Wednesday, March 31, 2010

adventures in ireland.

Finally! The internet is cooperating and I have enough time to upload the millions of photos from the first part of my spring break trip in Ireland.

Everything started entirely too early, at 4 AM on Friday, March 19 when my roommate, Marissa, and I went to catch the earliest train possible, because it was 16 euro cheaper than the later train. It all went swimmingly and we ended up at the airport with a couple of hours to spare (as the plan went) so I slept on my luggage until my gate opened. Flight was caught without incident, and we landed, again, without incident. Slight problems finding our hostel, but we found it eventually.

At this point of course, we were starving, so we hit the streets, looking for the greasiest pub food we could find. Along the way...

The Spire.

We thought this was a winner...until the pub was FULL of men who stared at us when we walked in. Next, please.

It's James Joyce! He was from Dublin, obviously.

Yep, we are definitely in Ireland.

Street band.

The River Liffey.

Being in the UK means...driving on the wrong side of the road, and almost getting hit multiple times by cars and buses and taxis...

After grubbing and going back to the hostel to get ready, we went out on the town and found...Temple Bar! It's the most touristy area of town, probably, but totally full of fun pubs and bars and restaurants. Our first night out was a bit of a failure, in that we couldn't find the young people. Literally every pub was full of old men watching rugby games. And some cashier at one of the bars told us that people our age in Ireland "don't drink or go out".....lies.

The next day we walked around a bit...

Before heading to the Guiness Storehouse, where we spent the rest of our afternoon.

We learned about how Guinness is made.

Played around in the advertising exhibit...

Then we got to pour our own pints! The secret is pouring the beer most of the way full, allowing it to settle, and then topping it off to give it the famous "head" of fluffy foam.


After pouring our pints, we made our way to the top of the Storehouse, where the Gravity Bar is located. Its walls are completely made of glass, giving a panoramic view of the city.

We made some friends in the bar, hung out for awhile, drank some Guiness, then headed back to Temple Bar for some food and to watch the end of the epic Ireland-Scotland rugby game (which Ireland lost...sad day). After that, we headed home and went to bed early.
We woke up the next morning and headed out for a traditional Irish breakfast...sausage, potatoes, beans, toast, bacon, coffee, the works. It was delicousss and carried us straight through lunch. After breakfast, we decided to see all of the sights of the city.

The Joyce School of Language! Not a typical tourist attraction, but interesting to the nerdy English major in me.

Some pretty bridge.

We ended up walking all the way from one side of the city to the other in order to find Phoenix Park, which I'm pretty sure is Europe's largest park. It is (I think) something like 3 times the size of Central Park in NYC, measuring more than 6 kilometers across. So we rented some bikes and hit the trails!

Such a gorgeous day.

This monument was erected in 1979 in honor of a visit from Pope John Paul II.

And...what are those?!

Wild deer, of course! The park is famous for its herd, numbering over 500.

The Wellington Monument.

After that we walked across the River Liffey towards...


And St. Patrick's Cathedral.

Dublin Castle...which was actually kind of lame.


Flower stand on Grant Street.

The trip to Dublin was a blast. Guinesses and Irish Car Bombs for all!
The next morning, on Monday the 22nd, I got up, checked out of the hostel, and caught a bus to Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, famous for its conflict between the Catholics and the Protestants. This clash began way back in the 1500 or 1600's (if I remember correctly) but still wages on today, though on a lesser scale. Unfortunately, my camera battery died while I was there and I was unable to charge it until I got to London on Tuesday night so my Belfast photos are limited in scope.
I started with a visit to Queen's University, largely recognized as the most beautiful in the UK.

After that I got some lunch and walked toward the city center, where I encountered...

City Hall and the "Belfast Aye,"' a spinoff of London's famous Eye. I didn't ride this one, though, on recommendation from my hostel owner who said it was a waste of money.

More City Hall...

St. Anne's Church and its Spire of Hope. I actually don't know the story behind this, so you'll have to do some research, I guess...

Front of the church.

