Sunday, March 27, 2016

Road Trippin'

After spending nearly a week in Dublin, the time came to travel around the beautiful country to explore other parts of Ireland. My best friend Casey had a friend coming from the United States to visit for a couple of days and to make the most out of the journey, he rented a car and we had plans to travel around Ireland for 3 days. And by plans I mean we would book where we were staying the day before arriving at the destination. This was contrary to most of the trip planning I do where I have the reservations to stay at hostels close to a month in advance but I liked and embraced the idea of spontaneous traveling around a country in a small 2016 Peugeot hatchback. Bright and early Sunday morning at 8:00am, we woke up and we're off. Our first destination was the Ring of Kerry, a cool 4 hours away in the very Southwest tip of Ireland. It was on a list of the 10 Best Places in Ireland to visit so we knew we had to make the journey there at some point. One of the best parts about having a car rather than riding a coach bus was the ability to stop whenever. And by this I mean that when we saw a picture perfect moment, we could pull over on the side of the road, stretch our legs, and snap some pics. While getting close to the Ring of Kerry, we saw a beautiful mountain range with a stream leading up to it. The sun was shining, the air was warm, and the panorama turned out surprisingly well.

Some peninsula on the south-western tip of Ireland
We continued on our drive to the lodging which took us to a small town of (according to the B&B owner) just 1200 people. There wasn't much in the town, just a few bars and some small shops but most places were closed given it was Palm Sunday and Ireland tends to follow old traditions. We finally arrived at the Ocean View Bed and Breakfast around 4pm. The owner was (ironically) an older American lady who had moved to Dublin just 4 years ago, we think after retiring. She recommended we go check out this old castle and we took her up on it. It was really cool to explore this old castle that was once used by settlers to stay on the lookout for oncoming invaders and as the owner of the hostel put it, "If they saw the invaders coming from a far, they would finish their beers, and prepare to die because they really had no weapons to defend themselves with!"
Forgot to take a picture of the castle itself but this is the view from the top
By the time we were done exploring the castle, we decided to call it a day and head back to the B&B. Since there wasn't much night life in the nearby town, we stayed in for the night and placed a few card games in our room. In the morning, we woke up around 9am and had an amazing home-cooked breakfast with pancakes, bacon, and eggs. This was a nice treat for us for once given that when we travel, we normally only stay in hostels (which give you a piece of toast for breakfast) to save money. We were on the road by 10:15 en route to Connemara National Park which was north of Galway, Ireland, about 4 hours away from the Ring of Kerry. The drive to the park was unbelievably beautiful; an open road with large mountains surrounding it on both sides, along with lakes, grassy plains, and TONS of sheep. We stopped quite a few times to try to pet a sheep (it had been Laurel's goal since coming to Ireland) and surprisingly enough, they are very hard pet because they always run away. I have a few videos of us trying to pet the sheep which will surface at a later date.

We finally got Connemara National Park and took one of the hiking routes that they had up to a great lookup view where the Atlantic Ocean could be seen and the surrounding landscape was breathtaking.
From left: me!, Laurel, Casey, Kelly, Alex

Around 5pm, we decided to head back to Galway which was an hour away. We arrived around 7pm, ate dinner, and headed to our hostel to get settled. We went out that night and had a craic at the main pub in Galway called the Quays that my cousin Brendan who studied in Galaway for a semester had recommended. The next morning, we woke up bright and early around 6:30am in order to drive to the Giant's Causeway by early afternoon given it was a 4 hour journey. Before arriving at the Causeway, we stopped at the Dark Hedges, a beautiful avenue of beech trees thought to be one of the most photographed natural phenomena in Northern Ireland. It was also a feature scene in the popular tv show, Game of Thrones.
It looks way cooler in person, the wide angle GoPro makes the trees look farther away from each other than they really are
Finally, we arrived at the Giant's Causeway! I had already been there but it was one of my favorite sites in Ireland so I was excited to have the chance to see it again.

