Discovering Dublin

Dublin was wonderful, simple as that. While it was a place I have always wanted to visit, it wasn’t wonderful for the reasons I thought it would be. Usually, when I visit a new city in Europe I like to go for the historical sites and then a few of the touristy sites as well but, in Dublin, the only historical place I visited was the Trinity College Library and even then I was in and out in under 10 minutes. I think the reason that I had such a wonderful couple of days was that I met some really interesting people to share the adventure with.

I stayed at Abigails Hostel (http://abigailshostel.com) which was in the best location I could have asked for, right in the middle of Temple Bar. Temple Bar is one of the famous and extremely touristy bars and the area around it is named after it. I never had to walk for longer than 10 minutes to get to anything I wanted to see in the city which was amazing. I met some really interesting people in my hostel too and it was great to have other people to tour the city with. It was such an interesting mix of people too. I met people who had just moved to Dublin and were staying a hostel while they found an apartment, I met people like myself who had been abroad all summer and this was one of their last stops and there were people who were in Dublin for only two nights. One of the things that I love about hostels is how open and friendly most people are, especially other solo travelers. Almost everyone is looking to meet new people and share adventures along the way. Just sitting in the lobby of a hostel, you can make a handful of new friends in no time and I think its just such an interesting experience to have. I mean sure, a lot of the people I met I will follow their lives at a distance on Instagram or Facebook, but there are others who I can see myself staying in touch with and going to visit wherever they might end up in the world.

I arrived in Dublin around 6pm from Toulouse airport and went right to my hostel to check in. I made my bed and then headed down to the nearest pub I could find to grab a bite to eat and my first Guinness (of many). I found a great little place a couple doors down from my hostel and sat listening to live music for a couple of hours and, of course, found myself sitting next to two other Canadians who were there on their honeymoon. I swear that Canadians are subconsciously drawn to each other when traveling because they seem to pop up whenever I am introducing myself to new people. The next day I was up bright and early, and I mean bolt upright and ready to go. The time difference between France and Ireland was only one hour but when you’re used to waking up at 6am in France, that means you’re up at 5am in Ireland. Despite my best effort, I wasn’t able to fall back asleep so I ended up lying around the room until I could finally go down for breakfast at 7:30am. By 8am I was out of the hostel walking around a VERY empty looking city. I was fully prepared to be the first person at all of the sites I wanted to see and had a long list of places to check off, but it turns out it was a holiday in Ireland so almost everything I wanted to see was closed. I ended up heading back to the hostel to change my plan for the day. I signed up to do a free walking tour at 11am and then booked tickets to see the book of Kells and the Trinity College Library later in the day.  I honestly have to say that free walking tours are one of the best ways to see a city, especially when you’re on a budget! The tour guides are all freelancers who work on tips so they have the incentive to give you a better tour because a better tour means more tips. Then you just need to tip them what you think the tour is worth! I have been using Sandemans New Europe Tours (http://www.neweuropetours.eu) and haven’t been disappointed with them yet. I even did 4 different tours with them in Berlin and all the guides were fantastic. But anyway, after that I went around the Book of Kells exhibit which was alright. I know that as a history major I should have been much more excited about it, but it was packed with tourists and the exhibit wasn’t of particular interest to me. I ended up just walking straight past the exhibit to see the books, which are very very beautiful, medieval manuscripts, and then headed right up to the library. The library is stunning and was very much worth the money I paid to get into it, but again it was absolutely packed with tourists so after taking a couple pictures there wasn’t much else I could do in there.

After that, I completely hit a wall. I don’t know if I was coming down from working so much in France this summer or if being back in a city was too much for me but I could hardly keep my eyes open and I started to feel super guilty about not continuing to tour around Dublin. I ended up just sitting in the lobby of the hostel for 2 hours, video chatting with my boyfriend while he tried to talk me out of feeling guilty for not walking around more. I was super close to just going to bed at 6pm but he suggested that I find someone to go for a drink with for an hour and honestly if he hadn’t convinced me to do that, I would have missed out on meeting some really awesome girls who I ended up spending the rest of my trip with. After I hung up the call with Xav, I ended up introducing myself to a girl who had also been sitting in the lobby for two hours. Basically, we totally hit it off and went out for drinks with another girl in her room. That one hour out for a drink turned into 8 hours of drinks, dinner, laughter, and dancing and I am so thankful that I didn’t just go to bed like I planned to. I think that I had my all-time best travel moment that night too when I dragged an Irishman onto the dance floor to dance. Let me tell you, we absolutely cleared the dance floor with the way he was spinning me to the Irish jig the band was playing.

