Friday, December 5, 2014

Thanksgiving in Ireland!

This post took me all week but I didn't want to forget anything! 

When I was in college 15 minutes away from home, I never had to miss a holiday or family get together. The only holiday I think I've missed is Easter last year, because I had to work, but I spent it with Katie's family instead which was great! When I realized I would be abroad for Thanksgiving, I thought I might be a little sad without my family, the traditions, and the food, but that I would have a turkey sandwich and Skype with them and life would just go on like normal. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would get to go to Ireland on this trip, let alone spend Thanksgiving weekend there.

What is really amazing about this trip is that my future in Europe was foggy when I got on the plane here. What I mean is that I had no idea who I was to meet in the airport and who would become my friends and travel companions, and shape my weekend experiences here. As it turns out, the people with whom Katie and I sat at the airport meeting point for several hours became those people. We got phone numbers, got to know each other, and started planning trips! It just so happens that one of those girls we met, Mackenzie, had a friend in Ireland who she had worked with during the past summer in New York. Mackenzie's friend Sarah not only invited her to stay for Thanksgiving but said she could bring some friends as well! It's just so funny how things work out; somewhere I've always wanted to go just popped up as an opportunity after a series of random meetings and conversations with people who were strangers not long before, and all of that was after a series of decisions and opportunities at home that allowed me to get to Europe in the first place. 

It's just mind-blowing. Anyways. Katie and I met up in Madrid on Wednesday night and stayed with our host brother Jaime again, he's such a great host and always ready to put up with us! We got up early and took a jog to the train station where we caught the shuttle to the airport. We just happened to meet up with our friend Ellis who was going to Ireland too! (The shuttle had fun!) We made it to the airport, met up with Mackenzie and Megan, and had a coffee before we started the day.

Fun in the Airport (Note: I do not like bullfighting at all but this was just so touristy we had to do it.)

The rain in Spain falls mainly on the PLANE.

 We took Ryanair, which means you have to have a small bag, you don't pick your seats, and it's a bit chaotic, but we all made it. I sat behind a cute little girl who was just as amazed by the view out the window as I was. I didn't sleep a wink because I was too excited. I saw the red and brown land of Spain get further and further away and finally disappear below the clouds; then as we descended, the utter contrast of it with the green squares of Ireland below me was something I'll never forget. 

The signs in the airport were written in Gaelic and English which was super fun. We had to go through customs though which was a little nerve-wracking. Luckily the customs official that I went to told me to "bring my friends up," and talked to us all in a group. He was super nice about asking us all the things he had to; he wanted to know where we were from, what we studied, how long we would be in Ireland, who we were staying with and what we were going to do while we were there, etc. Then a really nice worker outside arranged a cab for us and we headed to downtown Dublin! This was our first taste of seeing the cars driving on the left side of the road and the steering wheel on the right side of the car. It wasn't as weird as I thought it would be, but taking some turns and driving in roundabouts made me grip the seats pretty hard, because it felt like we would be smashing head-on in to oncoming traffic at any second. 

We found Sarah and headed to have lunch at a restaurant called Dakota! It was super cozy and warm, all decorated for Christmas, and it just felt like the best welcome to Ireland. I had nachos for an appetizer (still missing spicy food) and fish and chips which was all great. Then we took a little walk through the city and went to the bus stop. We had to take an almost 4 hour bus ride to Sarah's town, Ennis, in County Clare. This bus had wifi too, but it was really warm and we couldn't all sit together, but everyone just kind of zoned out or took a nap. 

When we finally got to Ennis, Sarah's mom and dad picked us up and took us back to their house and we were welcomed with the smell of Thanksgiving dinner cooking and a warm fireplace to sit by. It was such an amazing feeling to just be able to get cozy and comfortable in an actual house with a family, and not have to worry about the stress or grossness of a hostel. Sarah's mom and grandma cooked a super delicious Thanksgiving dinner for us: Turkey and dressing, ham, two kinds of potatoes, gravy, brussel sprouts, carrots and parsnips, turnips, delicious cake, and wine and Bulmer's Irish Cider for all. We had a great time talking and getting to know each other and learning a little more about Ireland. Thankful does not even begin to cover it. 