At around 3pm, we drove home in order to get home in time to get settled and take Alex out one last time before his flight back to the US on Wednesday morning. It felt like the longest drive of all of them, although it was about the same distance as all the other drives.

And so finally our 3 day road trip was coming to a close. Everyone else fell asleep for most of the ride home but I stayed awake to keep the driver company because I know how hard it is to drive when you're tired and everyone else is asleep. 3 days, 1400 kilometers, and still no one got tired of each other. It was incredibly successful given the amount we traveled and as passengers of the car, it was agreed that we only had to pay for gas which came out to be about 15 Euro a person for the entire trip, an amazing deal considering everywhere we traveled.
Gas: 15 Euro
Gas station sandwich on the go: 6 Euro
Memories to last a lifetime: Priceless 


Thursday, March 24, 2016

Popping the Cork for St. Patrick's Day

Not long after getting back to Dublin on Sunday afternoon, we had yet another trip to embark on. Given that our two friends both had friends visiting from the United States, we wanted to take a trip to another part of Ireland so that they could experience its beauty. Monday morning, we boarded a train en route to Cork, home of Blarney Castle and the Blarney Stone. It was about a 3 hour train ride which put us in Cork at about 12pm. We walked to the hostel, threw our bags in our room, and had lunch. Then, we went to the bus station to take a trip out to the Blarney Castle. Honestly, I'm not really sure of the significance of the Blarney Castle other than that it has a stone that you can kiss for good luck. As the website says, "Its powers are unquestioned but its story still creates debate." Regardless, I wouldn't have been able to come back to the United States without saying I had kissed the Blarney Stone.

We climbed to the top of the castle, waited in line for a bit, and then got ready to do the awkward pose to kiss the stone. Who knows why it has to be kissed in such an awkward way but it's just the tradition. Nothing like getting a little mid day back stretch in, that was for sure.

After visiting the castle, we had the opportunity to walk around the surrounding landscape of the castle which included a few gardens, some big rocks and trees to climb on, and an hour loop around a lake. We also found a table and decided to try to recreate the famous painting of Jesus with his disciples at the table.
After having a (luck) filled day at the Blarney Castle, we took a bus back to Cork. We had dinner at an amazingly good gourmet burger place and headed back to the hostel to get ready to go out. We frequented a few bars that night and had ourselves a good old craic, comparing the night life in Cork to that of Dublin which was good but Dublin always has a soft spot in our hearts and therefore you can imagine which we liked more. On Tuesday, we woke up and went into the city to explore a bit, walking around the city centre and checking out some cool churches and we even found a labyrinth.
 Later that night, we took the train back home, arriving in Dublin around 10pm and called it a night in order to rest up for the long awaited day on Thursday....Saint Patrick's Day. As you can imagine, even since I had accepted this study abroad program in Dublin, every time I told someone about it, their response would be "Oh man I bet St. Patrick's Day is gonna be a lot of fun" and man could they have not been more right. We all went out on Wednesday night to one of the best bars in Dublin called DTwo to kick off the Paddy's Day celebrations. After staying out for a while, we finally all went to bed around 3am. A mere 5 hours later, I woke up to the sound of my roommate breaking into my room yelling, "Get up its time to celebrate!". In a hazing but excited mindset, I got out of bed and got ready. I walked into the kitchen to find that my friends had cooked eggs and home fries, a perfect way to start off the day. What wasn't perfect is that I got Iced about 20 minutes later. What this means is that someone hides a bottle (16 oz) of Smirnoff Ice (an alcoholic mixed sugary drink) somewhere and when they trick you into finding it, you have to chug the whole bottle on the spot. Normally, a 16 oz bottle is used; given that it was a special celebration today, my friends decided to Ice me with a FIFTH of Smirnoff Ice that I had to chug on the spot. The irony of the situation is that I had hid a bottle myself and had planned to Ice someone else but someone got me FIRST. Handling all that sugar in my stomach wasn't too pleasant because it was so early in the morning and I had also just eaten a lot of food. AS horrible as it was in the moment, I Iced someone else 10 minutes later and got to enjoy every second of laughing at him try to drink it because I knew what it was like. It was all fun and games and something we could laugh about after the fact. Dressed in all the green I had in my closet, we headed into town at about 11am in order to see the parade which started around 12pm. We had a great time in one pub for about an hour and then went to get lunch at a local fish and chips place.
There was no shortage of green in this pub

