Touring the British Isles

Hello, all! Now that I’ve been out of America for about 4 weeks, I figured it was probably time to get back to the blog…

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind of traveling, getting settled, and–most recently–beginning classes!

Ireland

I arrived in Wales on September 9, joining the other 14 participants in my study abroad program. We then had a whopping two days before we were headed off to Ireland for almost a week! In order to get to Ireland, we had to first drive to Holyhead, and then take the ferry over to Dublin. Our ferry was called The Jonathan Swift, so basically I was geeking out right from the start. We spent the first two and a half days of the trip in Dublin. I found Dublin to be a delightful, bustling city.

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One of the highlights from the very first day was getting to see a production of Shaw’s Major Barbara at the Abbey Theatre with a few other girls from my program. Not only were the acting, costuming, and the set superb, but it was fascinating to watch and listen to the characters struggle with reconciling their morality with the selling of military weapons…while we were seeing the show on September 11 and had heard “breaking news” about the crisis in Syria just hours before over dinner.

Naturally, though, I was geeking out about the literary history around me almost the entire time we were in Dublin. There were statues and monuments for James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Jonathan Swift, and we even passed a house that Yeats lived in at one time. I also had a chance to pop into the National Library of Ireland which was absolutely gorgeous; to add yet another highlight, there I was able to see a Yeats exhibition that was absolutely fabulous. Basically any English major’s dream.

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One of the last things we got to do was visit Trinity College where we saw the Book of Kells exhibition as well as the amazing Trinity Library. Walking through the library was so special; I could feel the history, knowledge, and impact all around me.

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After spending some time at Trinity, it was off to Galway for the rest of our trip! As much as I enjoyed Dublin, I loved Galway even more. It was amazing to see the contrast between the busy, touristy city and the beautiful, scenic Galway. Galway also more closely aligned with the picture I have always had in my head of Ireland–green, open spaces…castles and cathedrals…

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While staying in Galway, we also had the chance to take a ferry over to the Aran Islands. This was by far my favorite part of the entire Ireland trip (and possibly even of my time abroad so far). When we got to the island, we rented out bikes (our feet were happy to finally have some rest after long days of walking nonstop in Dublin), were given maps, and then had the rest of the day to roam the island. The whole time I was so overwhelmed by the beauty surrounding me. There is truly no way to describe it.

One of the sites we got to visit on the island was Dun Aengus. Dun Aengus is a prehistoric fort, believed to be built around 2000 BC. The fort sits next to a spectacular cliff–with no barriers or fences blocking it off (this is how we knew we weren’t in America anymore!). We had a blast lying on our stomachs on the edge of the cliff–what a rush!

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The next day, we of course had to see the iconic Cliffs of Moher before heading home. The view was absolutely amazing, but even crazier was the wind! We could barely stand or walk, it was blowing so hard! At one lookout point, the wind blew us down a slope and then was literally so strong we couldn’t walk back up that same slope! It was crazy! The view was absolutely amazing though, and the Cliffs were something I couldn’t have left Ireland without seeing.

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Soon after it was time to head home and get to know to know the place where we’ll be living for the next 3 months!

Wales

After a couple of free days to move into our permanent rooms (in the pouring rain, naturally) and get settled, we were off again for two days of field trips within Wales!
There are two words that basically sum up the Welsh landscape: Castles…and Sheep!
We’ve already had a chance to visit quite a few castles, and while traveling to those castles we see tons of sheep! (Just a few of the 11 million sheep in this little country 1/12th the size of the state of Texas!)

We started our Wales field trips with a visit to Caernarfon Castle. This is an impressive stone castle that was built by Edward I. The castle was huge and filled with winding passageways, so we had a blast exploring just a fraction of it during our time there.

IMG_5034Our next stop was Criccieth Castle. By the time we reached Criccieth, the rainy, drizzly weather we’d had in Caernarfon was replaced with sunshine, illuminating the incredible view. Even though Criccieth Castle was significantly smaller (and much more in ruins) than Caernarfon, I still enjoyed it every bit as much. Like I said, the view from the castle was absolutely spectacular, and a few friends and I also had a blast climbing up one of the castle walls (in our defense, there was no sign saying we couldn’t…but that’s probably because they didn’t think anyone would be crazy enough to try!). It was quite a challenge, and a little scary at times (once we were all finally up, we weren’t quite sure if or how we’d be able to get down), but overall it was super fun and we got to apply some great teamwork skills. :)

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Success! But I was definitely happy to be back on the ground when it was all over... haha

Success! But I was definitely happy to be back on the ground when it was all over… haha

We ended the day with a trip to the Llechwedd Slate Mines. One simply cannot go to Wales without visiting a slate cavern and learning more about the impact of slate mining on the country. We got to take a train into the cavern and learn more about the mining history and process from our hilarious Welsh tour guides.

Rockin the hard hats...

Rockin the hard hats…

For our field trip the next day, we got to do some exploring in the beautiful Snowdonia National Park (a climb up Mount Snowden is definitely in my future!). This day was filled with some hiking as well as a trip to Swallow Falls and another castle.

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After our field trips, our flatmates and the other uni students started to move in, and Fresher’s Week began, followed by registration for us international students (which proved quite a challenging task!).

London, England

After registration was (finally) done (phew!), we had a few days before classes actually started, so a few friends and I decided to take a three day trip to London. These three days were super busy, but such a blast!

The first thing we did in London (and definitely my favorite!!) was see Wicked at the Apollo Victoria Theatre. It was a little stressful getting there as we ran from the train station to our hostel to drop off our bags, and then rushed to the theater, making it there only five minutes before the show started! But the show was absolutely amazing, and our seats were spectacular–fourth row! They were on the side, so we got them at a great price, and they were still fantastic seats! I had never seen the show before (and hadn’t even known how it ended!), but I was familiar with a lot of the songs, so it was great to finally know the story (and now I’ve been singing the songs constantly for a week…).

IMG_5290After the show, we took a little time to catch our breath, and then took a slow, scenic walk back to our hostel, getting a chance to see many of the iconic sights lit up at night.

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On Friday we decided to a free walking tour of London. It was the best decision we made during our time in London. The tour was fantastic! Our tour guide, Rachel (an actress taking a few months off) was so hilarious and had tons of interesting stories and pieces of history to share with us about what we were seeing (so much more than your typical, dry textbook). (Side note: Sandemans offers these tours all over Europe, and I would STRONGLY recommend them if you’re ever traveling: http://www.neweuropetours.eu/).

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The classic phone booth pic

The classic phone booth pic

Our London trip closed with a chance for some more incredible literary-geekiness from me.

We began Saturday with a trip to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre (after also seeing the delightful Shakespeare Head pub the night before). I can’t even describe how incredible it felt to be at The Globe.. I was so excited the entire time–talk about checking things off of my bucket list! Now to just see a show there someday… :)
After that, we made our way over to King’s Cross Station and had our pictures taken at Platform 9 3/4.
And finally, I spent my last hours in London at the Charles Dickens’ House Museum. It was amazing to stroll through his former home, see his furniture, and read more about his life. There’s nothing like seeing where someone lived and worked to make their novels and writings come even more alive!

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After this, it was time to head back to Bangor and start our first week of classes (more on this later)!

This weekend, I’m staying in Bangor…but next weekend it’s off to Munich!

Until next time! :)

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