Archive for June 2015

An Irish Weekend

I apologize this post is long and detailed, but a lot happened in just a few days.

This past weekend was incredible. I can't express in words how lovely Ireland is but I'll try to do my best by sharing the highlights of my trip. I went with two fun girls named Maddie and Madelin. Our flight got delayed (of course) so we left Scotland around 9 pm. I thankfully got a window seat for the 50 minute flight and witnessed the most spectacular sunset I've ever seen. I learned some really devastating news about a tragedy back at home last week, and so I felt pretty unsettled the rest of the week. However, while watching this serene sunset, I really poured my heart out to God and felt at peace. "Wait" by M83 was playing in my earbuds, and the entire sky just looked like it was praising its Creator. I think that may have been one of the most tranquil moments of my life.

We arrived in Dublin and took an airport bus to the city, where we then walked the streets to our hostel. Dublin was not what I was expecting. I actually wasn't a big fan of it -- I didn't find it too pretty and late at night it was very sketchy. We thought we saw a woman being robbed by a scary-looking man, but when we passed by them a second time, we realized they may have just been a fighting couple. Creepy men were smoking against the walls of buildings, trailing us with their eyes. It was just an unpleasant night. The actual hostel we stayed at (which had the word 'Palace' in it and I thought was ironically hilarious) was blah. The service was terrible and I was in a room with 11 strangers -- half were already sleeping when I arrived and the other half just stared at me the whole time I put my bags away. When I asked the man at the front desk for a towel, he said it would be 2 euro and I said heck no! So I sacrificed a shower that night because I'm cheap. I managed to get a few hours of sleep, though my nose suffered greatly from the foul BO odor coming from the man below me in the bunk bed. We originally were gonna stay there again on Sunday night once we got back from our 2-day tour... but Maddie's mom graciously bought us a nice hotel room instead. Yay!

In the morning we set off on our tour in a bus that fit about 20 people. Our tour guide was a 17 year old Irish guy. For 2 hours we drove across Ireland (because our tour was for the west) and I slept on and off. First we stopped in this quaint little town called Cong. Population: 175. For 3 euro we got a short walking tour from a family-run business. A cute, nervous 10 year old boy with braces was our tour guide. The tiny town was adorable and we got lunch from this place called The Quiet Man Cafe. Cong was used for the filming of an old movie called "The Quiet Man," which now I feel like I'm required to watch.

Next we drove another 2 hours until we reached the B-E-A-U-T-I-F-U-L landscape of Connemara. I can't even fathom how artistic God is. The rugged scenery and dramatic mountains were jaw-dropping. It was so incredibly green in Ireland! I also loved seeing all the sheep, horses, and cattle grazing in the wide open fields.

I never wanted to leave Connemara, but we had to keep going. We briefly stopped by the pretty, rocky coast before making our way to the city of Galway in the late afternoon.

Galway was wonderful. Definitely a very fun and vibrant city that had an amazing vibe to it. For an hour we walked the streets, bought some souvenirs, soaked up the first day of sunshine that we've had since coming to Europe, and watched all the different street performers. Our hostel was snazzy and extremely better than the one Friday night. I chatted with the 2 other girls in our room who were also on the tour. They had been backpacking since early May and I was so fascinated with every word that came out of their mouths. I strive to do that one day. We ate dinner in a nice Irish pub (eating out is killing my wallet so I try not to as much as possible) and then I went back early to get a good night's sleep while the others went to find a pint.

Sunday. was. marvelous. The morning was a little rough because we ended up having a new person added to our tour, which messed up the number of seats we had on the bus. The guy in charge split our group in half, dropped my group off on some random street, and told us a new bus would come get us in 10 minutes. Welp 30 minutes goes by and we literally started thinking, "Ireland is where we are going to die." But FINALLY the new bus came and we joined another group. It was so interesting meeting people from all over the world on just one bus. Sitting there, I could hear 3 different languages being spoken all around me simultaneously. I sat by this friendly, attractive guy named Mario from Spain who had been living in Ireland the past 3 years. We talked a lot throughout the day and he told me about Spain, while I told him about North Carolina. The cutest part was that he was traveling with 2 old ladies -- family members that wanted to see his new country of residence. I also met a woman from Italy, a mother and son from Malaysia, a guy from India, 2 women from Spain, and a couple of backpackers from America. It was a very interesting mix that I thoroughly enjoyed.