Nothing but happy faces on St. Patrick's Day

Inside joke with some of my favorite girls in Dublin
Probably not one of our best ideas but no injuries occurred in the making of this photo
 It was all fun and celebration during the day and then at night it got a bit rowdy so we went home around 10pm. It was definitely a memorable day and one to look back on for years to come. On Friday, we went to the fishing town of Howth for their annual Prawn Festival. I had never had prawns but I really like shrimp so I had high hopes for fresh prawns from the Dublin Bay. The food we ate there was incredible and although it was a bit overcast and rainy, it was a great way to spend a few hours on a Friday and I mean c'mon, whenever food is involved, it's bound to be a good day.


Legendary Lisbon

Wednesday March 9th. 7:30pm. My Statistics for Engineers midterm was about to start. This was the only thing that kept me from thinking about spring break for the past week. Once that was over, I was bound to be home free for the next 2.5 weeks. Yep, you read that correctly, I was about to be free of school work and worries for the next 17 days. To say that I was excited was an understatement. 8:30pm. My facial expression switched from a worried little kid to a little kid who just received a three scoop ice cream cone. Our flight to Lisbon, Portugal was the next morning at 6:15am. I went home, had dinner and had every intention to pack my backpack for Lisbon. Intentions are good if you follow through with them; this intention had gone to waste. I ended up falling asleep without packing. Before I knew it, my roommate Kelly was in my room saying it was time to go because it was 4:30am. In a panic, I sprung out of bed, threw on some clothes, and frantically packed my 22 Liter North Face Backpack. Given that I chose to take Ryanair flights which only allow you to take a carry-on if you chose not to pay a hefty fee to check a bag, I've become very good at packing only the essentials and making the most of the limited space in my backpack.
We boarded the flight on time and finally I had a moment of relaxation and pure enjoyment as I embarked on a 3 hour flight to Portugal. I had the privilege to receive a window seat for the plane ride and witnessed the sun rising, one of the (very few) perks of such an early flight. It was incredible to see the sun rise above the clouds which looked like a giant blanket of white cotton balls.

At about 8:30am, I looked out the window to witness the photo above, a beautiful bird's eye view of the coast of Lisbon. We got off of the plane, took a shuttle to the terminal, and given that I was ahead of my other friends who came on this trip, I waited in front of the immigration queue. After a few minutes, my friends caught up to me and just as we were about to head to the immigration line, I heard "Wait, Brian?" only to turn around and see a friend of a friend who I had met three days prior at a bar. In excited shock, my eyes lit up and I ecstatically said "Alex?!! Wow I can't believe you are here, like what are the odds of this happening!" After a few minutes of introductions among my friends and hers, they asked us what hostel we were staying at and to our surprise, it was the exact same one as ours. I was just in shock at this situation, a good shock though. We took a very early flight on a Thursday morning before spring break had technically started for other people (since I don't have class Thursdays and Fridays) to a lesser frequented destination and some how I ended up running into people from my college in Dublin- I guess it pays off to network and get to know a lot of people! We all took the metro to a stop relatively close to our hostel, navigated like aimless tourists to our hostel, and settled in. We were all pretty hungry at this point but luckily the hostel was still serving free breakfast which consisted of pancakes with Nutella on top, enough to hold us over for a bit. We requested to be put in a room with the other people we ran into at the airport since I had 3 friends with me and my friend Alex had a group of 3 other girls. We threw our luggage in our room and set out to explore the city, and of course grab food.
One of the unique things about Lisbon, Portugal is that there are 7 peaks within the city which offer great views but at the same time strengthen calf muscles immensely. We walked around for awhile with intentions to visit the castle but somehow the guys of the group, Casey, Rankin, and I, got separated from the girls and ended up at this outdoor restaurant which offered phenomenal views of the water. The weather was perfect, sunny, 60s, and breezy, and since the girls had left, we were able to sit back and relax for awhile. We ordered a few brews, sat back in the chairs on the patio, and took everything in. The view was surreal and we were all commenting on how happy and satisfying the moment was. The pictures don't do these moments justice but it was just absolutely incredible. By pure luck, the girls eventually stumbled upon us; we had figured we wouldn't see them for the rest of the day since no one had cell service. We all continued to take in the views a little while longer before continuing on with exploring.