Then, purely by coincidence, I ran into the John Hewitt Pub which is apparently famous in Belfast, so of course I stopped for a pint of cider. Only in the UK is it completely normal to start drinking at 3 PM. camera died. I also took a walk around the Botanic Gardens (where I saw a border collie so reminiscent of Tech that I just had to say hi), visited the Ulster Museum, where I learned a bit about Belfast history, and went to a cupcake store near the city center recommended by a certain Irish friend of mine. The cupcake was DELICIOUS...banana cake with nutella frosting. Mmmm.

The next day I had time to do a little souveneir shopping in the morning, after my hostel owner cooked me an authentic Irish breakfast. I picked up a few things, wandered around the city a bit before realizing I was totally lost. I had to get back to my hostel ASAP to catch my train back to Dublin at 2 PM. I did end up making the train, but a ride that was supposed to last 1.5 hours turned into a 3.5 hour ordeal. Because of some sort of threat on one of the lines, we had to disembark at a stop in Newry, get on a bus for 45 minutes and trek to ANOTHER train station where we were then allowed to go to Dublin.

Of course, at this point I'm panicking. It is 5:15 PM when I arrive in Dublin and my flight to London leaves at 6:55 PM from the Dublin airport. I catch the shuttle, but of course at rush hour in Ireland's biggest city, it's less of a "shuttle" than a "crawl through the streets." I arrive at the airport at 6:00 PM, frantically check my bag, and run to...the wrong gate. Apparently there are two flights departing for London at 6:55 PM, and I managed to go to the one on the completely wrong side of the airport. Doh. Fortunately, I obviously made it to my gate in time to board. From there, I traveled on to London....

But we'll save that for another entry.

Today, it's a beautiful day in Florence, and I do not have any classes this afternoon! So I think I will take advantage of that. Gillian and I have plans to hit up a recommended lunch spot, after which I'm going to take a book and sit in a park for a bit, reading. After I finish my laundry (stil piled up from spring break) of course....

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

technical difficulties.

Due to ridiculousness on the part of my internet provider, no update today. I was planning to begin my first spring break installment, but it appears that it will have to wait until tomorrow. Stay tuned for my adventures in Dublin!

Monday, March 29, 2010

there's no place like florence.

Well, I just arrived back at my apartment in Florence, and immediately threw open my suitcase, grabbed my shampoo, and took a shower. A whole day of traveling by train, bus, and plane can make a girl feel a little disgusting. I'm also currently boiling a pot of pasta for an early dinner, considering I have eaten nothing but peanut M&M's since 7:00 AM this morning.

I had an incredible (and crazy) spring break, but I am definitely wiped! I think I'll need another break to recover from spring break.

I have a lot to update on, but I may not get to it until tomorrow (and it will probably take several days to cover everything...attempting to cover 10 days, 4 countries, and 4 cities in one entry is exhausting to even think about). Of course, never underestimate my powers of procrastination...tonight I have to: do laundry, clean my room, finish a paper for my writing class, do my Italian homework, and hopefully start uploading and sorting the 1000+ pictures I took.

Friday, March 26, 2010

lounging in london.

Current location: Jessica's flat, on her ridiculously comfortable bed. Jess is currently putting her face on before we head to Borough Market and hopefully Kingston later this evening, if the weather decides to cooperate.

Since I've been here, Jess and her boyfriend, Lucio, have been showing me the less-touristy side of London. It has been heavily coffee-themed, with a prominent side of balconies and delicious little restaurants (and one cookie store in particular that has stolen my heart). I've been extremely tired ever since I got here, so it has been nice to just kind of lounge about and catch up with everything that has been going on in Jessica's hectic life.

Like I said, we are about to head to Borough Market, a large food market located eastward, across the river. Onalee recommended that I visit since I missed out last time, and Jess's roommate Elaiha just mentioned a fantastic veggie burger place over there where I am hoping to nab a (second) lunch (Jessica just force fed me some pasta left over from her and Lucio's lunch). We have been wanting to hit up Kingston ever since my first day here, but a combination of weather and homework have made it a bit difficult. Hopefully the rain will stay away so that this evening we can go have a nice dinner on the river.

Then, much later tonight, I get to catch a train from King's Cross to Stansted Airport, where I'll catch a flight to Eindhoven, Netherlands at 6:55 AM. Ew. Hopefully the Dutch can at least attempt to compete with the culinary and coffee experience I've had thus far in London.

