UK Whirlwind Adventure
After my night in the Edinburgh Airport waiting to board my flight back to Ireland, I arrive at University of Limerick more rested than I expected I would be. Sleeping on planes is a challenge for me…especially when I get stuck in the middle seat. I board the Ryanair plane to Dublin and sit down in the middle seat. A nice lady sits down on the aisle seat next to me and begins to talk to me instantly:
“Are you from Dublin?”
“No. I’m from Seattle, WA. But, I’ve been studying at University of Limerick for the semester.”
“Oh. Cool. Sorry if I seem nervous. I really don’t like flying…. [she keeps rambling]”
We talk for a little longer until the plane begins to taxi for takeoff. Sleep deprived Katy tries to hold the conversation. I know how awful it is when the person next to you on the plane seems to dislike you, especially when you are very anxious about flying (that was me at the beginning of the semester), so I was just trying to be kind. The plane begins to race down the runway and lifts up into the air. No longer than halfway through takeoff, I was passed out. I wake up to the plane landing in Dublin; I slept the ENTIRE flight (granted, it was only a 40min flight, but still…).
Anyway, I make it back to my village and immediately unpack everything, throw it in the laundry, and repack in preparation for my mom arriving a few hours later. My friend, Nala, came over to say goodbye as I finished packing. We hung out and talked for a few hours (mostly about how she needs to come visit me in the States and I need to visit her in Germany).
My mom then arrived and we got dinner before she headed back to her hotel to get some sleep after her long day of travel from Seattle, WA. The following day, I showed her around campus, we walked into downtown Limerick (and back), and that evening she took 6 of my friends and I out to dinner for a final goodbye. It was really nice to see everyone one last time (on this trip. I will return. And, you all should visit) and socialize for about 3hrs (until the restaurant closed…). Though, thank goodness for technology. It will make the transition back home easier as I can still Skype/FaceTime and text my friends in Ireland.
[Pretend there is a picture of me and all my friends. We were too busy chatting that we never actually got a picture of all of us…]
My mom and I get up in the morning and get back on a plane and fly to Shannon. We quickly figure out the Underground system, navigating it from London Heathrow to our hotel. A few days prior, as Tailor and I were traveling in Scotland, we realized we were both going to be in London at the same time. So, what do we do? Meet up for dinner of course! My mom and I take the scenic walk to meet up with Tailor because we had a couple hours before we were meeting for dinner. So, we explored the outside of Buckingham Palace (unfortunately we didn’t get to have high tea with the Queen because she definitely has time to see each and every of the thousands of visitors that take selfies in front of her palace).
We then walked through Green Park to the West End to meet up with Tailor at Harrington’s Pie and Mash Shop. It was used as the stage for Sweeney Todd. Unfortunately, it did not exist in that location anymore, as that was one of the pop-up Harrington’s when the Sweeney Todd show was traveling. So, we found a pub to eat at instead.
Our first full day in London, we decided to spend on the Hyde Park side of town. Neither my mom or I are “museum people,” but we due to the fact that the museums are free in London and the Natural History Museum and Science Museum were recommended to us, we decided to explore them. I surprised myself and we actually spent a good few hours in them. I enjoyed the science museum because half of it was interactive rather than staring at artifacts and reading the descriptions; that just puts me to sleep.
After getting a bite to eat, we explored Hyde Park. Wow that park is massive. I knew it was large, but I didn’t realize how large it actually is. After eventually making through Hyde Park, we wandered to Harrod’s. Entering Harrod’s, we were greeted by high-end make up, perfumes, and clothing. It was quite the experience. Wandering through the maze of themed rooms, we come across the tea and chocolate room; that’s more our style. Finding a floor map of the store, we see there is a “Toy Kingdom,” so of course we had to go check that out. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that many toys in one place! There was the candy bar, Lego section, Nerf toys, a place for girls to have their hair done, and much more. Leaving the store, we started talking to an employee, who recommended Maroush, a Lebanese restaurant around the corner, for dinner. So, my mom and I decided to try it.
