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!

A Spontaneous Hike

On Saturday, a friend and I decided on a whim to pack up and go for a hike, even though it was already noon and there were only about four hours of daylight left. (The sun sets way too early for November…)

So we gathered up a little food, got some petrol, and started off for Castelwellan Forest Park. When we arrived, the clouds had taken over and soon the daylight would be on its way out. These factors made for intriguing lighting along our little hike. As we arrived, we found that there was a castle. As it was getting dark we wanted to get on with our walk so we snapped a photo and moved on.
Our path took us up a hill and passed by a mountain bike trail, which was very dark and foreboding. The light coming through the pine trees was quite interesting.
It had been raining quite a bit and near the top of the hill we found a little lake that had drainage going down the side of the mountain and was drawing water out of the overflowing pond at a fast rate. We found some clovers along here, which were actually the first I had seen in Ireland. Go figure.
When we finally reached the top of the hill in our lovely hike, we had a view of the sunset Mourne Mountains, and the sea off to the left.

We hiked back down the hill as the last daylight was fading, then, as all uni students do, decided we were hungry. We had dinner in a restaurant by the sea called Mourne Seafood Bar.

I very much appreciated that we sat right next to the toasty fireplace. For a starter, we had some freshly baked bread and dips. Then, we moved onto the main attraction: fish and chips! The food was delicious and the portion sizes were generous. I’d have to say that this dinner was truly the highlight of my weekend.So, there you have it! A very short post for a very short excursion!

Cheers!

Scotland in Four Days

I mentioned earlier that I was going on a longer trip to Scotland, four days in fact, and indeed I have! A German friend and I woke up early to catch our flight to Edinburgh. Once we landed, we made our way to the city center and the first thing we did was jump right into tourism mode by going up the Scott Monument.

 

The Scott Monument is dedicated to Sir Walter Scott and has 287 steps, making it a whopping 60 meters high. So, as you can imagine, it was quite an interesting climb. Want to think about the implications of climbing a Gothic-style monument built in the 1800’s? Let’s.

First, spiral stairs:

Second, no proper windows, so you’re definitely dizzy:

Finally, the stairs get narrower as you go up, so much that even I was getting a bit panicked by the lack of space. But, once we reached the top, the views were lovely, so I was happy!

Then, we took a walk up towards Edinburgh Castle. From up there, you can see the lovely building and lawn that inspired J.K. Rowling’s Hogwarts and Quidditch Pitch.

We took a look at the castle as well, but only from the outside. We weren’t particularly interested in spending more money to tour the castle when we could be spending our time out and about in the city.

However, some of what we saw was a bit strange and I’m still not sure what to think of it:

I think even this mural was surprised it existed…

Then, I had a little bit more Harry Potter excitement as we went past The Elephant House, where Rowling started writing the Harry Potter series. So here’s a photo of me being rather excited about this, but annoyed by the wind and ready to warm up somewhere that didn’t have a mile-long que.

We ended up heading to our hostel, cooking lunch for ourselves, and taking a much needed nap before heading out into the dark for a trip up Calton Hill. From Calton Hill, you can see a lot of the city below, and it was especially gorgeous at night.

We spent the rest of the night enjoying Edinburgh night life (indoors, where it was warm, of course).

The next morning led us on a trip to climb up the Salisbury Crags. On the way, we made a very special stop just for me. The destination was a graveyard. Why was I so excited about a graveyard? Well, you see, Edinburgh was the epicenter of the Scottish Enlightenment, which featured a number of prominent thinkers. As an economics student, I am most excited about one thinker in particular: Adam Smith. Thus, I present to you, my little visit to his grave, and my one shoe photo from the trip (yes, really only one this time)!

More than a little excited to have found this….

Oh, and yes, we did go to the crags. They were quite windy so we basically went up a way, took some photos, enjoyed the view, and came right back down to search for a place to thaw our hands.

I really must tell you about the place we found. We saw a little tea room and decided to give it a go. It was straight up adorable inside. The place is called “Clarinda’s Tea Room,” and all of their desserts were made fresh, from scratch, that very day. They also had amazingly tasty soup made fresh, from scratch, that very day.

Oh dear, I think I am perhaps too excited about this tea room. Posting food isn’t exactly something I normally do on this blog, but here is the delicious meal I had….

Are you jealous now?

I had the lentil soup, and my friend had a very nice tomato soup. We shared a pot of passion fruit and orange tea that was equally satisfying. The moral of this story is, if you go to Edinburgh, check out this amazing tea room!

