Tag Archives: Spring Break

The Luck of the Irish

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Several years ago, my family traveled to southern Ireland for a vacation amidst the overcast skies of mid-February. But although February can be gloomy in the Emerald Isle, its countryside is anything but: dramatic, chiseled cliffs rising above the sea; shockingly green hills and valleys; and charming rural towns. Though getting my passport stamped at Shannon Airport was definitely one of the highlights, my favorite moment was tracking down the farm where my great-grandfather grew up near a town far outside of Dingle. My father stopped at a gas station to ask directions, where the baffled attendant’s surname was Galvin as well. She directed him to the house of her great-aunt nearby, where it was clarified that they were from a different branch of Galvins, though she remembered hearing of a Timothy Galvin who left for America and could direct us to the old farm.

And so, it was wonderful to return to Ireland once again, where everyone vaguely looks related to me and I look at home among my pale and freckly folk. Shawn and I arrived on Thursday evening on a quick RyanAir flight from Bristol, then took a bus to get to our Airbnb rental on the northern side of the river. Our stay in Dublin encompassed everything that is wonderful about Airbnb: our hosts were friendly and full of great recommendations, the cost was low, and the house was ideally located.

Day 1

We got up early the next morning for a walking tour of Dublin run through Sandeman’s, which offers a number of free (or tip-what-you-want-at-the-end) walking tours throughout Europe. Our tour guide, Brian, took us to a number of the major sights in the city center while regaling us with centuries of stories of foreign invasions, famous figures, and those pesky English.

After lunch, we stumbled upon St. Stephen’s Green.

We then jumped on one of those hop on, hop off tour buses to ride around the city. (Shawn especially enjoyed all of the bus driver’s horrible, horrible jokes.)

We got off the bus to partake in one of Dublin’s biggest tourist attractions: the Guinness Storehouse.

The whole set-up was pretty overwhelming, considering it’s like a Disneyland devoted entirely to beer. For example, at one point in the museum you go through this room that has different characters talking about Guinness makes the world a better place. I didn’t really buy it. I mean, okay, it’s just a beer company…

At the end of the tour, however, the Gravity Bar had fantastic views. I had my first pint of Guinness, and also got asked for my ID for alcohol for the very first time in my life, since I’ve been abroad for the past year and haven’t been back to the U.S. since I turned 21. (Although I still get asked for ID for R-rated movies and frequently get confused as the younger sister, so I’m surprised it doesn’t occur more often.)

Afterwards, we jumped on the bus again for its last run of the day, as the sun set.

Day 2

On Saturday, the first item on our itinerary was to visit the Kilmainham Gaol, which is one of the largest unoccupied jails in Europe. Since it was built in 1796, the jail has figured a role in some of the most heroic and tragic events of Ireland’s history, especially during the repeated attempts at independence.

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Our guide led us through the decaying, narrow hallways of the institution as he told us stories of the different inmates who once spent time in these cells.

We then spent the rest of the day walking around the city, jumping on the bus, and wandering through the Irish Museum of Modern Art and the Irish National Archaeological Museum.

We ate dinner at a restaurant near our house, then wandered by the Temple Bar area to get a taste of what Dublin was like at night. There were all kinds of live music acts, and we came across a fantastic band that was playing some Irish rock music.

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We were watching for a bit, when suddenly some people started dancing in the middle of the circle. Quickly, it turned into a dance-off between a teenage girl and an older man, like some crazy combination of Stomp the Yard meets Riverdance.  It was one of those surreal moments where you think to yourself, Am I really watching this?

Overall, it was the perfect ending to a lovely spring break. Shawn and I departed for our respective cities on the following morning, though I had to sit through a 4-hour layover at London Stansted before finally making it back to Italy.

On our way back home at the Dublin Airport.

On our way back home at the Dublin Airport.

It was fun to get a glimpse at what Shawn’s life is like this semester in Bristol, but as I walked home on Monday afternoon through the winding streets of Fiesole, I couldn’t help but think:

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It’s good to be back.

Pip pip, cheerio!

You find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.

That quote from Samuel Johnson is oft repeated about London, with its masses of people and never-ending pulse of life. Despite the characteristically gloomy weather of this grand city, you can’t help but feel yourself pulled into its energy, as you too push through the tunnels of Tube stations underground or jostle on its packed sidewalks.

But first, I owe a little explanation. A stubborn head cold put me out of commission of writing about my spring break until now, and there’s also been the scary realization that I’m over half-way through with my semester. Time is running out, so every moment is precious: to wander through the gardens, to visit that museum, to enjoy a leisurely dinner at home. It’s strange to think how quickly this semester has already gone by––and really, how fast this year has gone by.

