One year ago today, I stood with the other international students from Ulster University-Jordanstown. We lined up to take in our first view at Giant’s Causeway.
It was sunny, fairly warm despite the sea’s cool breeze. We walked down the path, poured off of it, and began exploring a bit. I remember standing alone of the edge of a cliff and thinking, “Wow… I’m really in Northern Ireland.” The realization crashed into me like the waves crashed into the rocks below me.
It’s always a shock to actively realize where I am. I first got that feeling on Cannon Hill in Staunton one night after watching a sunset. I felt so at home, but also startled, realizing I was in one of the most unique and charming little towns in the country.
The second time I got it was in Oaxaca, when I was in my host mom’s house listening to the musical language of Spanish, that I could suddenly not speak a word of, and feeling like I left my stomach on the plane. There, it was more of a terrifying realization. Thankfully, once I overcame that first night, I settled in well.
And the third time was Giant’s Causeway, a year ago today. That feeling continued through the day, and it recurred throughout the several months that I studied at Ulster Uni. Something about consciously thinking about my place in the world during those three months was incredibly powerful.
Thinking back, I wouldn’t change a thing about that gorgeous day in Northern Ireland. So here’s to another year of (mis)adventures, getting lost, and falling down on my rear end (which I did at Giant’s Causeway and most outdoor excursions, because I’m talented)!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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:
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)!
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….
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….
Really though, it wasn’t that bad. I complain, but in actuality I had a really good time. The park was gorgeous.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.