We drove through the scenic Galway Bay and the Burren. Fun fact: the Burren is the only place on earth where Mediterranean, Arctic, and Alpine flora grow side by side. We also made a short photo stop at Corcomroe Abbey, a 13th century Cistercian monastery. Our tour guide showed us an opening under a grave stone where a skull could be seen.

We continued our drive along the Wild Atlantic Way. Oh man, I thought the Blue Ridge Parkway in NC was the most beautiful road I've ever been on but this one topped it. Everything is so much prettier here than in America. I never wanna go back. The scenery was phenomenal -- water to our right, jagged mountains to our left, and a curvy road ahead. Handmade rock walls (created during the potato famine) lined the roads and pastures. We briefly stopped at a site called the Mini Cliffs.

We finally made it to our main destination: the Cliffs of Moher. I've seen numerous pictures online of them but it was crazy to see their size in person. They were enormous! It was an incredible sight and luckily/surprisingly it wasn't rainy or foggy during our stay. I spent an hour walking around the cliffs, while most of the group took photos for ten minutes and then went inside the nearby restaurant/shop. I didn't ever wanna take my eyes off the cliffs. I got a little carried away and ended up hopping the wall barrier to get a closer look (tons of others had done the same). I can only imagine how gorgeous that site must be during a sunset.

We made it back to Dublin around 8 pm Sunday and rested up in our hotel. We grabbed some New York pizza because none of the pubs were serving dinner that late anymore. Then we walked the sketchy streets until we found the Temple Bar. It was a nice little bar and we listened to some live music. Afterwards, Madelin and I were waiting outside a store while Maddie bought something. Three Irish men approached us, who smelled like alcohol, and asked us about where we were from, our names, etc. Then one asked us, "Do you ladies have any Irish in you?" We both replied no. Without missing a beat he smiled and said, "Do you want some?" Madelin and I were cracking up and turned him down. He and his friends left us alone after that. The rest of the night was uneventful and we made it back to Scotland with an hour to spare before my class started on Monday afternoon. Ireland was so, so lovely.

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Exploring Edinburgh

Last Thursday, the ISS (International Summer School) team took us to Edinburgh for the day and we were free to do whatever we wanted. Wow, I fell in love with this beautiful, old city in a matter of minutes. My friends and I were able to squeeze in many adventures within just one day. Edinburgh is unlike any other city I've been to before.

In the morning we walked around and got drinks at a little coffee shop. The hot sandwiches there were called "toasties," and I think that is the most adorable word. I am no longer calling them panini's anymore. They are toasties. We then made our way to Edinburgh castle -- that place was huge! It was pretty pricey to get inside the walls, but I figured I might as well make the most of my trip. We spent two hours exploring the castle and it blew my mind that royalty once lived there. Who on earth needs that much space?! It was also neat walking along the top of the wall, looking through the same exact openings that guards looked through centuries ago. This place was over 1,100 years old! That is absolutely crazy to wrap my mind around. America hasn't even been established for 300 years yet.

Next we walked along the famous shopping street, the Royal Mile, and I bought some postcards and magnets. We met up with our ISS group for a mini Harry Potter tour. We were taken to some places that inspired J. K. Rowling's books, since she lived in Edinburgh years ago. At the Elephant Cafe, I ate the most delicious ham and cheese toastie I've ever had and drank hot chocolate art in a mug. I loved this quaint cafe and it was actually the very place that J. K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter! The bathroom walls were completely graffiti covered with messages to the author.

We then were taken to a peaceful cemetery that J. K. used to enjoy walking through. It was lovely getting away from the loud, busy streets of Edinburgh and finding some quiet and stillness. This was a super cool part of the tour for me because we got to see grave stones with the names of characters from the books! J. K. is clever -- what better way to get name inspiration than from a graveyard? I may have freaked out a little when I saw Tom Riddle's headstone.

Once the tour ended, a group of friends and I took yet another tour but this one was very different. It was called the Edinburgh Underground Ghost Tour. We had a sensational, charismatic tour guide named James who never got out of character and who made us laugh the whole time. As we walked the streets, he shared old murder stories from the past. It wasn't until we actually went underground, into vaults under the city, that I began feeling a little creeped out. Ghost tours never faze me at all but this one did give me some goosebumps. He told us the vault we were in was only accidentally discovered a year ago. It was entirely dark so we used the flashlights on our phones to see. James said that this was currently a big hot spot for paranormal investigators, who were constantly experiencing bizarre incidents when they came late at night. He said that many people on his tour claim to see a sad, old woman in the corner... and pointed directly behind me. I quickly found a new corner to stand in. He then shared a few more ghost stories before taking us back up into the world of the living.

