Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A sunbeam to warm you, a moonbeam to charm you

Trinity College was founded in 1592.
I put my headphones in, sat back and closed my eyes. The train began to depart from the station and I felt it slowly crawl out of the darkness and into the light of the early morning. I opened my eyes and looked out of the window. What I saw was one of the most beautiful and calming sights I have ever seen. There were the greenest pastures filled with sheep, cattle and donkeys. Small farmhouses, isolated from the rest of society, sat perched upon little hills overlooking small bodies of glistening water. The clouds allowed the sun enough room to shine some rays down over this heaven I was in and I only peeled my eyes away from the beauty outside of the train when I felt the exhaustion of the previous week creeping up on me. I let my eyes close and my mind drifted to the beautiful world outside. I expected to open them and see buildings and graffiti, but every time I did, all I saw was green.

I soaked Ireland up like the rare rays of sun I've seen while in Europe and I loved every minute of it. The country was beautiful. From Dublin to Galway, I saw the most that I could see in three very short days. After spending the previous weekend in Paris, France, Ireland was an interesting change.

While Paris was filled with bread, landmarks, flowers, macaroons, wine, a lot of walking, sunshine and cobblestone streets, Ireland was filled with green pastures, extremely friendly and forward people, cloudy days, rainbows, Guinness, stew, pubs, sheep and seemingly untouched land that was so picturesque that it's hard to believe I didn't dream of it all.

We began our journey to Ireland early Friday morning (3:45AM), just like we did for Paris. I took a bus to Liverpool Street Station to meet Anna and Megan. From there we took another bus to London Stansted Airport to catch out flight which was close to 8AM if I remember correctly.

Navigating our way through Dublin!
When we flew over the coastline I saw my first glimpse of the green I've already mentioned so many times. It was breathtaking. As we got closer to the ground, Megan saw bunnies hopping around the grass near the runway.

We got through the airport really quickly and boarded a bus to Dublin. The driver and the ticket salesman were both really friendly and welcoming. We were on the bus for maybe half an hour and we got off at Trinity College. We walked around the campus for a little while and the old stone buildings were so beautiful amongst the little greens and bare trees. Students were walking to class and bikes were lined up against iron fences. It felt nice to be on a college campus like that because at home, St. Mike's is so small and familiar, and in London the campuses are really spread apart.

After our stroll through Trinity's campus, we walked across the street to KC Peaches for lunch. My friend Alex, who also goes to St. Michael's, is studying abroad at Trinity and suggested KC Peaches to me before we came. It was a great suggestion because we were starving and the food was amazing! It was an awkward time to go because it was after breakfast but before lunch so we helped ourselves to the cold pasta and salad bar. I got tomato mozzarella penne, pesto penne, feta salad, and rosemary seasoned potatoes. I also bought a blueberry apple juice which I'm craving right now as I write this because it was so good!

Lunch at KC Peaches in Dublin.
On our way out of KC Peaches I grabbed a huge chocolate chip cookie for the road. I shared it with Anna and Megan and we all agreed that it was pretty dang good. As I finished up the cookie, we walked towards the bus stop for the Hop-on, Hop-off sightseeing buses. We bought student priced tickets from the really friendly man at the sales bus and he wished us the best during our visit. We boarded the next bus and sat on the top level. The driver was named Barry and he was really fun to listen to. He told us about the landmarks we were passing and sang some Irish tunes as well. We saw St. Patrick's Cathedral, St. Stephen's Green and the statue of Oscar Wilde just to name a few places.

We got off the bus at the Guinness Storehouse and had to walk a little bit because the pipes burst near the entrance and the cobblestone streets were slightly flooded. It was kind of cool to see the way the sun was glaring off of the water and we passed many horses and carriages. I felt bad for the horses because they all looked dirty and tired. It must be horrible to be cooped up in the city all of the time. I wished that they could roam around all of those pastures I saw flying into the country.

We bought our tickets into the storehouse and checked our bags with the information desk. We walked through at our own pace since it was a self-guided tour and we got to see the whole process of making Guinness through their informational and visual displays. The ingredients in Guinness are hops, yeast, barely and water. I hope I'm not forgetting any!

