Tag Archives: Walking Tours

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.

One Day in Budapest

Since I was already leaving for Vienna the next morning, I was determined to cram as much as I could of Budapest in my one full day in the city. The best way to accomplish this? Free walking tours!

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Budapest is the capital and largest city of Hungary, with a population of over 1.74 million along the banks of the Danube River. While it once was composed of three different cities––Buda and Óduba on the west bank and Pest on the east––it was unified in 1873 into one: Budapest.

Alex and I got out early to meet up for the start of the morning walking tour. You can find tours like it all across Europe, which are most popular with the young and hostel crowd since they’re only funded by a policy of “pay however much you can” at the end of the tour. We were paired with Anita as our tour guide, and started out for a 3-hour tour of some of the major sights on both sides of the river.

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Anita began our tour with an overview of Budapest’s history, from the seven original tribes of the Hungarian people to their horrendous luck in also being on the losing side of wars over the past centuries. In the 16th century, the Ottomans pillaged Buda and occupied it for 140 years, during which they constructed many of the traditional Turkish baths that you can still find in the city. With the fall of the Austria-Hungary Empire in 1918, Hungary declared itself an independent republic. Hungary once again was on the wrong side of World War II, where it suffered serious damage and remained under Soviet occupation until the fall of the USSR.

Our tour began in the Pest side of the Duma River, slowly making our way over the Chain Bridge to the Buda side, where the old castle and palaces are located.

In our tour group, we quickly became friends with Cindy, a girl from Chile who was about two months into her 3-month solo trip across Europe. She had previously spent two years as an au pair in Massachusetts, and she now was traveling across Europe by couchsurfing and meeting up with old friends.

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After the tour, Cindy joined Alex and me to grab some sandwiches at a local grocery store and eat them near the Fisherman’s Bastion. We walked around a bit, crossing over the bridge and taking lots of photos.

Cindy had to go meet up with her friend, so we said goodbyes and exchanged contact information to stay in touch and exchange photos. Alex and I went on the prowl for some free Wi-Fi and  ended up in the lobby of an extremely posh hotel.

Since we enjoyed our morning walking tour so much, we decided to also meet up for the afternoon Communist walking tour. This time, our guide Anna took us by some of the remaining buildings and monuments from the Communist era, but also told us a lot of anecdotes about life under Hungary’s version of “Happy Communism.”

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In 1949, the Communist Party gained control of Hungary, subsequently enacting an era of state socialism under the influence of Moscow. However, unlike many other countries east of the Iron Curtain,  demonstrations in Budapest in 1956 led to the outbreak of the Hungarian Revolution in defiance of the Soviet occupation. In response, the state began to enact several reforms to appease the people––for example, Hungarians were allowed to purchase their own kind of blue jeans and could buy real Coca-Cola at the store. As a result, from the 1960s to the 1980s, Hungary was often satirically referred to as the “happiest barrack” within the Eastern bloc.

Anna shared with us all kinds of stories about life in communist Hungary, such as how the state supplemented two-week vacations for all Hungarians, dubbed James Bond movies in a way that left out all references to Communists as the enemy, and created all kinds of bureaucratic nightmares, such as the arduous seven to 10 year process to buy a car. While Hungarians lacked many types of freedoms, Anna explained the kind of nostalgia for the by-gone era that still persists for many older Hungarians. More than once, Anna commented on the need for a generational change––that it would take several generations to truly instill a “democratic” way of thinking in the country.

After the tour, we scoped out a traditional Hungarian restaurant that we found on Trip Advisor, and ended up having one of the best meals we’ve had on the trip so far—they even had a man playing the harpsichord in the restaurant!

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Afterwards, we walked over to the Buda side of the city once again to get some night shots of the city, especially the Parliament Building.

What a beautiful city!