 We walked to an indoor market area which was recommended by the people in the hostel. It was very modern looking and a little more upscale than your typical city market. There were roughly 40 places, most of them selling food with different cultural varieties of meals. I ended up getting swordfish since I had never had it before and it turned out to very good. It seemed like a cross between fresh ahi tuna and salmon. One of the best things about Portugal was that even though they use the Euro as currency, things are cheap. I was able to get this meal for just around 11 Euro which seems very good for fresh swordfish.
After this meal, it was around 6pm and since we were very close to the water, we thought it would be a great idea to watch the sunset from beach or a pier nearby. We found one small pier near the water and reflected on the day as the sun reflected on the water.

After this, we went back to the hostel to get settled and ready for a night on the town, trying to figure out if Lisbon had better night life than Dublin :). We signed up for a pub crawl which proved to be a good way to get to find some of the good places for night life. That night, we went to 3 bars and a night club and although they were all fun, they didn't beat the experiences back in Dublin.

The next morning, we woke up and wanted to go to find a beach since we were on spring break, in a coastal town, and it was warm(ish) and sunny. We took a train to a town about 30 minutes away and arrived around 3:15. It was a great sensation to have my toes in the sand and the warm breezy air hitting my back. Although I had brought my swimsuit, the ocean temperature felt like taking an ice bath so I only dipped my feet in the water.
After the beach, we took the train back to Lisbon and walked to our hostel which was about 30 minutes and 500 feet of elevation change up a hill the whole time (wasn't kidding when I said my calves took a blow this weekend). That night, since it was Friday, we went downtown to a region known as Pink Street which was home to bars and clubs on both sides of the street. Just like every other night that I've gone out during study abroad, it was a blast.
On Saturday, we woke up and followed one of the staff members from our hostel who was one of the coolest Australians I've met named Jack into to town. We were en route to a market area known as the Thieves Market. According to Jack "half the stuff they sell there has to be stolen because the prices are just so cheap, only 5 Euro for a jacket". It was nice to be lead by a local through the city and since the market was on the complete other side of Lisbon, Jack took us some back ways which were much prettier than the route that all the other tourists take.
We browsed around the market for awhile, ate lunch there, and then wanted to catch the train by 2pm to take it to this place called Sintra. Spoiler alert: this was one of the best places I had ever seen. We took a bus from the train station up to the top of a mountain where a castle was set. The bus driver was incredibly talented and maneuvering a city bus through twists and turns up the side of a mountain as if we were on a high speed chase in a movie- can't imagine the training the drivers go through ot learn how to be fearless bus drivers. We made it to the top with no scratches on the bus and honestly I think the passengers were more afraid of the bus getting damaged than the driver was. We paid the 14 Euro entry fee (I've learned that all castles cost money) and walked for another 20 minutes up the mountain to get to the actual castle. The area surrounding it was beautiful and very well landscaped.
The views from the castle were nothing like I had every seen before, I was in complete awe. From the top of the castle, you could see miles and miles out into the distance, rolling hills and the coast on either side of small towns. No amount of words can describe how happy and amazed at the beauty of this view-plus the weather was perfect and made it easy to see everything.
I felt like I was on top of the world with everything at my fingertips
The Lisbon Legends in all of their glory
My best friend Kelly and I attempted to recreate the famous Titanic scene
After getting my fill of marvelous views and sunshine, we decided to call it a day. We took the train back to Lisbon and went back to the hostel. That night, the hostel was having their feast night where each member of the staff made a different dish and everyone got to enter a food coma. It was 10 Euro but for the amount of food I had eaten, it was a great value. They had pasta, salad, Shepard's Pie, loaded nachos, scalloped potatoes, and a bunch more.....I'm getting full just thinking about it again. My roommate Kelly and decided to take it easy that night and stay in rather than going out because we were exhausted. I ended up talking to a girl in our hostel from Barcelona for a good portion of the night and learned a lot about life in Barcelona given that she has lived there her whole life. That's one of my favorite things about studying abroad: meeting people from all over the world and having the opportunity to expand my cultural horizon.
The next morning, we got up to catch our 9:15am flight back to Dublin. It was a bittersweet goodbye to the best city I had visited in Europe so far. From the incredible views to the cheap food to the great people we met at the hostel, it was a picture perfect trip and everything went as planned. I had a hunch before going there that I would fall in love with the city's beauty and I absolutely did. I will definitely plan to take a trip there later in life but until then, thanks for a legendary trip, Lisbon.