We arrive around 7:45pm and are seated in a glass conservatory-like area and are the only ones at the restaurant. It was weird being the only ones there, especially at that time of night. And, to continue the trend of this being a unique restaurant experience, we were brought a bread-, I mean, veggie-basket. Instead of being brought slices of bread like many restaurants provide, we were given two full carrots, a cucumber, a green bell pepper, a tomato, some chili peppers, and half a head of lettuce. Now the question is, do I bite into the tomato like an apple? Are we supposed to make our own salad with it? All we have is a butter knife for cutting. Others showed up at the restaurant and everyone was confused as to what to do with the bowl of veggies. Make-your-own-salad was our consensus. But, the food was amazing and so was the complementary fruit platter and baklava served to us as dessert.
The next day, we explored the east side of town. We began by exploring the Sky Garden (we got lucky that two spots opened up; it’s free and usually you have to book a few weeks in advance). It was very calm up there and very open. I would highly recommend for views of the city (especially on a clear day) and to relax. For the rest of the day we wandered the streets, briefly walked into a few other museums (though left relatively quickly because we had enough time in museums the day prior). That evening we decided that since we had time, we might as well venture south on the Tube and find the original Harrington’s for dinner. We find just off the main road, walk in, see the long white plaster-like tables, and then stare at the menu you for about 30 seconds before walking right back out. The lady behind the counter watched us walk in, stare, and leave and looked very confused. But, when the menu only consists of eel pies with or without lickers, what would you do? I am always up for trying things, but my mom was not really down with that, so we ate elsewhere. But, that was not what we were expecting.
Well, I learned how big of a deal rugby is. I had been told that rugby is large in this part of the world, but when you happen to be in town where the championship rec. rugby matches are happening, you get to be a part of the festivities. I don’t think I’ve seen that much blue and yellow before. People wore jerseys, hats, had face paint on, and carried flags as they walked up and down the Royal Mile and explored Edinburgh Castle. On the train ride from London to Edinburgh, there were a bunch of guys dressed up as rugby players one coach down from us and were drinking the entire 4hr train ride. This all provided a lot of entertainment.
That evening we hiked up Arthur’s Seat, the tallest hill in Edinburgh, for views of the city. But, since we were in Scotland, of course it wasn’t going to be a clear view. The clouds blew in, so there were foggy and peek-a-boo views for us. After the hike, we walked over to the Royal Mile and had dinner in The World’s End pub. It is called this because when Edinburgh was a walled in city in the 16th century and the walls were right outside of where the pub is located. People considered the world outside of the walls to not be there, hence the name of the pub. Today, there are brass bricks outside the pub marking where the wall used to be. There was a stag party leaving, completely drunk, as we waited to be seated. Talking to drunk people always makes for entertaining stories.
For our full day in Edinburgh, we explored the castle, which provided gorgeous views of the city (it was a fairly clear day!), meandered through the weekend market at the Grassmarket, went on the Real Mary Kings Close underground tour and found Dolly the Sheep. Did you know Edinburgh used to be one of the most overpopulated and crowded cities in the world? The walls kept everyone and everything in, so it was also quite disgusting living in these conditions.
Our last morning, we explored the Camera Obscura & World of Illusions museum. Many friends had told me it is really cool, so we decided to go. I would definitely recommend it; almost all of the exhibits are interactive, so it’s great for all ages. There is also a room with a mirror maze (I watched a little kid run smack into a mirror thinking he was walking the correct way. But, luckily kids are made of rubber, so he just got up and kept going) and a tunnel of spinning lights where you can try to walk through without falling over. It was such a weird sensation. As soon as I stepped onto the bridge in the spinning light tunnel, I began to fall over sideways.
