With all the traveling that I have been doing lately, its nice to know that I can still use my class times to explore new parts of London. Last week, I revisited the Victoria and Albert Museum with my art history class, and got to see some marvelous exhibits. We started by checking out a modern display of the Grand Tour, which for those of you who may not know was what marked the beginnings of tourism. Back in the nineteenth century, wealthy British aristocrats would take a gap year before going to college and traveled all around Europe, ending in Italy. It was interesting to learn about the tourists, and we were able to draw many similarities between them and ourselves as students taking a semester to study abroad.
We also visited a room that was devoted to showcase identical plaster copies of famous Italian works. We saw a life-size copy of the David, a replica of the frescos from the Vatican and a replica of Trajan’s column (it was HUGE). Following our class, my roommate and I walked around the museum and looked at its fashion gallery. It was a particularly interesting exhibit because it showed garments people wore from the seventeenth century all the way up to today’s modern clothes. It was funny for us to see shirts that our own friends own exhibited right next to pre-colonial clothing, but also a bit of a reminder that one day the things we wear today will also be a part of history. After checking out the fashion gallery, we looked at their temporary exhibition: Wedding Dresses 1775-2014. We learned all about the history of wedding dresses and saw designs from 1775 all the way up until recognizable dresses from multiple celebrity weddings. The exhibition was a beautiful way to learn about history. There was even a room that showed a compilation of all royal weddings ever recorded on camera, ending with Will and Kate’s unforgettable wedding in 2011.
The following day, we explored Borough Market. There were stands lined around the area selling any kind of food you could imagine, from all sorts of cheese to wines and different food spreads. One of my roommates described it as a cross between a state fair and a farmer’s market, with all the different (but not so healthy) food offerings. She’s adamant on getting credit for this comparison, so here ya go: thanks Neesh!
After wandering around for a bit, I decided to get raclette, which is pretty much potatoes and gooey melted cheese on top. It was to die for. Afterwards, we walked across the Millennium Bridge to the other side of the Thames River to enjoy a beer at a local pub.
The following day we left early in the morning to go to Dublin. My first impression of Ireland is not what I was expecting it to be. In the movies, it’s depicted as a beautiful green country with impressive rural scenery. This is not the case for Dublin. It’s a complete city in itself, with an industrial vibe and plenty of stores and heavily trafficked roads. After checking in at our hostel, we went straight to the Guinness factory to begin exploring.
Our tour through the factory was incredible. I had never seen such a beautiful and aesthetically pleasing design at any exhibit I have been to. The visitor’s center was shaped like a giant glass of Guinness, and the self-guided tour took us through all the floors, explaining to us the process behind each pint. It was very interactive and modern. When we reached the end of the tour, we were taken through a cosmic looking tunnel into a blinding white room. Near the corners of the room were four white pillars emitting dry ice smoke. Our guide explained to us that we were about to do a tasting, but first, wanted us to smell the four main ingredients in Guinness. After we familiarized ourselves with the scents, we each received a miniature pint and were led to another room to learn how to drink the Guinness. In the second room, we were taught a bit more about the company’s founder, Arthur Guinness, and finally tasted our drinks. The taste oddly reminded me of black coffee, and I discovered that I enjoy dark beer!
Following our tasting, we went to another room where we learned how to pour our own pints, and then took the elevator to the top floor, where we entered a bar with a 360 degree view of Dublin. My roommates and I stayed a while at the bar, reflecting on the awesome tour and taking in the sights of the beautiful city.
Afterwards, we decided to knock out the other factory tour in Dublin, so we headed to the Jameson distillery. Prior to entering the exhibit, we ate lunch at the in the upstairs lobby of the distillery. After our meal, we joined a guided tour as we learned about the history of the famous Irish whiskey. While this tour was a bit shorter than the Guinness factory experience, it was still interesting. Although the actual Jameson distillery has long since moved to south to Cork, Ireland, we still got to tour the original site of the distillery. Our tour ended with a whiskey tasting, where we compared the tastes of Scotch, Jameson and Jack Daniels. Following our tour, we headed back to the hotel to relax before we went out again that night.
That night we walked over to the Temple Bar area where we went to a pub called The Norseman. We enjoyed some Irish beer and listened to some crazy good local singers. Unfortunately, we had to head home early as we had a tour the next morning that departed at 6:50 AM.