I have to say as much as I enjoy travelling on my own, it was really nice to have company in Dublin. Our group did a little bit of shopping, because why not, and did the Guinness Storehouse together which was absolutely worth the money. It was packed but the view from the bar at the top was well worth it. We spent a good chunk of our afternoon up there meeting new people and looking out over the city. But as wonderful as all of that was, my absolute favourite part of the trip was the ride I did just outside of the city. I booked a private two-hour ride because let’s face it, after riding for three hours every day for three months, I figured I would be missing riding a little bit by then. By coincidence, the girl who took me out on the ride was from the same part of France that I had just come from and was the same age as me. We had a fantastic ride together galloping through the paths that overlooked the city. At the very top, you could look down and see the entire city of Dublin which was stunning. We even saw it when the sun was shining (believe it or not)! I really enjoyed the relaxing pace that I had in Dublin. Usually, I pack in as much as I can see and this time I didn’t, I just enjoyed the city and the new company and it was really refreshing.

My final day in Dublin was really chilled out and I went out for a goodbye breakfast with the girls before heading to the airport to fly to Manchester. I have just spent the last two weeks visiting with my family in the UK which is something I don’t get to do as often as I would like. My cousin Emily picked me up from Manchester airport and drove me up to her Uni house in Wales, and let me stay with her and her boyfriend for 5 days. We filled our days with cooking, history and a lot of laughing together. It was really nice to have someone to nerd out with over the stone outline of an Iron Age farm that we visited and even better to be with someone who was as in awe as I was over a neolithic burial chamber!! She’s also majoring in history, so she just gets it.  After spending time with her, she put me on the train to my aunts house in Crewe. I spent nearly a week with her, my uncle and two more of my cousins and had a wonderful time there as well. It was a huge change to be able to spend time one on one with all my family, because usually when I see them it is at Christmas time and it’s always a bit chaotic trying to see everyone in my very large family, in a very short period of time. My aunt has just bought a new horse so I spent an hour or so every day up at the stables with her. On my last day we went out on a hack together and honestly, just galloped around a country park for the best part of two hours. She and I had the most fantastic time and we even get the same silly smile when we’re riding. I also had the new experience of having a day trip out on my uncle’s motorbike. We drove around the English country-side up to a beautiful peak view (which of course we couldn’t see because of the rain) and then down to a place called Matlock Bath which is where all the bikes meet up for food and a drink. I also got to see where my mom and dad used to live in England which was really cool since I have never been there before. It was a jam-packed few days which also included visiting Alton Towers with my cousin and his girlfriend and having a night out with my other cousin. I think that this trip was probably the most time I have ever got to spend with my cousins, ever so we absolutely made the most of it. On Wednesday, my aunt dropped me off at the airport and I travelled to Amsterdam Airport before taking the train down to Rotterdam. And here I am, settling into the city that I will be calling home for the next 10 months.

 

 

Travail and Travel

I really don’t understand how summer flies by so quickly every year. It feels like just yesterday I was packing up all my clothes and heading to the airport to begin my year abroad and fly to Berlin. And now, all of a sudden I have been away for three months and I am only away for another eleven months? I do have to say that I think that I think this entire year is going to absolutely fly by, especially once school starts. I have had a wonderful and unique summer full of meeting new people and experiencing new places and parts of the world. I started off in Berlin which I absolutely loved and am going back there again for New Years this year with my friend Reilly. She is the one who I travelled with for New Years last year as well and since Berlin is so well known for its nightlife, we figured we would go back there to celebrate the New Year this year. I met some really interesting people in Berlin and everyone was so friendly and there was so much to see both culturally and historically that I was totally in my element. I Couchsurfed for the first time and it was a great experience. I really lucked out with that, since I didn’t get an offer to stay until literally the morning I left Canada. But I ended up getting an entire Berlin apartment to myself for free and the landlady was lovely, showing me around the city and telling me things to do whenever she was around. She also rented out her other apartment to two Dutch girls, so I am now in contact with them for when I’m in the Netherlands for school this year. The only downside to Berlin was the fact that I had to lug around a suitcase that probably weighed as much as I do. It was absolutely massive and let me tell you, the Berlin subway does not have elevators that are easy to find. So I had to carry one case up/down the stairs, leave it on the landing and then carry the other one, crossing my fingers that my first bag hadn’t been stolen. It is really rare that I travel with anything bigger than a carry-on bag so this really just confirmed why I do that.