We got in a queue to taste a sample of Guinness and when we entered the bar area there were four little pillars with scented vapor coming out of them. They were all of the scents that can be found in Guinness. We were asked to smell them all because it would help with the tasting experience. When we got our little samples we moved into a theatre-like room and placed them all on little pedestals of various heights. It was a really cool sight to see once everyone had set there's down on one of the surfaces. The employee working in that room taught us how to properly drink Guinness in order to get all of the taste out of it. Basically, you're supposed to lift your elbow up so that it's equal with your shoulder, inhale the smell of the beer and then take a mouthful of it, swallow, and exhale. He advised us not to take sips because the white, foamy area on the top is the hops and it is really bitter. When you finish your Guinness there should be most of the hops left at the bottom of the glass. I enjoyed the taste of the sample but I did feel as though it was a little too bitter for my liking.

Fun fact: Did you know that Arthur Guinness' wife, Olivia, gave birth to 21 children and only 10 survived to adulthood? That's really sad and I must say that it's hard to believe one woman could give birth to that many children without exploding! She was pregnant for sixteen years of her life.

When we reached the top of the storehouse, we entered the sky bar. The sky bar's walls are windows so you can look out over all of Dublin. It was an amazing sight to see. We got our free pints at the bar and the bartender made little shamrock shapes in the hops at the top of our glasses.

We found a table to rest our drinks on and took a ton of pictures of the view. It started to rain but since it was so abrupt and basically a sun shower, the most amazing thing happened right afterwards.

I bet you can guess what I'm going to say...

A rainbow appeared! Yes, a rainbow. In Ireland. It was the most cliche yet miraculous thing I have ever seen. The end of it came down right to the street below us. Since we were up so high we had the greatest view of it!

Can you see the rainbow?
After a while of trying to drink all of our pints of Guinness, we surrendered and decided to head back down to the bus stop. We made a quick stop in the gift shop and then headed down to get our bags.
On our second journey on the bus for the day, we saw more sights including the train station, Heuston, that we had to go to the next morning to get to Galway. We also saw the cast iron, Ha'penny Bridge which is a pedestrian bridge that was built in 1816 over the River Liffey. It cost a half of a penny to cross it once upon a time, hence the name (Wikipedia). 

We got off the bus again at Kilmainham Gaol, which is a former prison that has been turned into a museum. According to Wikipedia, it has been run since the mid-1980s by the Office of Public Works (OPW) and played an important part in Irish history, as many leaders of Irish rebellions were imprisoned and executed in the prison.

We paid two Euro to get a tour of the prison and it was really interesting. We started in the museum portion and I read about how the windows in the prison were a reformation to earlier prisons. They were installed with the intention to allow the light to fill the dark cells and tame the evil within the prisoners. The large ceiling skylight in the newer, bigger room of the prison that has been famously seen in many movies and music videos was installed with the same intentions of letting God's light in to reform the prisoners.

When the jail was built, the hope was to reform prisoners instead of lock them away without any hope of rehabilitation or re-entrance into society. The jails previously had been overcrowded and disgusting. Unfortunately, Kilmainham did not succeed as well as it's founders had hoped because of the rebellions in Ireland as well as the famine, which contributed greatly to the overcrowding. People thought that if they were imprisoned they'd be fed and given shelter during such hard times. This led to horrible conditions within the prison.

Our tour of Kilmainham Gaol was really interesting.
Many people were publicly hanged and executed at Kilmainham. Our tour guide said that it became a public spectacle more than anything and that the people became unnerved by the executions after a few controversial ones occurred during the time of the rebellion.

We got to see the small, cold, dark cells in the old wings as well as the newer cells in the big, most iconic wing of the prison. It was interesting to hear the stories of the prisoners who were held captive there. Some were young children who were thrown in jail for petty theft. The youngest was rumored to be 7 years old. Can you imagine that?

When we finished the prison tour we hopped back on the bus and saw more sights on our way to the hostel. We saw the President's house, the Dublin Zoo and some museums as well. We were lucky because we got on the last tour of the day so we had to get off at one of the last stops and walk to our hostel. We stopped into a few tourist shops and then hurried to get out of the cold.