We then headed to the Edinburgh Airport (luckily I didn’t have to spend the night there this time) to fly to Belfast. We were flying Easyjet, which I think deserves a different name. This is the only airline I have ever come across that allows you literally one bag for your carryon. You cannot a purse/bag for under the seat in addition to your overhead carryon, which meant I had to fit everything into my daypack. I somehow managed to do it, but it was not easy, but my mom had to check a bag because there was no way we could fit everything else in just one bag. Oh well. We’ll know for next time.
We land and head over to pick up our rental car for the next 5 days. Just before we get in, the sky decided to open up and downpour. Welcome to Ireland! Have fun driving on the opposite side of the road in the rain! I navigate us to the VRBO in Belfast and we only had to take one scenic detour, which took us past the adventure park, because we missed our turn.
Our first full day in Northern Ireland, we explored downtown Belfast. My mom and I drove downtown and walked to the City Hall where the free walking tour was supposed to meet. We waited. And waited. And continued to wait. No tour guide ever showed up, so we decided to abandon that plan and explore on our own. Because we were at the City Hall, we decided we might as well walk inside; it was gorgeous. Then we walked over to the waterfront and explored that and made our way over to Victoria Square, climbing the many steps up the spiral staircase to the top of the viewpoint in the mall. That afternoon we made it over to the Peace Wall and found some of the many murals scattered throughout Belfast. That side of town you could feel was much more solemn. To end the day, we explored the grounds of the Titanic Museum.
Causeway Coastal Route
Driving the Causeway Coastal Route tested my mom’s driving on the left side of the road. She did very well, but it definitely took her some time to get used to the narrow, curvy roads. And, it tested my navigation skills because I just used the map for navigation rather than having Google Maps tell me where to go. But, in Ireland, they are very good about putting signage on main roads.
Our first stop was Fair Head because I had to look at the rocks people climb. My mom got to experience walking through a pasture with sheep everywhere. Of course this was when the rain decided to come. So, we didn’t spend much time exploring the cliffs before heading back to the car. The next stop was Carrick-a-Rede suspension bridge. The weather decided to clear up shortly after getting back to the car to drive to the bridge. So, we got clear views from the suspension bridge and we had it almost all to ourselves (there was a large group coming as we walked back from the bridge, so we timed it correctly). The next stop on our loop were the dark hedges so I could photograph them before heading over to Dunluce Castle and up to the Giants Causeway. At the causeway, there were a couple hills that over looked the basalt columns and two people at the top of one of them. My mom and I saw no signs saying we couldn’t hike up them, so we began to hike up, but some employee there blew their whistle and told us to get down (but somehow didn’t see the other two people, so they got to stay up there…). So, that was disappointing… Anyway, we explored the area more before hiking up the Sheppard Steps (162 steps) to follow the ridgeline back to the visitor centre. Before the steps were built, farmers would carry their sheep up the cliffs; I have no idea how they managed that. Them must’ve been super strong and fit!
Last days in Ireland for the semester
Ending our UK whirlwind, we drove back to Limerick to pack up my place so I could move out. My mom and I spent the afternoon cleaning the place and packing (fun! Not… but it needs to be done).
For my final day in Limerick, Aislinn and Aileen joined my mom and me adventuring through County Clare. Exploring County Clare was my first trip of the semester, so it was a fun way to end it. We first stopped at the Cliffs of Moher, peering over the edge. We then explored the little town of Doolin, where I had my last fish and chips of the semester before driving up to the Burren. Of course we had to boulder up the limestone. This whole time, my mom was quizzing Aislinn and Aileen the rules of the road (like, which lane are you supposed to be in when entering a roundabout?) because learning all these rules the day before you return the rental car is smart 😉
That evening I had to say goodbye to a couple of my best friends I made while abroad. It was hard, but I know that I’ll see them again, so that’s what I keep telling myself.
The next morning, my mom and I flew out of Shannon through London Heathrow, ending in Seattle. I am back in the States, ending my semester abroad. This was one of the best adventures I’ve gone on in my life, so it’s sad that it has ended, but it is nice to see friends from home (are large mountains!).