Wanderings and Ponderings

My Study Abroad Adventures in England & France


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I Would Walk 500 Miles

Last weekend, Katie, Alice, and I went to Edinburgh :D

We took the “Megabus Gold” (think Harry Potter Knight Bus) to get from London to Edinburgh. It was ~ an 8 hour ride, so this was definitely the way to do it. We got to sleep in beds on the ride there, and we didn’t have to worry about a hostel or anything. Fyi – if you ever plan on travelling this way, choose the lower level (it’s double-decker) and the top bunk for the best sleep :)

Silly friends

Silly friends

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The 1st night we had a couple hours to kill in London, so we walked from VCS to Trafalgar Sq and back. I was surprised to see we had walked 7 miles in that time period.

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Edinburgh was so much better than I could have expected. The landscape and architecture (and the weather!) combined to make the city perfectly Scottish.

IMG_5556We were fairly starving when we got off the bus, so we stopped in a café for breakfast. I had a haggis sandwich – haggis is delicious, don’t knock it ’till you try it!

 

 

 

 

Afterwards, we went on a walking tour. We did these first in both Dublin and Edinburgh, and I would recommend them highly. They flood you with information about the city, and you gain a sense of direction as you follow someone who knows their way around.

IMG_5561It was frigid, to say the least. Everyone was huddled into themselves trying to keep warm. Umbrellas usually did no good, unless you were good at using them inside-out. As our tour guide stated, “If you’re not up for the rain or the cold, then this is not the tour *OR THE COUNTRY* for you.” Luckily we’d all acclimatized to the English weather with relative success, so the Scottish weather wasn’t too terrible. It gave us an excuse to duck inside a café from time to time for a hot tea!

Edinburgh, like, it seems, all heavily populated areas, was not a pleasant place to live during its early days. Twice a day, the citizens would all dump their chamber pots out their windows. Not a time you wanted to be walking around, but apparently the drunks frequently…had quite the misfortune. And thus was created the expression “S***faced-drunk.”

IMG_5566Those who could afford it had bars put afford it had bars put over their graves. This prevented their bodies from being robbed and sold to the university for science (signing up to donate one’s body to science ante-mortem didn’t happen till later). If a person couldn’t afford the bars, friends / family would watch over the grave at night. So was born “Working the graveyard shift.”

 

 

 

 

"Voldemort's Grave"

“Voldemort’s Grave”

After the walking tour ended, we stopped by “Voldemort’s Grave” just for kicks. Because it’s such a high-traffic area, there is NO grass…just a ton of mud!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_5570After a nap (wow. such tired. many sleeps), we decided to grab a late lunch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_5675We were originally going to go to the Elephant House (famous for being frequented by J.K. Rowling, but apparently she helped them out by allowing them to claim that she’d spent more time there than she really did. Spoon Café was owned by her brother-in-law, so in her poorer days, it was a place that she could stay and work essentially for free (you learn all sorts of things on these walking tours!)

 

 

IMG_5583The restaurant was very quirky and intriguing. It was easy to see how the place had influenced her, and brought to mind things she’d created for HP. It definitely had a warm, friendly atmosphere evocative of the Three Broomsticks, and the lack of uniformity reminded my of Luna Lovegood.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_5591Afterwards, we visited the Museum of Scotland. Since it, like everything else, closed fairly early, we only had time for a quick run through.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_5604Then, we did a bit of aimless wandering and discovering the university, finally making it to Edinburgh Castle. Which, by the way, isn’t on a hill, it’s on an extinct volcano (the whole island was near the equator millions of years ago).

 

 

 

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For dinner, we met one of Alice’s friends, Chet from her home uni. He’s studying abroad in Edinburgh, so he took us to an on-campus pub called “The Library” (notice the bookshelves everywhere). The atmosphere was really quite cool, and it was interesting to see parts another UK university.

 

 

 

IMG_5730We also went to another pub called the Brass Monkey. It was very crowded, so we never got seats, but it was very cool too & the music was good.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_5733Alice spent the most of the next day with Chet, so Katie and I travelled around together. She wanted to explore town some more though, so I went to tour the castle that morning. It was a bit pricey, but I’m very glad I went. While I was there, I ran into Rachel and Lee, who also happened to be in Edinburgh at the time, so we toured the castle together.

IMG_5739A blurry picture of the Stone of Destiny that I got as they yelled at me XD (I didn’t use a flash!)

It (if you can even tell what it is haha) just looks like a stone, but it’s the coronation stone. In 1296, the stone was taken by Edward I as spoils of war and put under the English coronation chair in Westminster Abbey. Despite the fact that England agreed to return the stone in 1328, it wasn’t actually done. So, in 1950 (they waited a long time), a group of 4 Scottish students decided to steal the stone back, returning it to its rightful country. However, in no time at all, the stone was back in Westminster Abbey. Not until 1996 was the stone returned to Scotland!

