Wednesday, 15 October 2014

A Weekend in Wales

Hello Readers!

It's Erika again, and this time I'm talking about North Wales!

Everyone said Wales was a beautiful and relaxing weekend, and believe me when I say that is the best summary of Wales ever. Every view of Wales was beautiful, from the quaint coastal towns to the mines we visited.  The entire visit was filled with wonderful side trips that kept everyone engaged and entertained.

Our first stop Friday morning was Chester, a really cool, little town that had way more than I was expecting. It's technically still in England, right on the border of Wales. The city looks so perfectly old fashioned yet modern and the blend makes you stop to stare at buildings. Plenty of the shops were located in buildings that had iron gargoyles surrounding the door frames or little touches that proved its true age. It was so cool to see Chester take advantage of their history and incorporate it into the modern world. Chester has the second most photographed clock in England, the Eastgate Clock. You can even walk right up to the top and get a great view of the city.

The clock was impressive, but there was just too much to see in a short period of time to pick one particular thing. Chester is one of those touristy towns that inspire street performers to entertain passersby. My group of friends was particularly entertained by a bird tamer who had massive owls that people could pet. I'm not afraid of owls or anything but the wing span of these birds had me keeping a wide perimeter. It was a totally random experience that just added to the charm of the trip. After the quick visit in Chester, we continued on to Llandudno (pronounced Lan-Did-No) and really got to see what Wales truly looks like.

That image above is the view from our hotel. Beachfront view 24/7, and it was even more beautiful in person. It was a really nice hotel, even if the carpet was ridiculously outdated. It had a grandparent's spare bedroom feeling and that was pretty cute to be honest. Llandudno was such a relaxed town. You could walk up and down the main city center pretty quickly and everyone was very easygoing and friendly. Something we weren't expecting was how quickly everything shut down. Most shops closed at 5:30 PM, which for Americans was crazy early for a Friday and Saturday night. It was pretty humorous to see everyone scramble to find dinner that first Friday night because everything closed as we realized we needed to eat. My roommate and I had an early night and watched bad reality TV shows before going to bed. This was a good choice since the next day was all about exploring a castle and the extra rest was well needed.

Saturday morning had us travelling to Caernarfon Castle. The castle was a cool visit because so much of it was up to individual exploration. We got to walk up the interior walls, and you could reach the top of the castle to see the town. The interior walls were not clearly marked so it was easy to walk right into one without realizing it. There was also an amazing little museum on the history of the Welsh military. I hadn't really thought about how the United Kingdom's military is separated, and it was a nice lesson in the sacrifices and accomplishments the Welsh military have made throughout history.

The castle is an important part of modern history because it is the castle that Prince Charles' investiture was held at. I suppose it was only fitting for the Prince of Wales to have the ceremony in Wales - I actually assumed it was held at Buckingham Palace. The town was also very lovely, and there were plenty of small little stores with engaging shop owners. I ended up wandering through a tiny basement bookstore that only sold books on hiking but the top level of the store sold antique jewelry. This combination made no sense to me but it was fun to explore it!

After our castle visit we continued on to Llanberis.  This town was most known for being a slate mine before it closed in the 1930s. Now the area is a big tourist destination. The mountains look perfect for hiking, just filled with so much potential for adventure in them. I spent a great deal of time in the National Slate Museum. At first, it sounded like one of the worst museums I'd ever have to suffer through, but it turned out to be really interesting. The museum starts with a short film on the history of mining so you understand why it was so important, and from there you can look through various exhibitions and demonstrations.  One of the most entertaining aspects of the visit was a live demonstration on splitting slate. Apparently no machine ever perfectly split slabs of slate as well as a human could, so humans were never outsourced in this aspect of mining. The professional that demonstrated how to split the slate was such an entertainer - he had everyone laughing while also being really impressed with his skill.

After we left Llanberis we returned to Llandudno. The ocean was just as beautiful the second night, and this night everyone was prepared to hunt down food before closing hours. I managed to get a little bit of shopping in (books of course, I can’t help myself!) before having dinner on the beach with friends. It was such a great time, even if those sea gulls were more intense than I was expecting. Plenty of people were very nearly attacked by those massive birds, but we didn't let them kill the fun. And lucky for us, people brought some dogs to the beach later and the birds suddenly had better places to be.

