Sooo… I’ve taken some time off from writing my blog (obviously). But I’m back now (I swear!)… I was going to have a full post explaining my absence, but I think I will just say that since I last wrote on May 11th as Sra. Henry kindly reminded me I have done quite a bit of adventuring. I said goodbye to all the dear friends I made in Spain, I was visited by my brother (with whom I then took a whirlwind tour of the country), and came back to the states. After spending a few weeks settling in, I got a job and have been working in the grown-up world for almost a month now! BUT, those will all be blogs for a later date (maybe I shouldn’t say “later,” I don’t want to make anyone angry). But for now, let me go way back into the past and give you the highlights of my April trip with one of my best friends, Ms. Ali McAfee.
I’m going to start off slow. We took lit’relly hundreds of pictures on our trip around Spain and Ireland, but I am just going to give you the best (and most appropriate) pictures and a little bit of information about them. Let’s see how this goes now that it’s been five months. Again, so sorry for the hiatus, and thanks for hanging in there with me.
Ali flew into Madrid the same day that I took a train back from Porto, Portugal. A few running / screaming / jumping hugs and two hours later, we caught our plane to Barcelona. I had already been to Madrid a dozen times, and Ali’s dream was to get to know the heavenly place that is Barcelona, so we wasted no time. We had just checked into our hostel when we were informed they were going on a pub crawl. Given the fact that Ali and I were together, we ignored our exhaustion (and perhaps better judgement) and headed out on the town with our hostel. We went to a few of the most “American” touristy bars in the city, but we were together, and we had yummy drinks, so a great (late) time was had by all. We spent the next day rambling all over La Rambla and the rest of the city, before we headed on to Dublin.
Once we checked into our hostel in Dublin and met up with my lovely friend Kate, Ali and I had to take a family picture together with Gravy (the stuffed frog that my brother gave me for my journeys… he’ll get his own post, don’t you worry). We couldn’t have picked a better spot for our awkward family photo, and makes me smile every time I glance at it.
Even though Kate (who had just flown in from Scotland), Ali and I were (again) exhausted, we couldn’t pass up the recommendation given to us by the owner of our hostel: go to the bar around the corner, order fish & chips and a beer, and listen to the live music. I will forever be thankful we listened to that funny little man. A night full of delicious beer, great company, hilarious conversations, and incredible live music was just what we needed.
If you haven’t caught on quite yet, the theme of this trip was “Go! Go! Go!” and we stuck to that theme like glue. After a late night of live music and yummy beer, the three of us were up and at the Guinness Factory to take our tour… by 9 am. We had a lot of things to do that day and the only time we were able to fit in the tour and complementary pint was in the morning. So off we went for a breakfast that is “good for you.”
The Guinness Factory tour was absolutely amazing. It had such a neat layout, and it was self-guided without making you feel lost and confused. There was so much information to absorb, sights to see, and pictures to take. I had to have a picture of myself acting like Godzilla over the model of the Guinness Factory. Why? Because it was 9 am and I was in a beer factory, that’s why. Thank goodness Kate and Ali only rolled their eyes a little bit.
After the amazing tour through the museum (which, by the way, is a circular building that goes up and up and up until you reach the bar at top… just like a pint glass!) we reached the bar where we got to try our free Guinness. Now folks, I enjoy beer as much as the next good Midwestern girl. However, I’ve never been a huge fan of Guinness: it’s too heavy and dark and just sits like a brick in your stomach. Little did I know, this is only because the Guinness I’ve tried was shipped and stored thousands of miles away from its bottling source. So how did the Guinness in the Factory compare? I would swear it was the Ambrosia of the gods. I have never tasted a more delightful, complex, delicious drink in my entire life. You could tempt me with the finest wines or most expensive champagnes, the bubbliest sodas, or the freshest juices, and I would still choose a fresh Guinness over everything. Just thinking about it makes me want to cry and hop on the first plane back to Dublin. Needless to say, this got our day off to a great start.
Another great thing about the Guinness Factory? You could see the entire city of Dublin while you were enjoying your (free!) beer. The entire bar was a circle with nothing but spotless glass around it: you could see for what seemed like miles. While we could have stayed there forever drinking beer and looking over the glorious city, we had other things to accomplish as well, so we headed out of Dublin and set off to Cork. Once we got into Cork, we caught a bus to Blarney. There we visited the Blarney Castle and…you guessed it… kissed the Blarney Stone.
For those who don’t know the legend, it is said that anyone who kisses the Blarney Stone (a stone on the top of the castle) will instantly be made as eloquent and sharp-witted as the Irish. The three of us felt we needed all the help we could get, so we ran to the top of Blarney Castle and got there about 2 minutes after it closed. Thankfully, luck (of the Irish?) was on our side, and Donald the overly-kind caretaker let us kiss the Blarney Stone. While it sounds like you would just pucker up and be done with it, we found it was a bit more complicated. You actually have to lay down on the ground at the top of the castle, and hang the upper half of your body off a gaping hole in the upper wall of the castle. Donald’s job is to hold people to make sure no one falls to their death as the lean backwards off the castle to kiss this famous stone. The rush of hanging off a building was enough to make anyone feel like their was some magic taking place as the eloquence coursed through their veins. After we had successfully kissed the stone, Donald took our picture to document the momentous occasion. While none of us felt particularly more eloquent, we did find that we fit in quite well with the incredibly nice Irish people we met and hung out with, though that might have been because everyone we encountered was even nicer than the last.