IMG_5746Demonstration of how to use a pike. I lifted one later in the day, and they’re actually surprisingly lightweight for their size.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beautiful (and rainy) view from the castle

Beautiful (and rainy) view from the castle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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IMG_5782The Doctor Who-style police boxes are really rare, but are most common in Scotland. Even so, many of them are actually twice as wide as they are in the show – this box-thing is too but I took the photo from the end ;) I did my best :)

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_5800After I finished touring the castle, I rejoined Katie and we took a bus to Leith. I originally wanted to go simply because of the Proclaimers’ song “500 miles” from “Sunshine on Leith.” It turned out to be a little gem of a town though, and we were glad we got to see something other than simply Edinburgh (not that Edinburgh’s not wonderful!)

 

 

IMG_5802Leith’s on the coast, so we saw the water for the first time since we’ve been here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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IMG_5840Dinner was absolutely fantastic. We went to a hole-in-the-wall Turkish restaurant that we’d noticed on the way down to Ocean Terminal of Leith. For something as simple as a grilled wrap, the meal was one of the best I’ve had in my life. For dessert we got coconut-dusted Turkish Delight in honor of the Chronicles of Narnia. We forgive Edmund.

 

 

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Train station & mall

Train station & mall

Afterwards, we wandered around town some more. We went to New Town and wandered until all the shops closed and we couldn’t keep popping in anywhere to get warm.

 

 

 

 

 

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Afterwards, we hung out at the bar of a pub (which played Elton John the whole time we were there!) until Alice was able to meet up with us and then caught the Megabus Gold back to London.

 

 

 

 

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Long Time, No See

It’s that time of the semester – projects/essays are due, and, because of stress and bad weather, everyone is getting sick. I recently got a pretty bad cold myself – I ran myself into the ground on the Ireland trip, and it took me quite a while to recover. Good times.

11008057_10204953947186663_343499430995120037_nLuckily, I was able to recover well enough to meet up with one of my oldest friends, Kelsey. She’s studying abroad in Antibes, France at the moment, and decided to tour northern France and London for a few days with her mother. Visit her blog here: https://spring2015laviefrancaise.wordpress.com.

 

 

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We met in London and took a train to Salisbury, where we then caught a bus that took us to Stonehenge.

IMG_5162It’s very cool to stand before Stonehenge in person after having seen photos for years. We walked around for several minutes snapping pictures, and then explored some building ruins. Kelsey and her mom were treated to some traditional English weather – a cold, grey, and gusty day. It seems she’s happy to be back in the warmth of the south of France ;)

 

 

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IMG_5209After we’d toured Stonehenge & the ruins, we visited Sarum, an incredibly quaint town, and I fell in love with it within seconds. I found it to be remarkably similar to Canterbury in terms of size, architecture, shops, etc.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_5212We explored some traditional British shops such as Topshop (very popular here!), FatFace (warm clothes!) and a few others. Hopefully they were able to get a feel for the British style/shop personality.

After touring Sarum a bit, we returned to London. Sitting on the train was a nice break from the outdoor elements, and gave us a chance to catch up with each other.

 

IMG_5232Upon reaching London, we headed straight for Victoria Coach Station. Sadly, there wasn’t sufficient time for us to eat dinner together, so we all grabbed a to-go meal at the Coach Station.

 

 

 

 

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It was great to see Kelsey again, especially after our whirlwind study abroad experiences. I’m looking forward to visiting her at her uni over spring break!


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Cork

Cork

Cork

Walking around Cork made me feel like I was in some weird parallel universe. Perhaps it’s just me, but it struck me as oddly American, but from the 50’s. Or maybe it was the disconcerting prevalence of pistachio-coloured things that affected my opinion.

 

 

 

Cork hill

Cork hill

The first day we were there we hiked around the city quite a bit with no particular destination in mind. We found an extremely tall/steep hill and climbed it up to the top to look out over the city. By this point in the trip, my feet were killing me – I’d say we walked 8 – 9 miles every day but one. Despite the pain getting there, the view of the city from above was well worth it!

 

 

 

 

Cork hill view

Cork hill view

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cork hill

Cork hill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Luigi's

Luigi’s

Though Cork is slightly more populated than Killarney, shops and restaurants still close early (18:00-19:00). We’d learned our lesson by missing dinner hour in Killarney, and so made an effort to eat an early supper.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Luigi's

Luigi’s

Despite it still being relatively early, the only restaurant open was an Italian restaurant, recommended to us by a pub we planned on going to later. It was absolutely delicious and not too pricey (we stuck with “starters” instead of full entrées!) Although it was a somewhat fancier restaurant, a rather large percentage of the people there were young children, which I found strange and surprising. All of them, even those sitting clumped together in groups were remarkably well-behaved, like little adults. It was truly astonishing to see.