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

There Must Have Been a Giant Cause as to Howth We Had Two Great Days

After finally getting back from the Liverpool trip, I was exhausted. I fell asleep at about 9pm on Wednesday night, the day I had gotten back, and slept until around 12pm the next day. It was a sleep I had been yearning to achieve for the past week. Given all the traveling that had occurred in the past week, we had planned to take it easy for the weekend. Three of my friends, Kelly, Laurel, and Erin, and I signed up to go on a free day trip to the Giant's Causeway sponsored by the International Student Society on campus. We left campus at around 8am on Saturday morning and after a 3 hour coach bus ride, arrived at our first destination on the trip, the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. It's a famous rope bridge about 3 feet wide and 60 feet long suspended 100 feet in the air which connects the mainland to a tiny island named Carrickarede. Back in the good old days, it was used by fisherman but now stands simply as a tourist attraction. To get from the parking lot to the actual bridge itself was about a 20 minute walk along a path with cliffs and mountains surrounding it, stunning views in fact. The weather was perfect that day which made for great pictures.
 Crossing the bridge and exploring the island a bit was fun but honestly walking to the bridge with all of the surrounding scenery was my favorite part. As you can see from the picture, it was a bit windy outside but my GoPro seflie stick never fails to provide for a great angle for a great picture.
After the rope bridge, we took the coach bus for another 20 minutes to the main destination on the trip, the Giant's Causeway! Just as for the rope bridge, the incredibly good weather made for a picture perfect experience. Waves crashing against the rocks, sun shining in our eyes, breeze hitting our backs, and laughs all around. Not only were the hexagonal rocks cool but I loved how they were surrounded by mountains.

 The above panorama is from the top of a small mountain we climbed which faces the mountains behind the Giant's Causeway. The rock structures of the Causeway are in the left side of this picture. Although it looks far away because of the stretched picture, the Causeway was only about a 10 minute walk from this mountain. The grass was especially fluffy and felt like one was sitting in a recliner so we all relaxed in the grass for a while. Because of the beauty of the mountains, the perfect weather, and the cool hexagonal naturally-created rock structures, this was my favorite place I had been to in Ireland.
The last stop on the trip was one of the castles that was used in filming Game of Thrones. Given that I am not an avid watcher of the show, I failed to appreciate it as much as some other people on the bus but it was still a castle nonetheless and a very interesting sight. We didn't get to actually go near it though, just take pictures of it from a far. After this, we started the journey back to UCD in Dublin, a trip which took 3.5 hours and we were exhausted by the time we arrived.

Continuing our stay in Ireland for the weekend, we visited a nearby town on Sunday called Howth. Its a small town on a peninsula adjacent to Dublin Bay. It took about 45 minutes to get there all said and done through the use of a bus and a train.  I like to think of it as a fishing town given its size, location and the presence of all the small shops and fishing boats. It was fun to walk around for the day, explore the shops, and take in the views on the water. We had fish and chips for lunch at a place called Beshoff's, recommended to us as being the best place for fish and chips in Dublin. I might not be a food connoisseur but I know a good french fry when I taste it and they sure had it. A potent potato flavor with just the right amount of crispiness on the outside. A great day all in all for the 4 hours spent there.