We stayed at The Kinlay House which was located right near city hall and the Dublin Castle. It was a really big building with a winding, wooden, creaky staircase. We were in room 206 and we shared bunk beds in a room of 16 people. No one was there when we arrived in our room so we put our stuff away, washed up and headed out for dinner nearby. We ate at The Porter House a few blocks away and it was really delicious! Megan and I both got the Old Smokey Burger and I got mine without cheese and mayo. It had lettuce, tomato, pickles, onion rings and bacon on it. It also came with chips (fries) and we all shared some cheesy garlic bread.

We got back to the hostel, got ready for bed and settled in around 10PM before anyone was back in the room. Megan set an alarm for 6AM the next morning because we had to walk to the train station, and I figured I'd wake up when everyone trickled back into the room throughout the night so I put in ear plugs and rolled over in my bunk to face the old fireplace. The room was a little drafty and the pillow didn't give my head much support at all but I was asleep before I knew it. I was so tired that I slept through the entire night without waking up. When Megan gently shook my arm in the morning to wake me up I was startled because I felt like it was happening in my dream.

We quietly grabbed our stuff which we had packed up the night before and left the room. We got dressed and ready in the bathroom down the hall and headed downstairs to check out. The receptionist told us that it'd be easiest to walk to the station from the hostel, so he showed us a little map and we headed out. The walk was beautiful. It took about fifteen or twenty minutes at most and it was really calming to walk through the empty streets in the purple light of the early morning hours. We crossed over the River Liffey and saw maybe five people in passing. One older, Irish man said good morning to us with a big smile and I warmed up a little after that small act of kindness. We crossed another bridge to the station and the lights underneath were changing between green and orange. The reflection on the water was really nice.

I bought myself a cinnamon bun and some orange juice and we boarded the train around 7:30AM. That's where I began this post, so I won't ramble on too much about the journey from Galway to Dublin. It was simply beautiful and relaxing and I felt so comfortable there. I could have stayed on that train forever, staring out the window and listening to music while Anna and Megan peacefully slept next to me.

Here's some of the songs that I listened to on the train ride and later on the bus ride to the Cliffs of Moher. Maybe if you listen to them while you're reading this you'll be able to imagine how I felt while I journeyed through Ireland.

"Good Life" by OneRepublic, "Nirvana" by Sam Smith, "Home" by Phillip Phillips, "Wake Up" by Arcade Fire, "Before the Worst" by The Script (which mentions some places in Dublin), "Give Me Love" by Ed Sheeran, "Believe" by Hanson, "Big Jet Plane" by Angus and Julia Stone, "Bonfire Heart" by James Blunt, "High Hopes" by Paolo Nutini, "Come Pick Me Up" by Ryan Adams, "Always" by Blind Pilot, "All We Are" by Matt Nathanson, "Glitter in the Air" by P!nk, "The Great Escape" by Patrick Watson, "Happily" by One Direction, "Heart of Life" by John Mayer, "Helium" by Plain White T's, "Hey Jesus" by Tyler Hilton, "Home" by American Authors, "Running" by Delta Spirit, "Ho Hey" by The Lumineers, "Gravity" by Stephen Kellogg and The Sixers, "On Top of the World" by Imagine Dragons, "Open Season" by High Highs, "Wonderful Tonight" by Eric Clapton, "Over the Rainbow" by Ingrid Michaelson, "P.S I Love You" by Nellie Mckay, "Paris Nights/New York Mornings" by Corinne Bailey Rae, "Tiny Dancer" by Elton John, "Paradise" by Coldplay, "Rise" by Eddie Vedder

I bolded some of the best ones to make it easier for anyone who wants to listen to some, but those are all really great songs that I distinctly remember listening to at different parts of my journey.

When we arrived in Galway, we almost immediately boarded a bus to the Cliffs of Moher. It was a two hour coach ride through the countryside, up winding hills, past those amazing green pastures you've heard so much about, through towns and villages in the middle of nowhere and past beautiful bodies of water. We even got to see a castle and drove through a small town that was hosting a huge marathon. It was a lovely ride and I was so happy we chose to do it.