I left Berlin on the 20th of May to fly into Toulouse airport to start my summer job. I was working at a French Château which ran riding holidays. They were located just outside of a little town called Promilhanes which was picturesque. It was exactly what you would imagine a small French town looking like; no restaurants, a church which was the center of the town and A LOT of farms. The Château itself was over 600 years old and still decorated in a traditional style. I got to live out the stereotypical princess dream of a 6-year-old girl, 14 years too late but nonetheless, it was wonderful. I lived in the tower of a Château in France, it doesn’t get much better than that for student accommodation. It was actually a really good arrangement in terms of housing for me for the summer because I was working for room and board which meant I had no expenses for the summer other than my phone bill, and in Europe, phone bills are about 1/4th of the cost as in Canada. I mean seriously, I had a better plan in France than I did in Canada and only paid €14 a month for it when in Canada I paid over $100. But anyway, working in France actually meant that I ended up saving on rent and food costs, all while working abroad which is something I have always wanted to do. Plus, I was able to work with horses every day which, as my friends and family know, is something I have loved for as long as I can remember. I was super fortunate because the family running the Château was unbelievably kind to me and treated me like a member of the family. I think that really helped me not to feel too homesick. It was also fantastic because my mother, niece, and step-father came down to see me for 3 days while they were in between traveling from London to Paris. I was able to show them all the fantastic areas near me which they completely fell in love with just like I had.

The south of France is an amazing area for history and is completely full of Châteaus. I mean honestly, it felt like every town you passed through had their own Château. There is also an abundance of Mediaeval Villages which have been more or less kept up to their original appearance. My favourite was Saint-Cirq-Lapopie which is a 13th-16th-century village which is built with a (now destroyed) Château on top of the hill with the rest of the village coming down the side of the hill. It makes for one hell of a walk when you have to come back up from the bottom of the village to the car park but it is completely worth it. I love this village the most because of the history behind the destroyed Château. Essentially what happened was whenever the lord of the area made a decree that the peasants didn’t like, they would lock themselves in the Château, but it was so well built that the lord couldn’t get them out unless he agreed to drop the decree. He ended up getting so sick of this that he just thought it was easier to destroy the Château so he did! Since I was staying in such a small area I was able to experience the village fête which is basically the big party that is put on in the village every year. They serve drinks, bring in a band and have food (yes that included snails and frogs legs). The one in our village was especially fun and the band played a mix of French songs which made me stand out as a foreigner and super English songs like from ‘Grease’ which I think made me stand out even more. I never thought that I would be singing ‘Greased Lighting’ in a town of 150 French people where maybe 1/5 know more than 10 English words, but I sure as hell was.  I also ate frogs legs, because well, when in France. They were surprisingly delicious and I was actually able to eat the entire plate of them.

I originally planned to stay at the Château for all of August as well, but they actually close for the entire month because the heat and the bugs are too bad to be taking the horses out on rides. So even though I was told I could stay, I decided to take advantage of the time off and travel for a month. I flew from Toulouse to Dublin on the 5th of August after a bittersweet goodbye to my ‘family’ and spent four fantastic days in Dublin before heading down to see my cousin in Wales for six days. There will be a post on Dublin up within the next week, this time I actually promise it will be, but since there was so much that I did in Dublin I don’t want to squish it all into this post. So right now, I am in Bangor, Wales and then I will be travelling down on the train to my aunt’s house in England for another few days. After that, I am off to the Netherlands to try and figure out housing and university things but after that, I am off to Croatia! One of my friends from Canada is visiting her Grandparents near the Hague (which is really close to Rotterdam) and so we decided to pop down to Croatia for a few days. We really aren’t sure what we want to do or see there yet, all we know is that we are flying into Dubrovnik and out of Split, and we’ll figure out the rest closer to the time. After Croatia, I am heading back to Rotterdam and actually settling into school and a regular schedule. I have a few more adventures planned though, from now until after New Years. My boyfriend is coming over to see me in October and we’ll be travelling around France together for 10 days, and then my dad is coming down in November to see ‘my’ city. In December, Reilly and I are off to do New Years in Europe 2.0 through Paris, Prague, Berlin, Copenhagen and Venice!