We spent the rest of the afternoon hanging around the city before packing up and heading to the Highlands. We made one quick stop on the way out of town for my friend to take some photos of the Forth Railway Bridge. Here’s a little peek of what that looked like:

So onto the Highlands! We drove up to a little town called Aviemore. It is right by the Cairngorms National Park, which we visited on day three. The night leading up to that day was full of rain. We joke that we were being punished for leaving the city because the weather only turned rotten when we left town.

What do two university students do in a National Park in the rain? It was only logical to grab a few mountain bikes and hit the trails. (No, it really wasn’t logical, but that’s what we did.) So, just to give you an idea of what a soaking wet Lynnae looks like, I’d like to provide you with this flattering visual….

Rain poncho and MBC hoodie plus a lot of layers kept me warm.

Really though, it wasn’t that bad. I complain, but in actuality I had a really good time. The park was gorgeous.

My legs were killing me at this point…

After our mountain biking adventure we packed up to head to the next destination. By this time, it was raining dismally. We were planning to head to a national park west of Edinburgh, but our plans didn’t work out. What happened is that the road we were going down, the only way to go without a five hour detour, was closed due to a landslide from the excessive rain.

We changed our hostel for the night and the next morning made our way back the direction we came from and just did little things, including enjoying the drive. On the way out, we could see the awesome power of the flood waters coming down the mountains and streams.

The water here was super high and the dam had every flood gate open.

One place we took a stop at was the Wallace Monument. It looked daunting from afar and we hiked up the hill to where it was to stretch our legs after being in the car for so long.

 

The other place we stopped before hitting the airport was Blackness Castle. It was rainy so we just looked around a bit and took a few photos before moving on.

 

That’s the story of our four days in Scotland! We saw a lot, had a phenomenal time, and it was money well spent. But seriously, go to that tea room.

Cheers!

Scotland: The Prequel

I finally made it over to Scotland, but only for a day. I have another, longer trip to Scotland this weekend. Since Taylor, another Midwesterner, and I all have a free day on Wednesdays we decided to take a trip over to Scotland. We got up early and took the ferry over, and then went by bus to the town of Ayr.

So what can you do in just one day in Scotland? It turns out quite a bit. First, we ran around town for a little while until we could catch the next bus to where we wanted to be. It was a really quaint town with very old stone architecture. There were quite a few little modern touches that you could see around if you looked.

Note the twinkling lights above.

After we enjoyed a tea and coffee break in a small shop, we headed down to the bus station and figured out which bus we needed. It didn’t take too long before we were off. The problem was that we didn’t know where the stop we needed was, so we asked the woman behind us. She kindly pointed it out when we got near it. People here are so approachable…

The bus ride seemed to take forever but was made better with a peanut butter sandwich made with love (thanks, Twin!). Then, at long last, we arrived!

At the main gate we bought our tickets for entrance into the park, and the person working at the front helped us figure out the last bus we could get back to Ayr in order to catch the coach back to the ferry. It was earlier than expected, and we had less than two hours at the castle. Still, we saw quite a bit!

The park itself is absolutely breathtaking. Culzean Castle was also much better than the one in Donegal County in my humble opinion (but don’t tell the Irish that).

First, we toured the inside of the castle. It was set up as the last inhabitants who lived in it had left it. They filled it with oil paintings, shiny furniture, and immaculate ceilings as any good castle owner does. In the basement of the castle we even got to tour the old servants’ work area, including the laundry room and the kitchen.

A castle with a view.

 

After getting our fill of the castle tour, we headed out onto the grounds to have a quick look around as we reluctantly made our way back to the bus. The view from the back side of the castle absolutely floored us.

 

 

Eventually we made our way back to Ayr and decided to explore the town. First, we went down to the beach. The wind coming off of the sea was very cold so we didn’t stay too long before moving on along.

 

 

Then we walked into the town to find this little gem. I was able to see it from a little way away so I followed its general direction until we got there. It was gated off so we couldn’t get any closer but it’s St. John’s Tower, the only bit left of what used to be a church at this site.

 

Then, my incredibly superior sense of direction which kept me from getting lost in Oaxaca kicked in and I was able to get us back to High Street. On the way we found a small river with a view. Then we found some clock towers back at High Street as we walked back towards our shuttle pick-up.

 

 

Last, but certainly not least, after being in the United Kingdom for over a month, I finally got my first fish and chips from the country! It wasn’t perfect but it wasn’t horrible either. The fish they used was Cod and this seems to be quite common. However, Twin, a self-proclaimed fish and chips critic, vehemently claims that Haddock is much better.

 

On that note, I’d better be off! I’ve quite a lot to do and so little time before I run away to Scotland for the weekend. Of course, there will be a blog post to follow that as well.

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!