When we go to the cliffs, we exited the bus and the driver told us we had one hour until he'd head back to Galway. We spent that hour well and walked all the way to the right where there was a little castle-like structure on a cliff and then all the way back to the left where we stopped at the first cliff we got to and took a lot of pictures. There was a little girl, I think she was Italian, who was sobbing her eyes out for so long. Her parents were trying to calm her down at first, but then they seemed to just be ignoring her. I'm not sure if she was having a tantrum or if she was cold and tired, but I couldn't help but chuckle at her in her pink hat and puffy little coat with little tears rolling down her rosy cheeks. She was sitting on a step while her parents walked up the path towards another cliff. I don't know if I'll ever forget her and I couldn't tell you why.

We soaked up the beauty of the cliffs and the misty air. The water was so blue and the waves were smashing up against the base of the cliffs. It was pretty epic to see something so naturally beautiful. The weather held out too and it wasn't too cold. Plus we had the whole two hour bus ride back to Galway to warm up.

 May God grant you always...A sunbeam to warm you, a moonbeam to charm you, a sheltering Angel so nothing can harm you. Laughter to cheer you. Faithful friends near you. And whenever you pray, Heaven to hear you.
We were walking back to the bus and I was telling Megan and Anna about this Lord of the Rings joke I had seen on the internet. I was saying "Swiggity Swaggins" to mimic Gollum's line in the meme and this older, Irish man heard me and said "Good ol' American English." I almost died. He thought I was being serious. We were laughing so hard the whole walk back to the bus.

We heard live traditional Irish music at Taafees in Galway.
When we got back we found our hostel, Snoozles, which was located a few blocks away from the train station. Despite it's funny name, Snoozles was the hostel of all hostels. It was big, clean and decorated really nicely. It felt so homey and safe. The girls at reception were extremely friendly and helpful. They gave us coupons for a free drink each at Busker Brownes, where we ended up going to for dinner. They also gave us a map and drew a little walking tour route on it for us.

We went to our room, 209, and it was so cute! It was filled with bunk beds, just like the Kinlay House in Dublin, but it was set up a lot better with cages for our belongings under each bed, cleaner bedding, a private bathroom and yellow cubbies.

After settling in a bit, we walked back to Eyre Square and to the pedestrian shopping street, which reminded me of Church Street in Vermont a lot. It was really quaint and clean. People were bustling about going into shops and pubs. We found Busker Brownes and got a booth in the corner right away. We each got some white wine (free with our coupons) and I ordered the Irish Guinness Beef Stew which was insanely delicious. Besides tasting so good, it warmed me up and filled me with contentedness while we chatted about everything from Ireland to the Westboro Baptist Church (not sure how we got there...).

After we paid we walked to Gino's and I ordered Ferrero Rocher gelato. It was SO GOOD. I fear that I will never taste anything as amazing as that gelato ever again.

We stood near a young (attractive) street performer with a guitar and ate our gelato while debating whether or not to give him some money. He played "I'm Yours" by Jason Mraz which made me happy and both Megan and I gave him some coins. He nodded and smiled at us and I melted a little.

We walked towards the pubs in hopes of finding some live music and the first place we went into was Taafees. A few guys in there asked us if we were staying or leaving since we were standing apprehensively by the door and when we said we were looking for live music they laughed and cheered and said they were too. I felt as though they were just being friendly and were maybe a little drunk, and I didn't feel uncomfortable at all really. Anna, Megan and I are all pretty responsible so when we all started to follow them out of the pub I felt like we had pretty good chances of not dying.

We went into another pub and lost the guys pretty quickly. To this day I still have no idea where they went. On the way into the pub a guy greeted us and touched Megan inappropriately. Nothing too serious but it put her on edge and made me and Anna more alert. While we were standing by the bar and debating whether or not to stay, a gross older guy grabbed Anna's butt. She jumped and I looked at him while he stuck his tongue out and shrugged like like it was hilarious.

The people in Ireland were overwhelmingly nicer and more friendly than anywhere else I've been in Europe. However, the men were definitely the most forward of anywhere I've been and while I understand Anna and Megan's discomfort after being grabbed, I felt like the guys were just happy, drunk, disrespectful idiots. It was completely inappropriate but I did not feel as though they would follow us home or truly threaten our safety. Maybe that is a misguided feeling but it's just how I felt in the moment.