The next day we went to Swallow Falls, which is a massive waterfall that took my breath away. It's amazing how truly gorgeous nature can be sometimes. Everyone took a million pictures and tried to get every view possible. I spent an unreasonable amount of time taking the same pictures over and over again but changing the settings on my camera so it would be in black and white or sepia. I needed this magic in different styles apparently, but I don't even regret it. We then went into the town that is right next to Swallow Falls, Betws-y-Coed. That was a fun little venture mainly because all my group did was find food, and then ice cream (even though it was chilly outside!) and then went to the park. There was a guy with this contraption blowing huge amounts of bubbles all over the park. Mainly for some little kids but he gladly let us college students run around and pop them too. It was just a silly but cute way to end the trip. We all boarded the bus happy and relaxed but glad to get back to Harlaxton. North Wales was just amazing. It was nothing but beautiful sights and wonderful people. I can't wait to go back!

Until next time,

Erika Johnson

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Ireland: My Number 1 Bucket List Country

Hey, Hey, Hey- I'm back keeping you in the loop about Harlaxton Happenings!

After all of us Harlaxton kids endured the Great Unpleasantness of the first British Studies exam, we called upon King Charles II's power of party and celebrated by jet setting across Europe.  From Portugal to Greece to Germany, Harlaxton was everywhere this past weekend. However, I, like many of my other fellow students, hopped on some form of transportation and headed to England's neighbor- Ireland.

Spending the weekend in Ireland was a dream come true for me. Since I was a tiny tot in the second grade, Ireland has been my '#1 Bucket List Country' to visit, so it was crazy surreal to finally be experiencing this beautiful country. My friends (Shelby & Savannah) and I arrived in Dublin on Thursday afternoon, since we chose to travel independently. We made it to our hostel, Abraham's House (totally recommend!) and after a great lunch and a quick nap, we took off exploring the city of Dublin.

The city of Dublin was absolutely gorgeous. I'm not exactly sure how, but Dublin gives off the big city vibe, without the hustle and bustle of a typical big city. I felt like I could actually breathe, which was really nice after a long day of travel, and everybody was so kind. All of the landmarks and historical sites were incredibly close to one another, which allowed you to see a ton of the city in one short night. My friends and I followed the walking tour provided to us by Dr. Green and we had a blast. We saw the Bank of Ireland, the Famine Memorial, the governmental buildings, as well as several cathedrals. But our favorite site was Trinity College. We basically wanted to drop out of school and attend this college because it was so incredibly beautiful.  The architecture was gorgeous and there was green space everywhere. My words can't do Trinity justice, so here are some pictures:

After becoming #OBSESSED with Trinity College, we met up with some of our friends on the school trip for a nice dinner at an Italian restaurant. It was a very good meal, despite the fact the waiter had no idea what alfredo sauce was. All of us spent the night completing the walking tour and ended the night at the Ha'Penny Bridge. This particular bridge was stunning- it was my second favorite site after Trinity College, which is weird because I am terrified of walking bridges at night. The light from the bridge was reflecting perfectly off the water, which meant for really great photo opportunities. 

On Friday morning, Shelby, Savannah, and I hopped on our bright green, free Wi-Fi equipped PaddyWagon to begin our 3-day tour of the Irish countryside. I cannot emphasize how amazing this particular tour was- it was worth every single pound, euro, and dollar spent. We saw so much of Ireland that we normally would not have been able to see on our own due to transportation limitations. Plus, our driver Tony (or as TripAdvisor reviews say, 'Jesus') was the cherry-on-top of our experience. He knew Ireland's history like the back of his hand, sang and played for us traditional Irish music, and stopped in the most random, beautiful places that truly showcased Ireland's beauty.

Our first stop was the village of Cong, which was where the John Wayne film, The Quiet Man, was filmed. I had no idea that we were stopping here, so it was a pleasant surprise when I hopped off the PW and saw an incredibly beautiful, quaint village. There was a peaceful stream running through the village, as well as gorgeous monastery ruins. Plus, we had an incredible day for exploring, as there was nothing but bright blue skies. 