And when you’re with the people you care about, it’s even more shocking how the minutes seem to whizz on by. For spring break, I jetted off to the British Isles. Though I’ve been to London and parts of southern Ireland before, this time it was to reunite with Shawn, who is studying abroad at the University of Bristol for the semester. I met Shawn in London for the weekend, then traveled to Bristol, Bath, and Dublin over the course the week. It was cold––and sometimes rainy––but I loved playing the role of tourist once again.

First stop, London!

I arrived in London on Friday afternoon, after an uneventful flight from Florence to Heathrow and a train to Paddington Station. I met up with Shawn at the McDonald’s––not because we were stereotypical Americans (or maybe we are), but because (pro tip) it’s the most reliable place for free WiFi at Paddington. On the first night, we waded through the rain to find our Airbnb host in Tooting before eating a wonderful dinner at The Laughing Gravy.

Over the next couple days, it was time to hit the museums! It’s not a trip to London unless you visit the British Museum, the gigantic building that houses all of the precious archaeological artifacts that the English looted from other countries. As such, when we weren’t taking pictures of ourselves mimicking statues, Shawn and I spent most of our time at the museum arguing whether the artifacts should be returned to their home countries or not.

We also spent an hour or so wandering through the halls of the Tate Modern, pondering the meaning of life (or why some things are considered art).

We also walked around the city itself, a worthy attraction all on its own. There are truly few other things like watching the light in St. James’ Park at sunset.

During the weekend, we also took the Tube everywhere. London has the wonderful privilege of having the most beautifully designed public transportation map I’ve ever seen––something we dutifully studied over the weekend whenever we’d have to make our long journey back to our home base at Tooting Broadway.

We also made sure to take advantage of the many food options in the city! Asian fusion, anyone?

Bristol: Writing on the Wall

On Sunday night, we took a late train to Bristol, where Shawn is living for the semester. Bristol is a large city in southwest England, with a population around 430,000. It’s also home to two universities: the University of Bristol and the University of the West of England.

The coolest thing about Bristol is its huge street art scene. There are a number of active street artists in Bristol, and the city is also the hometown of the famous street artist Banksy, who was made famous in the documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop.

It was Shawn’s reading week when I visited, so we spent lots of time in coffee shops as he worked on midterm essays.

There was lots of procrastinating involved.

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I enjoyed meeting his British university friends and seeing what his life is like in England. Luckily, the University of Bristol campus is beautiful!

Plus, the British have a way of saying things just so.

I especially found it entertaining how Brits greet their friends with a somewhat indifferent “You all right?” or “All right?” instead of the usual American “How are you?” While that’s a perfectly normal greeting in the U.K., I kept thinking that people thought there was something wrong with me. Nope.

Bath: The city, not the room

One day, we took a day trip from Bristol to the city of Bath, which is about an hour away by bus. It’s a beautiful city, full of gorgeous blocks of houses, a meandering river, and quaint neighborhoods.

And apparently bath stores...

And apparently bath stores…

Right off the bus, we found a beautiful, grassy park by the river.

Along with sightseeing, I played paparazzi for the week. I present The Many Faces of Shawn:

Of course, the main attraction in Bath is the site of its ancient Roman Baths.  The city was first established as Acquae Sulis around the 60s A.D. over a natural hot springs in the area. For centuries––and even today––visitors came to the city seeking out its special waters, throwing money and objects into the pools as an offering to the gods. In Georgian times, the spa garnered popularity once again as a resort town.

At the end of the museum, you could taste the water from the hot springs itself! (Though my expression can tell you how that water actually tasted.)

For several quid more, we purchased our ticket to the Roman Baths with an entry to the Fashion Museum, which houses one of the largest collections of historical and fashionable dress in the world. The museum started out with several exhibits on historical fashion from the Georgian Era, then ended with more contemporary collections. Each year, the museum selects an individual to chose the Dress of the Year, which is selected to reflect that year’s fashion trends.

My favorite part, however, was the dress-up section full of Georgian-era garb. Jane Austen, eat your heart out!

Step 1: The undergarments.

Step 1: The undergarments!

#georgianselfies

#georgianselfies

We also spent time wandering the city itself: churches, gardens, and boulevards, oh my!

Near the end of the day, we found a park with this fantastic bucket swing. A perfect way to end our day trip?

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I sure think so.

Next post: Spring Break, Part 2 – Exploring the city where everyone looks like they’re related to me… Dublin!