We watched a movie in front of the fire (I slept through it - that turkey tryptophan, man) and went to bed with full bellies and big smiles, excited for the next day's adventures. Which did not disappoint. We had delicious Irish Brown Bread or Soda Bread with butter and jam for breakfast and it was something I definitely want to learn to make. We took a drive on winding roads through the country, past little towns, cows and sheep, stone walls, haunted, deteriorating buildings, endless green fields, autumn-colored trees, and finally to the coast. This area of Ireland is famous for surfing if you can believe it! We finally arrived at...

My new favorite place in the whole world. 

O'Brien's Castle, the tallest point at the cliffs.

Technically, when we were on this side we were walking on someone's farm...

The path was a little muddy and perilous, but it made for great photos! 
I seriously could have stayed there exploring all day. All week. For a year...

The visitor's center for the cliffs was really neat too, it was built in to the hill like a hobbit-hole and it's super sustainable and environmentally friendly. 

After the cliffs, we took another beautiful drive and headed into Ennis for lunch. Sarah's grandfather seems to own half the town and this beautiful restaurant called The Cloister was one of his establishments; a Chinese restaurant and a bar are a couple of others. Please look at the "Cloister History" page on the website...part of the 13th century wall of the Ennis Friary is built in to the building... If you want to check out the gallery on the website too it has better pictures than I do. We did a little walking and shopping (SO nice not to hear anything about Black Friday) and then headed Patrick's Public House that their family owns for a quick drink. They have Blue Moon, so that's what I got - a little taste of home as there would be plenty of time for Guinness the next day. Here's the bar's website in case you're ever in Ennis and want to check it out.

This is the fancy upstairs of The Cloister.

Afterwards, we went back to the house, put on our pajamas, and tucked in to a delicious meal of Thanksgiving leftovers, just like home! We were just planning on hanging out and watching a movie but then Sarah's dad said we absolutely must go to Durty Nelly's for a bit and he was absolutely right. So we changed our clothes and took a little drive to Bunratty Castle and the famous pub next door. This pub sits right next to the castle and is such an impressive sight. We each got an Irish coffee and took a look around; some Irish blokes who were celebrating a friend's wedding that weekend invited us to sit with them for a bit and insisted we have a Baby Guinness shot with them. And so began the evening of the singing Irishmen! Some of Sarah's dad's friends were there and we talked to them for a while; they were middle aged and older gentlemen and just the jolliest people you could ever meet. In fact everyone we met in Ireland was kind and fun, they're just a great people!

At that point I looked up and noticed that the walls around the bar were covered in police and fire badges, I think almost all from the United States. I got super excited and started my search for the Dayton Police badge that I'd grown accustomed to seeing for my whole life. All I had to do was walk around the corner of the bar and look up and there it was! I can't really describe the feeling it gave me, but it made the world seem a little smaller I think. It's like my Dad could have been there the day before to stick his badge up there on the wall. I don't know, it was just the coolest thing to see something that came from someone from my city 3,547 miles away that could have been someone that my Dad knew or worked with. 

After looking at the badges I went back to the other side of the bar to make sure my coat was still where I had left it near Sarah's dad, and one of the jolly older Irish gentlemen, I think his name was Joe, called me over to chat. He handed me a Guinness and said that the Irish are such a kind people that if I had left my coat there over night it would still be there in the morning when I came back for it...he went on to say with a sly grin and a chuckle that if I was left at the pub, I would probably not still be there in the morning. The night continued with Joe and the other guys singing Irish song after Irish song at the bar to us ladies with arms around us, and ended with a kiss on the mouth from Joe, who revealed that he was a sprightly 82 years old haha I had tears in my eyes while he was singing this song, My Lovely Rose of Clare. I think it was because I just couldn't believe where I was or what was happening; I was in Europe, in Ireland, in an Irish pub, next to a castle, drinking Guinness, and being serenaded with Irish songs by old Irish surreal. And the joke was that I was the only one of us who had gotten to kiss an Irish guy that weekend, which was the real goal of the trip, of course. ;) 

The next morning we packed up and had a delicious breakfast of bangers, bacon rashers, and black pudding (aka blood sausage)! We headed to the bus station in two trips, Megan, Ellis, and I and then Mackenzie, Katie, and Sarah. We were really nervous that the bus was going to leave the second group behind; the bus driver started the bus and Megan and Ellis ran to the front to ask if he could wait just one minute for the other 3 to arrive and he said, "I can give them 1 minute, that's it." We held our breath and stared at the road and were so relieved when we saw them pull in about 45 seconds later. Crisis averted. After another long but relaxing bus ride, we got a ticket for the Dublin rail tram, (like a trolley/train system that's really cool convenient) and headed off to do the Guinness Storehouse tour! 