A short distance from the village of Cong, Tony stopped to show us an incredible view of Clew Bay, which is home to 365 islands. I legitimately lost my breath when Tony stopped the PW. The view was so awe-inspiring. The area that we stopped at is also home to a farmer that owns several Connemara ponies, and one of them just trotted right up to us, which was incredibly awesome. After the Clew Bay and Connemara ponies, we stopped at the base of the Twelve Bens, a small mountain chain in western Ireland. Once again, I was just amazed at the diversity of the Irish Countryside. As our last stop of the day, we visited the Quiet Man Bridge, which was a bridge used in the movie I mentioned earlier. There wasn't much to it, but once again, a very pretty view of the Irish countryside. After everyone got their pictures, we all hopped on to the PW and headed into Galway City for the night.

Our night in Galway was filled with a lot of night beach exploring, which was great. We went the long way around to the beach and a kind cop pointed us in the right direction on how to get back because he saw us standing on a street corner and staring at a map. But either way, we made it back and had a wonderful night! We woke up the next morning and made our way to the Cliffs of Moher, which was the highlight of the day. But along the way, we stopped at Dunguaire Castle, which overlooked a gorgeous bay area. So much wow. Tony then took us to some remnants of a church (again, so pretty against at bright blue sky) and we stopped at the "Baby Cliffs of Moher." The Baby Cliffs were just incredible. I was actually able to climb down into a ledge that overlooked the waves, and although I thought I was going to fall to my death any second, I am so glad that I did it because the view of the waves crashing against the rocks was amazing.

I guess that Tony heard our stomachs growling, and we stopped to have lunch about ten minutes away from the Cliffs of Moher. Being cheap, I only had a (delicious) sandwich and some amazing Roast Beef and Irish Stout chips. (Who would have thought that combination would have been good? I’m not sure but I am glad that they did.) Anyway, we headed along to the Cliffs of Moher and I was basically jumping up and down in my seat from excitement. I have been looking forward to seeing the Cliffs of Moher for so long and it was finally happening.

It's so so so hard to describe the Cliffs of Moher because their beauty is basically indescribable. I certainly didn't have any words besides "Wow" when I was there. Just incredible. Shelby, Savannah, and I hiked the right side of the Cliffs because Tony said that is where we would get the best view and he wasn’t lying. The water was a gorgeous blue and the way it was crashing against the gray and green rocks was unbelievable. I walked away incredibly impressed with the Cliffs. Again, I was sure that I was going to fall to my death, but I managed to take a quick peek over the edge and it was well worth the fright. Like before, words will never be able to give the Cliffs of Moher justice so here are some of the pictures I managed to snag:

As with all good things, the Cliffs of Moher had to come to an end, even though I could have spent an entire day there. We jumped onto our PW and headed to Killarney, our resting stop for the night. But before we reached our destination, Tony stopped at a random village along the way to show us some sights. Even though we had to trek through a small field of donkey poo, we got a great view of the town and it was so worth it. Plus, it was a nice spot to get some fresh air and move our legs because we still had quite a ride to Killarney.

Sunday was mainly a travel day to get us back to Dublin, but along the way we made two castle stops. The first was Blarney Castle, so of course the three of us climbed to the top of the castle to kiss the stone. The weather while we were there was less than delightful, so we got soaked waiting to kiss the stone, but had a great time nonetheless. After the stone, we wandered around the grounds and then stopped for lunch where an Indiana woman next to us recognized our Kentucky accents. Although I didn't know this woman personally, it was nice to have a little piece of home with us for a few minutes.

It was an incredibly long drive, but we eventually made it back to Dublin to catch our flight and we said our goodbyes to Tony, Jason from Shangai, and Ebony and Sallie from Australia, all of whom were excellent travelling companions.  Our flight ended up getting delayed, so we were stuck in the airport for about six hours. We didn't make it back to the manor until 2:30 am and I didn't get into bed until after 3 am, so British Studies at 8:30 am was basically awful, but the exhaustion I felt was totally worth the weekend. I had one of the best weekends of my life and made amazing memories with even more amazing people. I am so incredibly and continually blessed by my experience here at Harlaxton!

Until next time,