We decided to head back to Taafees and we found out that their live music was starting at 9:30PM. We ordered some pints of cider and sat down near the little make-shift stage and TV screen. We talked and drank our ciders and scoped out the people in the bar. A group of German girls came in and sat at the table next to us and gradually the bar filled up. The music came at 9:30, as promised, and it was certainly a treat. There were two men, one with an accordion and one with a guitar, and one woman with a violin. They played their hearts out and the woman ordered a huge Guinness which was overflowing as it sat on the little ledge next to her. The man with the accordion appeared to be the oldest in the trio and he was very angry looking while he played. He'd stick his tongue out a little and sometimes he's crack a smile when he locked eyes with one of the dancing audience members.

The common room in the hostel was really cozy.
Galway was beautiful, even in the rain.
Everything was going swimmingly until a really large guy fell into a table (not so accidentally) and spilled four pints of Guinness on the German girls and, of course, on me. My right leg was soaked as well as my jacket but it wasn't nearly as bad as the damage done to the girls next to us. We left soon after that because things we getting too crowded and we were tired.

We got back to the hostel and were there first again so we took advantage of the bathroom and got to sleep early. We slept until 7:30AM/8AM the next morning and got all dressed and packed up. We ate breakfast (toast, juice and cereal) in the dining room downstairs and then checked our bags with reception for the day. We sat in the common room for a little while Anna played with the guitar they have and I searched for a tune to play on the jukebox.

When we left the hostel it was raining. It was pretty miserable out but not bad enough to keep us from seeing the town while we had the chance. So we walked around literally the whole town in about an hour because of how small it is, and it was really nice. We went into the cathedral and heard mass being said in Irish. Then we saw the strip of colored houses by the water, which was rushing like crazy because of the rain. We saw the Spanish Arch and the museum which was unfortunately closed because it was Sunday. We made our way back to the area we were in the night before just as all of the shops were opening for the day. We went in some touristy shops and I got a green scarf from a nice, older couple who gave me a five Euro discount because the tag was missing. We also went into a bookstore and Butler's Chocolate Cafe, where I got a salted caramel and a hazelnut caramel to try. They were really good, which I'm sure you predicted I'd say.

We retrieved our belongings from the hostel and walked to the bus/train station. We purchased tickets to the airport and the ride was less than comfortable. The couple in front of me smelt horrible and they were clearly hippies. The guy had a really long, gangly beard and the girl's bright blue nail polish, rings and greasy scalp were one of the main sights I saw during the ride. They both reclined their seats all of the way so I was squished up right behind them. I pulled my sweater over my nose, put headphones in and slunk down into my seat with my head towards the window.

Photo Credit: Anna Alexander. Me on the left and Megan on the right.

The bus ride didn't take too long, thank God, and we arrived at the tiny Knock Airport after about an hour. We went through security with no other passengers in sight and sat at our gate. We had about and hour or so to wait until we could board so we talked, caught up on social media on our phones and bought some snacks. The flight itself was nice until the end, when it got really bumpy. Poor Anna was terrified. We landed safely at Standsted despite the wind and caught our bus back to Liverpool Street Station. I said goodbye to Anna and Megan and rushed to get out of the rain. I took the tube back to my beloved Baker Street Station and was showered and in bed before I knew it.

It was a radically different trip to Paris in so many ways, but it's left me dreaming of Ireland and longing to go back all week. If you ever have the chance to go, I'd strongly recommend it. I'll never forget walking up the stairs from the tarmac to the plane, staring at the fields around the runway and the setting sun and praying to God that I would be back one day.

Write soon.
xx Sheila

(PS: My dad used to sing to us every night before bed. One of our favorites was "Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ral (That's an Irish Lullaby)" and Maggie and I sang it for the Oak Grove talent show when we were in third and first grades. It's a special thing to have a dad who sings to you and I couldn't help but think of him and that song while I was in Ireland.)

Galway, Ireland.


  1. Grampy used to sing that song to your Dad, Uncle Michael, Aunt Kathy and me when we were young.

  2. This was wonderful (especially your post script <3)

  3. Hopefully I'm going over in Sept. Great piece Sheila. Love Uncle T

  4. Thanks everyone! I just realized I've been getting comments on these and it made me so happy to read them. Thanks! :)