From St. Peter to St. Paddy
I know I start every blog post by saying how long it has been since the last time I posted anything, but I think this time I have a pretty good excuse. Here at UCD we had two weeks off for Spring Break and they have given me some of the most amazing memories and incredible experiences of my life. During the first week my UCD roommate, Rorie, and I went to Paris and Rome and during the second week, my best friend and Butler roommate, Emily, came to visit and she and I took London and Dublin by storm! And to top the break off, as I’m sure you all know, last Saturday was St. Patrick’s Day and I felt so lucky to have the opportunity to celebrate the Irish holiday right here in Dublin.
So I’ll start from the beginning. Paris was incredible! Rorie had done a weekend trip to visit a friend in London so we decided to meet in Paris on Monday. I was super nervous about navigating my way from the airport to the hotel on my own without speaking a lick of French, but it turns out that “merci” and “pardon” were all that I really needed. I had looked up directions for the metro so I got to the hotel in no time. Rorie was supposed to get in an hour or two after I did, but due to some strange turn of events, her train was delayed close to eight hours. I felt so bad for her and I just kept thanking God that I had the hotel reservations because she didn’t get to the hotel until almost 3 o’clock in the morning. Fortunately, we didn’t have any big plans for the evening so neither of us missed anything that we wanted to do. Since I had so much time on my own, I decided to take a walk up to the River Seine. Our hotel wasn’t close enough for me to walk to see any of the sights, but it was really cool to just wander through the less touristy side of the city. I stopped for a baguette and strolled in the rain, feeling like a regular Parisian!
We were moving on to Rome on Wednesday, so Tuesday morning we woke up ready to see everything. We caught the metro from right outside of our hotel to right outside the Louvre, excited to see some famous art and….it was closed. Apparently Tuesday is an off day for the museum. We did get to wander around the grounds and see the Pyramids, though, which I had been really excited about. And it was from the Louvre grounds that we got our first glimpses of the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower! We wandered away from the museum up the Champs-Elysees admiring all the people and theatres and amazing shops. We stopped to get pictures at the Arc de Triomphe, but we decided not to go up so we could save the view for our next stop and I am so glad that we did! Despite the fog and rain, the view from the top of the Eiffel Tower was breathtaking. I couldn’t believe how far I could see and I can only imagine how it looks on a clear day! The sun did start to peek out a little right as we reached the top so it was perfect timing. Even in the cold, I think that I could have stood up there for hours just watching the city. But, in addition to the cold, we were starting to get a little hungry so we went back down and stopped for delicious crepes. Numerous people had told me about this crepe stand by the Eiffel Tower and it totally lived up to my expectations and beyond! Warm Nutella and whipped cream on a fresh crepe. My mouth is watering just remembering it!
The little bit of sun that peeked out while we were at the top of the Tower disappeared pretty quickly and the sky started to get very dark, so we decided to high tail it to our next stop: Notre Dame. By now you have all probably figured out how much I LOVE stained glass windows, so I’m sure you can guess how I felt about Notre Dame. It was so gorgeous, inside and out! It’s so amazing to think of the detail that went into the creation of the Cathedral. All the statues and gargoyles (which were my favorite part!) are so intricate. And what’s even more amazing is to think of how old it is! It’s really incredible to see this proof of what humans are capable of creating with their hands and some tools. My only regret about Notre Dame is that we couldn’t go upstairs because I would have loved to see some of the gargoyles up close! But the gorgeous light streaming through the windows was enough to make up for that. Yet another place where I could have easily spent endless hours just looking around.