The following weekend, March 4-6th, I deemed as another time to travel to another part of Ireland. Given that my cousin Michael Bulmer is studying at the University of Limerick for the semester, it was a great opportunity to visit him. On Friday afternoon, my roommate Laurel and I took the Irish Rail train to Limerick. Given that we were staying at his place and he only had limited couch space, I could only take 1 friend and Laurel had really wanted to see Limerick so naturally the spot went to her. We arrived at about 8pm on Friday night. Because we had wanted to get back to Dublin the next day to potentially see a hurling match at 5pm, we knew our stay in Limerick was going to be short but we wanted to make the most of it. After meeting Michael's roommates and chatting it up, we got ready and went downtown to a few bars and had a craic (Irish terminology for a good time).

The next morning, we got up and went into the city where they had a large market going on called the Limerick Milk Market. Yes, believe it or not they sold more than just milk. We had lunch there and walked around the city center a bit more until our train came at 2pm. It was a short stay but a great one, enough to get a feel for the city of Limerick.
Although I love traveling to other parts of Europe, I've come to realize how *lucky* it is that I have the opportunity to study in a place where my home base has enough places to visit even if I chose to take a break for a weekend. Ireland has so many beautiful places, many within an hour or a few away. I'm still traveling Ireland in search of a pot of gold and although I haven't found it yet, the memories that have been made are pure gold to me.


Sunday, March 6, 2016

Back in Dublin for 3 Hours and Off to Liverpool

It was Monday, February 22nd. 6:15 pm. After spending 4 days in Budapest, Hungary, I was exhausted and just wanted to take a rest for 20 min. But since I'm only abroad for just 18 weeks, I wanted to make the most of every opportunity to travel that I can. Therefore, when the opportunity to travel to England via flight presented itself through a 1 Euro flight, my friend Casey and I couldn't resist. Yep, that's right, a flight one way to another country for just 1 Euro. It was a flash sale that Ryanair was running and we we're lucky enough to take advantage of it. Well at least Casey was; I booked the flight a little too late and missed the deal but still only paid 50 Euro roundtrip whereas he paid 25 Euro roundtrip. We had just gotten back from Budapest earlier that day, I attended my class, grabbed a bite to eat, and headed back to my apartment to throw some clothes in my backpack for the trip. Given that the flights through Ryanair are so inexpensive, I'm only allowed to bring a carry-on with me which is my medium sized North Face backpack. I've become very good at only packing essentials and making the most out of the not-so-large amount of space. We caught the bus to the airport around 6:45 to make our 8:20pm flight which arrived in Liverpool, England just 50 min later. The flight seemed so short compared to the 4 hour flight I had been on earlier that day. When we arrived at the airport, we caught the public bus to the center of the city and found our way to our hostel. We hung out for little while before heading out to the part of town recommended by the receptionist at the hostel known for having good nightlife.
After having a great night which involved running into a stag party where the groom was dressed as a ballerina, a few pieces of fried chicken, and a lot of enthusiastic dancing, we called it a night at about 5am. Given that we were on vacation, neither of us felt the need to wake up any time before 1pm, and that's exactly how it went. Just like my mom always used to tell me, "Always try to get 8 hours of sleep!" and ya know, that's exactly what we did; had a great night and still got a lot o
f sleep, just the way two college students should do it. We drug ourselves out of bed and got ready to walk around the city of Liverpool for the day. We didn't plan anything specifically to do (and I honestly didn't think there was much to do in Liverpool except the Beatles Museum). I'm happy to say I was impressed by the beauty of the city. Given that it is right on a river, if has a lot of great waterfront views and shops near the water.