Edinburgh was a wonderful, historical city and I really hope to visit it again in the future.

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Welcome to Stirling!

I arrived in Scotland on Saturday after the longest, most stressful, and frustrating day I've ever had. My flight ended up getting cancelled at the last minute, I got put on an entirely different airline, I came so close to missing my new flight because the agent told me the wrong gate, and the cherry on top is that my luggage got lost. It's funny how every single thing I was scared about happening ended up coming true. BUT the Lord is good and blessed me with an extremely sweet, thoughtful, and caring family that was on the same flight to Edinburgh. I ended up tagging along with them through the airports and felt like their adopted daughter for the day. I probably wouldn't have arrived in Scotland if it wasn't for them!

On my first night here I was completely jet lagged and felt like a zombie. We had a little welcome ceremony in the Airthrey Castle on campus (no big deal, there's just a small castle on campus) complete with wine and small talk. It was awful. For those of you who know me well, you know that I despise small talk and large groups of strangers. But I ended up meeting Anna, a sweet soul from China, and the only international student who is not from America! I have had the best time getting to know her this week and her constant smile always puts me in a good mood.

On Sunday we toured campus and I am amazed at how beautiful it is! It's fairly small compared to my college back at home but it is so GREEN here and there are hills everywhere -- completely not what I'm used to. There is an enormous loch with a trail around it that takes 45 minutes to walk. I would love to be able to hammock by it by unfortunately it is way too cold to do so. I wasn't prepared for the weather here one bit. My friend warned me that it was cold, but since she was here during the winter time I suppose I thought June would be much different. Wrong! Fortunately my luggage arrived on Monday night so I was able to get out my warmer clothes/shoes and layer up. Another awesome thing about this place is that the sun doesn't set until 10 pm! It completely throws me off because it makes the days feel so much longer and I never know what time it is.

Monday, my friend Elinor and I took the bus from campus into town by ourselves. We surprisingly managed to not screw up and even found the food store, Aldi's, without any problem. (Yet I still cannot figure out the bus system at my home college...). It's funny because at stores whenever we go to pay, we have no idea what amount any of the coins are. The Scottish cashiers are always very friendly and helpful (everyone here is!) and take the correct coins out of our hands. I can only hope we aren't getting ripped off. We bought "milkshakes" which tasted like a really thick, chocolate version of Pepto-Bismol. So far the food I've had here has just been 'eh.' A lot of my friends agree. I'm just used to how sweet everything in America is and forgot that most other countries don't use nearly as much sugar as we do. We also peeked into a pound store, which is like the Dollar Tree in America.

Tuesday was an amazing day! I thankfully don't have any classes on Tuesdays so I have deemed them as my free days to explore (uh and study -- hey Mom!). A group of us aimlessly walked the streets in town at the Stirling city centre. We saw this really tall building that looked like it had an observatory/telescope on the roof so we decided to check it out. It ended up being an upscale hotel and after asking about the roof, the woman asked her manager if we were allowed up. Apparently this isn't normal because some random cute employee from London took us up. He said he had never even been up to the roof before! Wow, the view left me in awe and I never wanted to go back down.

We then kept wandering until we came across this old cathedral called The Church of the Holy Rude, built in the 1400s. It was mesmerizing looking at the beautiful stained glass windows and walking around in such an ancient building. It was so cool to think about how back in 1567 King James VI was crowned king in the very room I was in. We then explored the enormous cemetery behind the church for another hour. We returned to campus in the evening to eat dinner then set out to town again with about 50 other international summer school students for 'pub quiz.' It was at the Kilted Kangaroo, a fun little Australian-themed pub. It ended up being like a trivia night, in which we had to answer questions about Scotland/America in groups. Since my group had a local Scottish student from the university in it, we of course ended up cheating winning. Some girls and I split a pitcher of a sweet, fruity drink that I ended up really liking. Probably because I couldn't even taste the alcohol in it... I was going to head back to campus after the pub quiz ended but nobody else wanted to head back, so I ended up staying since I'm not confident enough to navigate the buses alone yet. We all did a pub crawl and I watched a bunch of tipsy obnoxious Americans take part in drinking games until I was ready to go. I managed to thankfully catch the last bus back to campus with some friends and called it a night. 


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