We met bright and early the next day for a cross-country trip to the Cliffs of Moher. Ironically, our only two Irish roommates got food poisoning from the bacon they ate at the Jameson distillery, and spent the entire night incredibly ill. I felt bad, as they missed what has probably been my favorite day abroad so far.
We slept for the first couple hours of the tour while the bus left the city. We were woken up by our driver, who told us that we were making a pit stop at a peculiar plaza. He told us how a few years ago, the people of Moneygall, Ireland discovered that a famous politician had Irish roots that connected him back to the small town in the middle of Ireland. As they prepared for the visit of their famous descendant, they realized that they needed to create a visitor’s center for the influx of people they were expecting. After tossing a few names around, they finally settled on naming it after their upcoming visitor. As our driver pulled up to the rest stop, we saw a huge sign that said “Barack Obama Plaza.”
After grabbing ourselves a coffee at what probably will be the most memorable visitor’s center I’ll ever go to, we continued the drive as our guide told us about Ireland’s history. It was a foggy day, and morale was a bit low as we were worried that we wouldn’t get a clear view of the Cliffs of Moher. Our driver, an Irish native, told us he was going to sing a song that would surely make the sun come out. After about three minutes of singing, there was not a cloud in the sky and the sun was shining brightly. I wish I could have gotten a replay of this moment just to see the looks on all of our faces, because we could not believe that it had actually worked.
Once the fog went away, I was taken aback by the beautiful landscape ahead of me. If you’ve ever seen the movie P.S. I Love You, then you know what I’m talking about. Miles of green grasslands and hills stretched endlessly ahead of us, and quaint houses with farm animals were found on either side of the road. I was amazed that a country could be so beautiful, and was appalled at the lack of urbanization.
After a long morning’s drive, we finally reached the Cliffs of Moher. Again, I was completely taken aback by how beautiful it all was. We climbed to the very top, and stood on the edge of one of the cliffs in absolute awe. I couldn’t believe I was seeing something so beautiful. Still, as I write this blog four days later, I find myself at a loss of words to describe their beauty.
An hour and a half later, we piled back onto the bus and made our way back towards Dublin. We stopped at a national park, and when we left the bus, we found ourselves surrounded by a view that rivaled that of the cliffs we had just visited. The park stretched out for hundreds of miles around us, our bus being the only point of civilization that we could see. We were standing on a rocky beach, and when we peered over the edge, the water was so crystalline and beautiful that you could almost see every drop as each wave crashed against the rocky shore. We learned about the delicate botanical ecosystem that calls the beautiful beach its home, and after a few more minutes of exploring, we headed home.
Our next stop was an old abbey. Walking through it was a little spooky, as it was a real cemetery that was still in use. However it was a beautiful graveyard. The tombstones were a striking contrast to their green surroundings. After the abbey, we stopped to get lunch in a small town. Our driver stopped in front of a small pub, and recommended the beef stew. When we walked in and looked at the menu, and realized there were about six items on there. We ended up all getting the stew, and it was one of the most fulfilling meals I’d had in a long time. I felt full, but in a healthy way, happy to give my body some of the nutrients its been lacking since we arrived. We practically licked our bowls clean!
We made a few couple stops along the way home, but mostly just enjoyed listening to our driver take turns between telling us stories about Ireland and singing old folk songs to us. We made it back at around 7:30 PM, drained from the long day on the road. At the hostel, we met up with our two sick roommates, and told them about our day. That night we went to another Irish pub where we played games and watched the locals celebrate as Ireland has just beaten France in a rugby match.
The following morning, we woke up to take a bus tour of Dublin. We checked out landmarks like the Dublin Castle, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the Kilmainham Gaol (the city’s old prison). We hopped off the bus at Trinity College, and were floored by the beautiful architecture around us. We also visited the IMMA, or the Irish Museum of Modern Art. My mom would be so proud! We split into two groups, and some stayed behind grabbing some food at the café while the rest of us checked out the exhibits.
We headed back to London that afternoon, tired from a long weekend of traveling but happy to have explored another beautiful city in Europe. I had my regrets about not saving our trip to Dublin for St. Patrick’s Day weekend, but otherwise I feel as though we would have been too pressed for time to see all the things we did. If you travel to Dublin, I strongly recommend the trip to the Cliffs of Moher. It’s long, but so incredibly worth it!