We walked around for a while, soaking up the sunny 50 degree temperatures.
We didn't make it to the Beatles Museum because by the top we found it, it was closing. For dinner, we found a restaurant that had 50% off food for the entire day so we both enjoyed a great meal for just under 10 British Pounds each. We headed back to the hostel to hang out and get ready to go out again that night. Looking at the fitness app on my phone, we had walked another 7 miles that day. Between 4 days in Budapest and the 2 days in Liverpool, we had walked nearly 40 miles just from exploring the city. Lucky for us, we had perfect weather most of the days so we didn't mind all of the walking too much; plus, naps were essential on both trips :).
We relaxed in our hostel for a bit when we got back around 9:00 only to get ready to take another night on the town. Sure we might have both been exhausted but our time in Liverpool was limited and we wanted to make the most out of. We headed back toward the area of two we were at the night before. I find it interesting how a lot of the bars and clubs in a lot of the cities I've been to such as Dublin, Budapest, and Edinburgh normally play American hit songs, the same ones I head all the time at home. It's not necessarily a bad thing but I would have expected to hear more European style songs. I was very intrigued by the figures below: a real stuffed rabbit riding a real stuffed alligator...maybe the fact that the bar was called "The Black Rabbit" had something to do with it; still hilarious.  After another long night of drinks and a heck of a lot of dancing, we got some food and called it a 5am again...time was a bit irrelevant to us during this trip.

I slept for somewhere around an hour, just enough to rest a bit but our flight was at 8:25am in order for us to make it back to go to our Wednesday classes; luckily neither of us had class on Tuesday. We caught our flight just in time...and I mean literally in the nick of time. The bus was a bit delayed picking us up and so we arrived at the airport at 7:55. The lady at the front desk who checked our passports said "You know the gates are closing in 10 minutes" and we both nodded and bolted for security. We made it through security in about 8 minutes and proceeded to run in a full sprint to the boarding gate. Can't say it was the first time I've had to do that though; almost missed a connecting flight about 3 years ago. We made the flight and with sighs of relief, fell asleep for the whole 50 min flight back to Dublin. We arrived in Dublin, took a bus from the airport back to University College Dublin, and in perfect sequence, walked into my class at the same time I normally do, 3 minutes before 11:00am.
Most people would call us crazy for spending 4 days in Budapest and almost immediately going to Liverpool, England for another 2 days. Most people would say there's no way a normal person could have survived those days like you two did with such little sleep. My mom will probably roll her eyes over this adventure. But at the end of the day, when I look back at my semester abroad, I want to be able to say that I made the most of it.


Tuesday, March 1, 2016

'Pesty Tourists for a Weekend

Back track to a week and a half ago. Thursday night. February 18th. Our flight to Budapest, Hungary was the next morning at 7:20am. Budapest wasn't on the original list of places that I wanted to go but after hearing that it was cheap and beautiful, I was excited. We had booked flights for this trip about 3 weeks prior and were anticipating the trip for awhile. For the Edinburgh, Scotland trip, our flight left at 6:30am and I had pulled an all-nighter and then boarded the flight, exhausted beyond belief. After that experience, I told myself I was going to be better at handling my sleep schedule before this trip. But I'm a college student; therefore sleep is irrelevant. Well to a certain extent. So instead of sleeping before heading out to Budapest, Hungary, my friends and I went into Dublin to a bar. We got back around 3am and I knew that if I went to sleep, there was a high chance I wouldn't wake up for the flight. So I made some food and talked with a friend for awhile. 4:45am rolls around and the taxi was here. In a mad dash to pack everything and make sure I had the essentials, my 7 friends and I walked briskly to the taxi. We got to the airport and through security with plenty of time to spare and boarded the flight. We landed in Budapest around 11:30am on Friday morning. It was raining when we got there which was a bit of a bummer.