Here’s hoping that I will be better at blogging now that I’m visiting so many new places, and have so much to write about. Anyway, if you made it to the end of this post, thanks for reading!

 

First Day in Berlin

Guys, I am very excited. I woke up this morning in the cutest little apartment in Berlin with the sun shining in through the big windows, and I just smiled; this is it, I’m finally here! I was up bright an early at 5:45am Berlin time, early enough that my friends back home hadn’t even fallen asleep yet, but I can tell you there’s a very small chance that I will fall back asleep. There is so much that I have planned today and I just want to get a jump on it!

This isn’t going to be a long post but rather an overview of my arrival here and my first couple hours in the city. I left from Toronto airport at 9pm last night, after quite a tearful goodbye at the airport with friends and family. I flew with IcelandAir (as I always do) so I had almost a 2-hour layover in the Icelandic Airport. I really love that airport. Its small but they have the cutest little restaurants and THE BEST sandwiches I have ever come across at an airport. It’s the little things right guys? I managed to sleep for about an hour on the flight to Iceland and then I absolutely passed out on the flight from Iceland to Berlin. And when I say passed out I mean 95% chance I was snoring, flight attendants had to wake me up for landing, groggy to the point I didn’t know where I was, type sleeping. Anyway, the airport was a breeze and my bag was the third one out, which is the fastest I have ever had a bag come out.

I am trying something a little different for accomodation this trip which is Couchsurfing. I’m not sure if anyone has heard of it, but its an online platform based on the idea that travelers are willing to host other travelers for free. When I got out of the airport I followed the instructions that my host gave to me, lugging my bags (very big bags) onto the public bus and then onto the subway. Let’s just say that there were no elevators so I woke up with very sore arms this morning from carrying my bags up what seemed like an endless number of stairs. I arrived at my host’s apartment without a problem, to find that they have given me an entire apartment to myself! Yup thats right, private kitchen, bathroom, my own set of keys and everything. I am just overwhelmed by the generosity of these people who are willing to host me in this incredible apartment for my 5 days in Berlin. I got to meet and chat with the host and got to speak French with her (YAY) and she told me all the places that I should see and left brochures for me which was extrememly helpful.

Since I have my own kitchen, I decided that I should go out and get groceries so that I can cut back on the cost of meals while I am here because, let’s face it, eating out for every meal in very expensive. I ventured out in the pouring rain to find a grocery store last night and luckily there was one quite close. I stocked up on some snacks, breakfast food and bread before heading back to ‘my’ apartment to make myself dinner.

I decided against trying to go out and do sight seeing yesterday since I was very tired and the weather wasn’t great. It was nice to just relax and have the place to myself since I will have a very very busy day today. Today, I have a free Berlin walking tour at 11am which I am really looking forward to. After Reilly and I did the free walking tour in Amsterdam, I have decided that it’s one of the best ways to see a city on a budget! I will update this post later today with more information on the tour and the company I am going with, once I have done it.

Tomorrow, I will be going on a day tour with the same company to the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp which is on the outskirts of Berlin. That is bound to be a very emotional day, so I will write a post about that experience in the coming days.

Well that is about all the update I have for you all so far! I am really looking forward to exploring the city today and if anyone has tips for things that I should see or do, please let me know!

Update: I ended up doing four different tours with the company out of Berlin. They are called Sandeman’s tours and they were fantastic! I did one free walking tour, a tour about the Third Reich, a tour of Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp and a Pub Crawl as well. Here is the link to their website if anyone is interested, and they have tours in all the major cities in Europe!

http://www.neweuropetours.eu