Sunday, March 27, 2011

Dublin and London

I've put off writing an entry about my St. Patrick's Day in Dublin and the subsequent weekend excursion to London because on the return journey from that trip, I misplaced my digital camera somewhere between Belfast and Coleraine - needless to say, I'm pretty annoyed at losing my pictures!  I've been unable to locate the camera so far, so I'm just going to give a brief summary of events; if the camera turns up, I will post another blog post with some photos.

Early in the morning of the 17th, I joined dozens of other international students here at the Uni. of Ulster on two charter buses headed for Dublin, the capital of the Republic of Ireland.  It was a blur of a day!  St. Patrick's Day in Dublin is definitely an international event - there were accents from all parts of the world.  The parade was fun and featured colorful, imaginative floats and costumes worn by marchers from many different counties of Ireland.  After the parade, some of us grabbed lunch in the excessively crowded Westmoreland Street, and took a sort of walking pub tour.  By 1 AM, most of us were ready to take a rest on the bus ride back to Coleraine!

The next day, my fellow travelers and I woke up and packed for a three day jaunt to London.  Like our flight to Edinburgh, it was a short and comfortable flight - this contrasted with the rigmarole of the rest of the journey, which required 2 buses, 3 trains and one ride on the Underground to get to (and from) our hostel.  We had been forewarned by nearly everyone who found out we were going to London about the high cost of touring the city.  However, we found that a free walking tour around Westminster and another night-time tour of the East End were great, affordable ways of introducing ourselves to the insurmountable city. 

I'm still trying to remember everything we saw; it includes the Globe Theater, St. Paul's Cathedral, the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, Admiralty Arch, Hyde Park, the Tower of London (from the outside), Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery, the Tate Modern Art Museum, the Camden Town markets, Buckingham Palace and Soho.  Obviously, it was all incredible; I was sorry to leave, but there will be so much more to explore when (?!) I go back! 

That's all for now.  I still hope to recover my camera so I can share some of my photos.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


I am recently back from a weekend in Edinburgh, Scotland.  Long story short: we had a great time!

There is quite a bit to tell, and we experienced so many new things.  First, I'd like to say how Edinburgh is beautiful and charming.  The impression I got was of a city that is very much in touch with its history and culture, especially relating to its artistic and literary past.  Though it is the capital city of Scotland and the second-largest, it is very easy to travel around; for a city its size, it is very pedestrian-friendly.  Everywhere we went, we walked.  This included the great free walking tour we took the first full day we were there, and that evening's ghost tour.  We visited interesting spots such as St. Giles' Cathedral (interestingly it isn't a cathedral because that name implies the presence of a bishop, which is absent in this Presbyterian place of worship), the Writer's Museum (which houses artifacts from three of the city's, and Scotland's, most beloved inhabitants: Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns), Arthur's Seat (the peak of a mountain overlooking Edinburgh and its environs) and even a kirkyard or two where we were told ghost stories stemming from the city's sometimes violent past. 

Of course, a trip to a new city would not be completely satisfying if we didn't sample the local culinary customs.  Of course there was a pub crawl, a strange local soft-drink known as Irn Bru (which notably outsells both Pepsi and Coke in Scotland) and an eye-opening experience with a battered, deep-fried Mars Bar (fried food is apparently an obsession), but the best part was the haggis.  I don't want to go into the details of what haggis is made of (for good reason), but whatever its reputation is abroad, I can vouch for how delicious it is, especially served with its traditional accompaniments "neeps and tatties" (Scots for shredded turnips and mashed potatoes).  Small wonder Robert Burns wrote an ode to it.

I loved my experience in Edinburgh, and I highly recommend at least a weekend visit to the city!

That's it for now, but in a week or two expect another entry from me, as I will be visiting Dublin for St. Patrick's Day on Thursday and London for the three days following.

Monday, March 7, 2011

In The Interim

Okay, so I haven't been the most faithful blogger.  In fact, I'm posting this blog entry mostly out of shame for leaving the thing alone for so long.  There haven't been a ton of exciting developments since my last post, since classes have been more demanding lately.  But since things are only going to get busier from here on, I figure I'd better write a bit about the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge visit we had a couple of weekends ago.

A forty minute bus ride from Coleraine is the tiny town of Ballintoy, Co. Antrim.  Just down the road is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Northern Ireland: The Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge.  Each year, thousands of people come just to cross a rickety, waving, shaking catwalk which will take you to Carrick-a-Rede Island, essentially a very large rock that has been used for centuries by enterprising fishermen.  It was thrilling, though something to stay away from if you have a fear of heights.

The whole surrounding area has plenty of natural beauty, which we were able to explore as the remote village was only serviced by two buses the entire day.  After having a lunch of pan-fried mackerel, chips and a pint, we hiked about and appreciated what has so far been the most rustic Irish locale we've visited.  A road past an old Anglican church and graveyard takes you to the harbor.  When the late-February winds blow green sea across ragged black rocks, and when you literally see a rain storm leave Scotland and head directly for you, it tugs you from the year 2011 and drops you in some kind of Wordsworth poem.

That's it for now.  This coming weekend contains a trip to Edinburgh.  During the following week, on St. Patrick's Day, is a bus trip to Dublin.  A day after that, a weekend in London.  Whoa.  Better rest up.