We arrived at the hostel, checked in, and this little enthusiastic Hungarian woman lead us to our accommodation. We were given an apartment for us to live in for the weekend; it exceeded our expectations and we were so excited to have so much space to hangout in. It was probably a gift from above because the 8 of us might have killed each other by the end of the 4 days if we were all in close quarters :). We threw our bags in our rooms, high fived each other because we had successfully made it, and headed for the best part about traveling...FOOD. Lunch specifically at this hour. We found a small café which had an assortment of foods on display but given that we were in another country that doesn't speak English, I didn't really know what anything was. I asked the server for what she recommended and ordered that; it was traditional beef goulash, a traditional Hungarian meal basically like beef stew. I can whole heartedly say it was delicious and I order it two more times on the trip from different places. After lunch, we went back to the hostel and nearly everyone hit a wall; not literally, but a tired wall. NAP TIME.
We felt lame for wasting our time and taking a nap but it was very necessary after the long night we had. In the apartment, there was a lofted area with two queen beds. A few of us were laying there to take a nap and some how, one thing led to another and before we knew it, it was a giant cuddle puddle! We're all friends so we were just having a lot of fun laughing and making jokes about every and anything. It was a ton of fun, a bonding experience (pun intended), although none of us really got any sleep from it.

Later that night, we went on a pub crawl as suggested by the hostel which was a lot of fun and came with a free slice of pizza so no one was complaining. Luckily, I have a very good sense of direction and despite being a bit inebriated in a European city the first day we arrived, I was able to lead a group of us home without a taxi.

The next morning, we woke up and went out to explore the city! We walked by the Parliament building which was enormous and had very impressive architecture. Took a few pictures here and there, even some GoPro videos for my end of the semester movie, and imitated some statues. This photo turned out surprisingly well. Comments at the bottom of this page are much appreciated :).

We then walked to an indoor Hungarian market which was filled with butcher stands every which way you turned. It seemed like they were all selling the same brand of meat but nonetheless was interesting to see all the different types of meats. We then went to St. Stephen's
Cathedral which was, just like all other cathedrals, beautiful with breathtaking architecture. We climbed an insane amount of stairs to get to the top but the view was worth all of the strain on our calves. We continued our adventures by taking a selfie (I've become a master of taking selfies on this trip) next to a bridge, then walked across the steel bridge and climbed another hill to experience the one of a kind views from the top of the mountain.

Finally, after a full day of exploring the city, we headed back to our home base, the hostel. I checked the fitness app on my phone at that point and it said we had walked 26,000 steps and about 12 miles, probably close to the most I've ever walked in a day; well worth it though. That night, we went to the thing that is a big hit in Budapest called a Lukacs Bath Party. Yep, it's exactly what it sounds like....a college frat party in a pool. But BETTER. The pool was heated, the music was popping, and everyone was having a good time. I didn't get any pictures from it because I wasn't allowed but I'll throw in a pic from Google to give you an idea; it was really one of the best parties I've every gone to. Such a unique experience.

On Sunday, we wanted to take a tour of the inside of the Parliament building. To our disappointment, there were no more English tours available when we went there. But we weren't gonna let that stop us. So we opted for the Spanish version of the tour. Each of us knew bits and pieces of Spanish from our parents telling us to take it in high school because of language requirements blah blah blah but who would have known we'd actually use it later in life. Well sort of; the lady spoke so fast that none of us could keep up and honestly, we wanted to take pictures of the inside of the parliament, we didn't care about the history as much. I mean c'mon, as long as you have pictures from the trip, it doesn't really matter what else happened :). That night, we ate a traditional Hungarian restaurant called The Strudel House and you can probably guess what we got for dinner....tasty fresh flaky strudel.

Later that night, we went out again (shocking I know) to a Ruins Bar that we had touched briefly from the pub crawl two nights earlier. It was a fun night filled with shenanigans and laughs and we all made it back to the hostel in one piece. Our flight the next morning was at 11:45am so that we all could make it back in time to go to our Monday classes. Believe it or not, in between all of these adventures I still go to class because after all, the first word  in "study broad" deals with school work. So I work hard and play harder. We arrived at the airport with plenty of time; so much so that we all fell asleep at a table in the airport. This picture describes our trip very well because it consisted of a lot of walking, a little sleep, and a lot of bonding. It was an incredible trip to say the least.
We arrived in Dublin, I went to class for the day, and began to pack again. Another adventure was about to begin as this one was ending....