This post seems a bit incoherent. I'm telling you, I have been out of it this whole week, ever since before Dublin, even. I hope I'm not getting sick, because when I get back to Florence on Monday, I officially have less than two months left abroad. WHAT?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

planes, trains, and automobiles.

Why, hello there! Do I actually still have a blog? Doesn't feel like it after being away for like...four whole days. Haha. Can you say addicted?

Anyway, we just made it to London this least, some of us did. KJ lost her passport at some point on the way from Galway to the Dublin airport, so she and Laura are stuck in Dublin until she can get to the embassy tomorrow and try to sort things out. That means that I am in London with their roommates that I barely know (and have very little in common with)....uhhhhh.....awkward.

This whole weekend was super intense traveling though! I have been on four buses,three trains, two planes, and the London Underground since last Friday morning. It's like the 12 Days of Christmas, except it's the 12 modes of travel. And I've still got at least two more planes, a train, and two more bus rides in my very near future. Lovin' life, folks.

I'm not going for a real update here; just logging into say that I survived Ireland (BARELY. So. Much. Guinness.) and am now back in England, ready to just drink some coffee, read my book, and maybe go to some museums. Since I have already been here, I don't feel super pressured to get around to all the touristy sights or go out super late at night to party. This is my rest between the craziness that was Ireland and what is sure to be madness when I meet up with Sam and her friends in Amsterdam this weekend. Time to relaxxxxxx!

Ciao for now! (Yeah, I keep forgetting they speak English here and speaking to them in Italian. Whoops.)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

thoughts on spring break and buying wine in bulk.

Today, I took my last midterm. Tomorrow, I am hopping a train at 4:35 AM to catch an 11:15 AM flight...because it costs 16 euro less. I think I inherited a few of my father's money-conscious tendencies. I will land in Dublin at 1:15 PM, where I will spend three days, departing Monday to spend an evening in Belfast, Northern Ireland. From there, I will go back to Dublin to fly to London, where I will spend four (hopefully restful) days, just exploring the city and hanging out with Jess. Superearly Saturday morning, I will fly to Eindhoven, Netherlands and then catch a bus to Amsterdam, from which I will return to Pisa on Monday afternoon. Phew! That sounds exhausting.

Spring break is going to be incredibly fun, but also very tiring. I'm starting to wish that I'd booked an earlier flight back, just so that I can rest before school starts all over again, but I intend to live up my 11 days away from Italy! I won't be leaving the country again until the end of April for my trip to Barcelona (how crazy does that sound? "I won't be leaving the country again until a month from now...").

So this afternoon, after a celebratory midterms-are-over lunch in my kitchen, me and the roomies hit the town to run a few errands...print a few travel documents for the anal traveler who NEEDS the weather forecast and directions to every hostel printed some locks for the hostels...and of course, buy wine in bulk.


Yes, you heard right. You buy one of these bottles...

And they fill it up for you from one of these giant vats...

For really cheap! Like 2 euro per liter.
Crazy, right?

Look! It's glowing.
This was actually Sam's wine, but I was intrigued with the process. Might have to buy my own (smaller bottle) when I get back from break. It's just another one of those ridiculous things that Italy does that when you stop to think about it is actually kind of ingenius. No, the wine is probably not the best quality, but none of us are winos here; wine is wine! And if it's cheapest to drink it out of a refillable bottle, then, goshdarnit, I'm gonna!

And for my father, who was inquiring about grocery stores here, I was an incredible tourist and took photos of the inside. I try to buy fresh produce from the central market, but the grocery store is just so convenient! Two blocks away.
Not nearly as pretty as il mercato centrale.

The grocery stores here are not like they are at home. Instead of one giant room filled with aisles, they are just a series of rooms with small shelves in each one. It can be quite a maze.

I can't believe I am actually leaving tomorrow for spring break. That means my time here is half over! It is so bittersweet for me...on the one hand, I never want to leave Italy. I love it here. But on the other hand, the idea of going home and just spending my summer relaxing and focusing on me sounds really irresistable. And I miss UF, a lot more than I thought I would. At this point, I'm just trying to take it as it comes and not wish for it to go any faster or slower. Just enjoy my time while it lasts, and I'll be ready to go home when the time comes.

I'll try to update while I'm on spring break, but I make no promises. It may be March 29 the next time you hear from me. Arrivederci!