A little backstory: we literally ran up the hundreds of steep, winding staircases (comprised of tiny, weathered stone steps) to get to the top of the Blarney Castle in time to kiss the stone. We even had a little Hollywood-esque drama when Kate tripped up the stairs, threw her purse, and fought her way up on her hands and knees yelling “Keep going!” While it was hilarious, it was exhausting after we’d done nothing but drink beer and eat sandwiches all day. However, we were rewarded by the following spectacular views of the castle grounds. *Traveler’s tip: If you want to avoid all the crowds at the Blarney Stone and don’t mind getting in a bit of a cardio workout, get there near closing time. We were the only people on the top of the Castle and it made our experience even more enjoyable. Maybe if you don’t feel like getting close to a heart attack, go a little bit earlier than 15 minutes before closing time.
Even though the Castle closed, the exquisite grounds were still open. We meandered around the grounds for a few hours before the sun started to set and we decided to head out before we got locked in for the night. The following few pictures are just a tiny sampling of the incredible sights we absorbed.
Once it started to get dark, we headed out of the castle grounds, back into Blarney proper, took the bus back to Cork, the train back to Dublin, and a cab to the Temple Bar district. Temple Bar is an area of bars (named after the original Temple Bar that is still open) filled with great people watching and even better selections of beer. After wandering around and soaking in the atmosphere, we ended up at the famous Palace Bar. We ordered some beers and made our way upstairs to hear some live music that was, again, fantastic.
We had planned on staying out for quite a while in the Temple Bar area, but since the next day was Good Friday and the Republic of Ireland is a Catholic country, all the bars closed at midnight. And I do mean closed: they didn’t just stop serving liquor. They turned off the taps, the band stopped playing, and all the patrons were sent (politely of course) to the street. They take their religious holidays seriously: bars could not serve any alcohol the next day, nor could liquor stores be open. It was quite an interesting sight to see. But anyway, after we left the bar, we stood outside the bar until about 3 am talking and singing with the guys from the band. After a few hours of international merriment, we were all tired and headed our separate ways. However, that night will forever be in my short list of best times ever had.
Even though we stayed up late (for American standards… Kate and I were used to the Spanish idea of 3 am being an early night) we were up bright and early to do more sight seeing around the city. We wandered around in a big loop around the city, stopping at all the touristy highlights, as well as making random detours to explore the parts of the city that weren’t necessarily on our maps. However, instead of showing you 4,000,000 pictures, I will just hit the highlights of the major attractions.
Kate and Ali are two very similar people. I knew they would get along, but I was not prepared for the type of intense bonding that happened: their friendship seemed to blossom and their greatest delight together seemed to be making my life miserable. Ok, so they didn’t really make me miserable, but they definitely enjoyed ganging up on me. And each other. There was not a dull moment the entire trip.
No, Ali and I are not actually engaged… this is a “friend engagement” photo: we promised each other to come back to this spot together when we’re both “old” (whether that means 5 years from now or when we’re both married with kids and grandkids I’m not sure) and have another European adventure together. Kate was our wonderful photographer, and we couldn’t have asked for a prettier backdrop for our friendship commitment.
To put the icing on the cake of an incredible trip, we found the home where Oscar Wilde used to live. As an avid reader, self-proclaimed nerd, and English major, I felt like visiting this house was one thing I could check off my list of things that I need to do in order to die happy. Maybe the fact that I kissed the Blarney Stone and visited the home of Oscar Wilde means I will one day be an international superstar for writing. Time will tell.
Another literature-nerd thing I got to do while I was in Dublin was to visit the Book of Kells at Trinity College. The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript (fancy words for a book with decorations) written by monks around the year 800 that contains the 4 gospels of the New Testament of the Bible. It is massively thick, hand-written and decorated, and (is this phrase getting old yet?) one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. The amount of time and effort that went into creating this work, and the sheer luck that it has survived this year through fires and wars and floods is just mind-blowing. I could have stared at this work for hours on end if there hadn’t been a line of disgruntled tourists forming behind me. There’s another thing to check off my bucket list.
My whole trip with Ali was phenomenal. While we did travel in Spain a bit, traveling to a new country with wonderful friends is something truly worth writing about. I hope you’ve enjoyed all these pictures: I tried to include more than I normally would have since I left you hanging for so long. However, I pinky swear I will write again soon. I do have to warn you: some of my posts may become a bit emotional (though I will try to edit out most of the comments that are over-the-top saccharine)… I am now using this blog not only to document my travels, but also as a sort of debriefing for myself, and a way to work through all of my emotions (good, bad, and everywhere in between) about being back home in Kansas after a year on my own living out adventures. Again, thanks again for being such loyal readers. I’ll see you soon!