By that point we were fairly exhausted from walking around all day, so we decided to pick up some wine and baguettes and call it a night! Wednesday morning we checked out of the hotel and headed straight to the Catacombs. It was quite surreal to go deep under the city to find this network of walls and chambers created out of human bones. It really makes you wonder what’s underneath the ground of your own city! Finally, we headed back to the Louvre for our last stop in Paris. It was so huge that I could easily imagine getting lost in there for days. We saw the Venus de Milo, Winged Victory, the Mona Lisa and Michelangelo’s Captive Slave, among other incredible ancient Greek, Egyptian and Roman art. Again, it was one of those moments where I was just in awe to think about how old everything is and how much skill it took to make these sculptures and paintings. It was another surreal experience to see these things that I have read about and seen photos of. But there is nothing like seeing them in person! It was an absolutely amazing experience.
After the Louvre, it was time to make our way to the airport which just happened to be two hours by train and bus outside of Paris in the city of Beauvais. We arrived in Rome Wednesday night and found our hotel pretty easily, so things started off very well! And then I dropped my contact down the sink. Oops. I was definitely not happy about it, but I decided that there were worse places to be in my glasses than Rome. The metro line in Rome was really great because it had stops at a number of places where we wanted to visit so we bought cheap day passes and started with the Vatican before we worked our way back towards the hotel. Now let me just say I was incredibly excited about Rome, largely due to having read Dan Brown’s “Angels and Demons” numerous times, so I was anxious to see all the amazing things he described in the novel. St. Peter’s Square was brilliant. It was warm and sunny, and they were setting up a stage and some big screens, so I could easily picture the Pope standing on the balcony, blessing the masses. St. Peter’s Basilica was just as beautiful as I had always heard. So many beautiful works of art to be admired and, as a Catholic, I have to say it was humbling to be in such an important place. After St. Peter’s we went to Castel Sant’Angelo and the Bridge of Angels, another prominent setting of Dan Brown’s novel. I could almost picture the book in my head as I was walking along the bridge and I can’t wait to read it again now that I have had the opportunity to actually see everything.
We stopped at the Piazza del Popolo and then found the Spanish Steps and had the best pizza I’ve ever had at a little pizzeria in the Piazza di Spagna. We had delicious gelato and made a wish at the beautiful Trevi Fountain and then wandered around until we found the Pantheon! One of the most striking things about Rome, to me, was how all of these incredibly famous and historic sites, like the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon, just sit right smack dab in the middle of the city, surrounded by more modern restaurants, apartments, shops and businesses. We were searching for the Pantheon, having no idea if we were close or not, and we turned the corner and there it was! One of the oldest building in Rome just sitting there, unchanged from the way it was in the second century, aside from its surroundings. I feel like I had many of these moments where I just couldn’t think anything other than “Wow.” On Friday we went to the Colosseum, Palatine Hill and (my favorite part of the trip) the Roman Forum. The weather was absolutely gorgeous again and we had a bit of extra time before we had to catch our plane back to Dublin so we just spent a lot of time wandering around the ancient grounds of Rome soaking up all the history. After being on the move so much during the week, it was really nice to be able to just sit and enjoy the view for a little while. We found a nice, fairly empty spot with an amazing view of the Colosseum and I think that relaxing there in the sun was the epitome of the trip for me!
After the long week in Europe it was nice to come back to the apartment to recuperate a little bit before Emily got here on Sunday! I haven’t seen anyone from home in two months so I was so excited to see her when she got off the bus! Emily hadn’t been to Ireland before so I had a lot of fun showing her around on Sunday afternoon and on Monday we caught an afternoon flight to London! We didn’t get to our hostel until around seven, so we just decided to do a little exploring by foot since our hostel was so conveniently located. We were super close to Buckingham Palace so we went there first. It was so cool because it was totally empty of tourists. There were only a few other people there because it was around 8 or 9 o’clock so it was really neat to see it when it wasn’t surrounded by people. We walked up the Mall and found Trafalgar Square, which, as a huge Harry Potter nerd, I was really excited about since that was where all the London Red Carpet premieres took place! The other cool thing about Trafalgar Square was that since the Summer Olympics are in London this year, the Olympic Countdown Clock was there! It was so cool to see and to think that in just a few months, people will be coming to the city from all over the world to watch the Olympics so now I’m really looking forward to watching them myself! Before we headed back to the hostel, we had to walk up to Piccadilly Circus which was teeming with nightlife! Everything was alight and there were people everywhere, so I’m really glad we decided to check it out!