Larry Tomkins pub

Larry Tomkins pub

After we’d finished dinner, we returned to the aforementioned pub. It was more of a sports-oriented pub, which intrigued us as we’d never before seen a rugby or a European “football” match.

 

 

 

Larry Tompkins pub

Larry Tompkins pub

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cork city centre

Cork city centre

 

The next day, we went to Blarney. By the way, if you ever go there, set aside multiple hours to tour it – you don’t want to rush yourself. It’s absolutely beautiful and you’ll want to have time to appreciate it and see as much as possible. Anyway, we’d planned on doing a bit of shopping beforehand, but because it was early on a Sunday morning, everything was closed (are you seeing a pattern here yet?). That plan having failed, we found a bus stop downtown that would take us to Blarney. While it was quite frustrating how long we had to wait for the bus (I’m fairly sure it was at least 45 minutes – they weren’t at all on time), we met a girl from Canada who was staying at another hostel in town and IMG_2941was also going to Blarney. She was incredibly sweet, and very cool; her dad is on a teaching exchange, so she’s spending those 8 months touring Europe during her gap year. We all got along really well, and decided to hang out together for the rest of the day. That’s the sad thing about meeting people on trips like this – you meet the most wonderful people and make the most wonderful friends, and then you have to split back into different corners of the world in a matter of days or even hours. But its a very unique experience while it lasts.

Blarney

Blarney

I don’t think Ireland’s beauty will ever cease to amaze me. I went in to Blarney expecting it to be pretty, but not drop-dead gorgeous. The pictures don’t do it justice, but I did the best I could! This was the very first thing we saw upon entering Blarney.

 

 

 

IMG_4670It was bizarre to see so much greenery and flowers there – it was the middle of February, what the heck? Not that I minded! If this is what winter is though, I can’t even imagine what spring looks like. S/o to my new friend to teaching us the names of all the flowers!

 

 

Crocuses

Crocuses

Crocus

Crocus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The grounds were simply incredible. I honestly expected more structure, like the groomed & pruned bushes at Versailles. But Blarney, though it did have a few sections of botanical gardens, was unchanged, natural and beautiful. While I have respect for the effort that goes into maintaining Versailles, I much preferred this.

Blarney

Blarney

A girl in our hostel described Blarney as a “playground for adults” and I think that this is a remarkably accurate description. Everywhere you turn, there’s trees to climb on and caves to go in. And of course you have to because – pictures!

 

 

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Rhubarb (the leaves are poisonous)

Rhubarb (the leaves are poisonous)

 

An intriguing part of the grounds was the “Poison Garden.” That’s right! Lily of the Valley, Nightlock, and many other dangerous plants were grown there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Steps to the Blarney Stone

Steps to the Blarney Stone

 

Obviously, no trip to Blarney would be complete without kissing the “Blarney Stone.” Legend has it that if you kiss the stone, it will give you the gift of gab. This is easier said than done for 2 reasons. 1 – you basically climb the stairway to heaven itself to get to the top (a bunch of tiny slippery steps) and 2 – you hang upside down to kiss the stone! This photo actually shows some of the larger steps – the smallest ones were half as narrow! It’s amazing to imagine servants running up and down these steps racing to fulfill their duties.

 

 

 

Kissing the Blarney Stone

Kissing the Blarney Stone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_5026After we finished touring Blarney, we headed for the bus stop, pausing for some (excellent!) hot chocolate at a local chocolate shop on the way. I can now say I’ve had strawberry-flavoured marshmallows, and they’re amazing!

 

 

 

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Right outside our hostel was the most adorable little nook, with a waterfall at the far end and Christmas lights strung back and forth across above. We’d been wanting to go to one of the restaurants next to it ever since we saw it, and decided that we’d go to one for an afternoon snack.

 

 

 

 

IMG_5036I ordered a “Chocolate St. Emellion with rum soaked macaroon and cream” and I’m not exaggerating when I say that it was THE most delicious thing I’ve ever tasted. Like perfect, rum soaked fudge, if you can imagine that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Irish Stew

Irish Stew

 

Afterwards, we explored Cork city centre for a good while, and then went to a pub for some dinner. Wanting to try a traditional Irish dish, I ordered the Guinness Irish Stew, and was not disappointed!

 

 

A few minutes after we’d finished our dinner, a band started playing. The combination of guitarist, saxophonist, and lead singer was quite interesting. We stayed until midnight, and then decided we should probably head back to the hostel to pack our bags for our morning flight.

I think we all ran ourselves a bit into the ground on this trip – I ended up getting really sick really fast the day we left. Luckily it didn’t interfere with any of our Ireland travels though, and I was able to rest upon reaching Kent. But was worth it, and I would never trade these experiences! The trip was incredible, and Ireland is a beautiful country – both in terms of nature and culture.