic and copious amounts of taxis, I was disenchanted with the architecture, unappealing bridges, and chaotic mix of modern and historic buildings that seemed more of an eye sore to me than a harmonious mixture.

I’ll try to keep it light, and tell you the few good things about the city followed by a much better second day for the weekend.

When we arrived, the city was super crowded. After finally settling in, we went straight to the Temple Bar District for some sorely-needed food. After eating we took a look around at some of the iconic bars in town.

The Temple Bar
The Quays Bar

They look nice from the outside, but inside, the Temple Bar wasn’t that exciting. In fact, I think that the Crown Bar in Belfast is much more gorgeous. Even Lavery’s and Filthy McNasty’s bars in Belfast are more tasteful. Needless to say, if this is the best the Republic of Ireland has to offer, I’m disappointed.

So now I’ll tell you something I did like: The Old Library at Trinity College. I love to read and I was especially excited to see all the old books and the lovely interior.

We walked around the city some more and happened upon Dublin Castle. I was expecting something massive and old with a beauty to rival the Edinburgh Castle. But no, it wasn’t like that. Only a very small part was those things and a lot of the castle seemed to be pained over in weird colors.

The garden wasn’t exactly what I would call a garden either, so I was further disappointed in that. The brick snakes in a Celtic pattern were interesting, but did not make up for the fact that the castle grounds fell so short of my expectations.

Trying so very hard to be happy…
Shoe photo of the weekend!

Moving on… We ran into Twin and another international student while in Dublin and had dinner with them. The rest of that night we were wandering around town trying to find a place to stay. We failed at this which put me in a very bad mood. My bad mood was not at all helped by the rude people in the city either…

So, no, I didn’t like Dublin. You couldn’t pay me to go back there. I felt very uncomfortable for some reason from the moment we got there, and the things I saw didn’t really make it better. I also felt like the city was completely disorganized.

No, I didn’t have the best experience considering we slept in the car that night, but I also wasn’t too happy before we realized there was not a single place in the city to stay. But hey, I’m human, and I don’t have to love every place I visit. Also, cities aren’t really my thing. I’m happier surrounded by trees any day. Which brings me to day two of our trip: Wicklow County.

We went to the Wicklow Mountains National Park and hiked 11 kilometers. That’s 6.8 miles. I was exhausted to say the least but the views were stunning. The first half of the hike was a bit slow but it really picked up later.

We hiked past a few loughs, past a small waterfall, and up a mountain onto a boardwalk. Here are a few highlights of the natural beauty:

Poulanass Waterfall
Some mountain goats are hanging out in the grass there. They blend in well.

On the way back, we also checked out some eerie ruins which I have since learned make up Glendalough, St. Kevin’s monastic retreat. The graveyard there had headstones dating back hundreds of years and there were even some recent ones, suggesting that the cemetery was still in use today. I was most attracted by the round tower from the 10th century. Really though, the ruins of the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul were the most awe-inspiring.

Inside the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul.

All in all, our day outdoors was much better than our day and night in Dublin. The best part: the weather was clear. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and although it was cold enough that I saw ice for the first time here, I can’t really complain. Moral of the story: Always skip the big cities you aren’t sure about and head straight for the wilderness, if that’s your thing that is.

Cheers!

Gaelic Signs & Mountain Climbs

I’ve been pretty quiet about what I did last weekend. No one really knows so I suppose I should share with everyone. I took an amazing weekend out with Twin and two Germans in the Republic of Ireland! We spent the weekend in County Donegal, first arriving along the coast in the southern part of the county. The countryside was lovely, the music was chill, and the company was perfection.
All the colors!

As we went along this coastal route, we started to see more and more Gaelic writing in the towns until the road signs switched over to Gaelic as well. After driving along for a bit, we took a little detour down to a random beach. Twin, of course, got excited about tide pools, and I ran off across some rocks.

 

We got moving again pretty quickly, as we wanted to have plenty of time to explore the cliffs, and we also still had to drive up to the hostel that night. So, onward to the cliffs we go…

What cliffs am I talking about? Probably not the ones you are thinking of. We hiked along Slieve League (less famous than the Cliffs of Moher, but impressive all the same).

Amazing first view…
I loved how you could see the clouds at the top!
Taking a break…
Looking away from the sea you got another really humbling view.
Looking back down the path.

We had a really grand hike. Then we had to make it back past all these sheep in the road towards our next destination.

Twin’s “horny sheep” as mentioned in the guidebook.

On our drive we were also lucky enough to see our first Irish rainbow!

 

This was followed by my first sunset on the ocean, and, let’s be honest, I was barely awake at that point. (So yes, I stole this photo from a friend!)

 

At long last we finally arrived in the area where our hostel should be. But we couldn’t find it. When we stopped for petrol we asked the man working inside the petrol station if he could tell us where it is. He said it’s just a few blocks down.

Well, we weren’t in the city; it was really more of a highway. Blocks refers to some weird building or section of a building on my campus, so we didn’t really know what that meant. After driving and realizing that we had most certainly passed it we turned around only to find that the hostel was literally the next thing after the petrol station.

Not sure if that’s just how they say it here or if he thought we were really dumb tourists. I think he was making fun of us, though it’s hard to tell. These Irish are an interesting lot.

Anyway, we made ourselves some tortellini for dinner and finally crashed. When we woke up in the morning and looked out the window, we saw that we were actually right at the base of Errigal Mountain. So, after our quick breakfast, we packed up and headed to a nearby car park that Twin had found out about.

The mountain is quite lovely. We also had fantastic weather for climbing it; however, I was not digging the bog at the bottom of the mountain. Stupid me, I only brought one pair of shoes and they were soaked probably not even ten minutes in.

Errigal Mountain

So what do you do when you get fed up with the horrible mud plus shoes equation? Well… this happens:

My shoes are useless in mud here…

Yeah, I hiked it barefoot until we got up to the rocks. And happy little Twin just kept going with her waterproof shoes. Note to self: Chucks are not made for the mud. They’re alright for the real mountain hiking, just not the bog.

…but my shoes are okay here.
Halfway up.

Once we hit the rocks the climb got much better! It was quite exhausting, but not more than I expected. The temperature was strange though. At first we were hot, and I kept shedding clothes, until finally near the top, I had to start putting them all back on. Except for my feet. I gave up on those and just let them go numb with cold, then everything was all good.

Finally, we did conquer the mountain! It was nice to look down and see how far we had come. It was really interesting to me to think that my body was able to pull myself across the mud and up this massive rock. After reveling in this fact, all that was left was to enjoy the view…

Poor shoes…

When we had finished at Errigal Mountain we spent some time at Glenveagh National Park. It was a nice place but it wasn’t anywhere near as exciting as the other things we had done that weekend. The castle was interesting, but to be honest, I was more than a little freaked out about the decorations. The deer art reminded me a bit too much of the hunting culture back home.

 

So that’s my weekend in a nutshell. I have to say that was definitely the best weekend I’ve had since I arrived here. My upcoming four-day trip to Scotland will probably be even better!

Cheers!