Tuesday was our one full day in London so we got up and started early to make the most of it. We walked back towards Buckingham Palace since it was on the way and headed in the opposite direction of where we had gone the night before in order to reach the River Thames. Along the river we saw Big Ben, Parliament and Westminster Abbey and across the water was the London Eye. We thought about doing the eye, but it was very foggy so I don’t think we could have seen very much. Not to mention that it was about £20 which is close to $40, so we decided to spare out wallets and keep on walking. We kept walking until we came upon Millennium Bridge (Harry Potter fans will recognize it from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince). Fortunately, there were no Death Eaters about so we were able to cross the bridge safely so we could see Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre! Someday I will have to go back so I can see a play there! Further down the river we saw London Bridge and Tower Bridge and the Tower of London! Everything was super close together so we really just took our time walking around the city and seeing everything.
After the Tower of London, we decided to walk to King’s Cross Station to see Platform 9 3/4, of course! It took us a little while to get there and once we did, we had a little trouble finding it. We were worried for a little bit because it wasn’t where we expected it to be, but once we asked someone they pointed us in the right direction. As we were searching aimlessly, I just kept expecting (and let’s be honest, hoping) to hear Mrs. Weasley’s voice. “Every year, packed with Muggles of course. Come on! Platform 9 3/4 this way!” It was definitely one of the highlights of the trip! And I could have sworn that I felt the cart move as I leaned against it! Maybe I have a little magic in me after all…a girl can only hope! By that point, we were starving so we, somewhat ironically, had a late lunch at an Irish pub near the station. We made our way back towards the hostel, stopping at the British Museum, back in Trafalgar Square and in St. James Park along the way. By the end of the day, we tallied that we had done nearly 10 hours of walking across the entire city. We were quite proud of ourselves, but totally exhausted! On Wednesday we returned to Trafalgar Square one last time to visit the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery before heading back to Piccadilly for souvenir shopping and catching the tube back to the airport. We arrived at the airport a little early so we have plenty of time to get through security and find out gate. Though in the end, it probably wouldn’t have mattered that much. Our plane was delayed 4 hours, which was a serious bummer at the end of such a long trip. For a little while we were afraid that we would be stuck in the airport overnight, but eventually we made it out of Heathrow and back to Dublin!
I had a lot of fun showing Emily around Dublin and taking her to see the coast in Dun Laoghaire during the last two days of her trip. On Friday night we spent some time in town checking out the city getting ready for all the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. We saw some Irish dancing by St. Stephen’s Green and we went to Temple Bar to listen to some traditional Irish folk music. I even got Emily to try some Guinness! It was a bummer to say goodbye on Saturday morning but we had a great week and I was so glad she got to visit! After I got her on her early bus to the airport, I caught a few more hours of sleep before the Paddy’s Day celebrations! Do note that the Irish are very emphatic about the fact that it’s Paddy’s Day and not Patty’s Day like we say in the states! However you want to say it though, it was definitely a good time! The city was covered in green and there were so many people that I couldn’t actually see the parade, but it was a lot of fun. After the parade we checked out a few pubs and I did have another Guinness in honor of the holiday! It was a once in a lifetime experience and I am so glad that I was able to be in Ireland for St. Paddy’s Day!
By the time I got home on Paddy’s Day, all my exhaustion from the past two weeks caught up with me. I feel like I need another week to recover from my vacation! But after the Bank Holiday on Monday, it was back to classes as normal. Hopefully it doesn’t take me too long to get readjusted since the semester is almost over! I can’t believe that there are only four or five weeks of classes left. The time has absolutely flown by but I’m loving every minute of it! This weekend is the IFSA-Butler Adventure trip! There are all kinds of exciting outdoor activities so it should definitely be a good time and I’m really looking forward to it!