Here's an article: 25 Odd and Unusual Facts You Didn't Know About Guinness

My favorite one is that Arthur Guinness signed the lease in 1789 for the factory grounds for 9000 years and it only cost $160 - he was pretty confident in what he was doing!! I think this is one of the touristy activities that I've done that's been worth the money (it's only about 15 Euros, including your free pint). You get a full tour of the storehouse which shows you how the beer is made teaches you about the ingredients, along with the opportunity to do a Guinness Tasting, and pull your own pint! For the tasting you go through this dark hallway with flashing and fluorescent lights and come out into this completely white room that looks like the TV Room in Willy Wonka. There are 4 pods where steam comes out with the different smells of the ingredients in Guinness - it feels like you're in a science lab or something! They pull cute little samples of the beer and you go into the next room for the tasting. Actually just look at these pictures and you can see what I'm talking about: It's all black and gold and has the only known portrait of Arthur Guinness. I can't imagine having a job where all you do is teach people how to sip Guinness properly - kind of sounds like a dream. 

I didn't pull my own pint, which I was a little bummed about, but half of the group was already through the tour and waiting in the Gravity Bar in the very top of the building and drinking their free pint. In the bar there is a 360 degree view of Dublin which is very cool. Guinness was never really my first choice of beer when I go out, but now I have a much stronger appreciation for it and I think I'll be ordering it more! 

This was the day of the OSU vs. Michigan game so Katie, Megan (an OSU graduate) and I were cheers-ing to OH-IO! 

After the tour we headed back downtown to do some shopping, check out Trinity College (beautiful, but I wish we could have seen a lot more), and have dinner. For dinner we were going to go to Porterhouse, a local microbrewery pub type place but they ran out of room downstairs in the restaurant. They led us upstairs to the adjoining establishment to sit which just happened to be one of the most famous and lavish cocktail bars in the city, Lillie's Bordello. Sarah said she had jumped a rope to get in there before, and also it's the place where the famous musicians who play in Dublin go after their shows! It's gorgeous, with red velvet couches and chandeliers.  We were the only people in there for a while and they food was amazing too! I couldn't believe our luck. (Mom and Dad, I tried their Temple Brau lager and it was pretty delicious!) 

After that we met up with Sarah's friends at a pub called Sinnotts on the Green which had cheap drinks and tons of original literary pictures and prints. We danced a little, drank, a little, and had a really good time chatting and people/boy watching. Then it was time to get some curry chips (french fries with a lot of curry sauce) and head back to Sarah's apartment before we had to go to the airport. We all face-planted for like an hour and then were woken up by Sarah saying, "The taxi's here." It was the worst feeling, after a few drinks, and the tiniest nap, we had to run outside in the cold and around the corner at like 2:30 in the morning to leave Ireland. But we made it to the airport, checked in, went through security and posted up in a lounge area and tried to close our eyes for a bit before our flight at 6:15 a.m. The sleeping didn't go so well, but on the plane I dozed a little. 

We made it through customs in Madrid again, though the guy asked Katie a million questions and made her count the number of days she would have stayed in Spain to make sure she wouldn't overstay her passport...a little scary. We headed to the train station and in my zombie state I ended up taking the wrong train 40 minutes to the middle of nowhere, and missing my train home. There wasn't anyone on the platform to ask and so in my rush I got on the one to Alcala de Henares instead of the one to Alcazar de San Juan because I only saw the abbreviated names...ugh. But when I got to Alcala a little freaked out, I stammered (I go blank when it comes to Spanish if I'm panicked) at a nice security guard and he told me to get right back on the train back to Atocha in Madrid and go from there. By that point I was just exhausted and upset with myself, but there was nothing I could do about it for 40 more minutes. When I got back I bought a ticket to Ciudad Real and then one to Daimiel from there. I got Burger King, which made me feel a bit better. I had a 4 hour "layover" in the train station in C.R. even though Daimiel is 30 minutes away by car and 15 minutes by train. But I relaxed, got a coffee, did some writing and talked on the phone for a while; the station has really good wifi luckily. I also got to hear the Cheers theme song on repeat for almost 4 hours. There was a kiosk on one end of the station that only plays that song and so I've had "where everybody knows your nameeeee" in my head this week. I was also thinking about this clip from Friends when Joey is in London for Ross's wedding and is missing everyone at home: 

But I finally made it and then slept for a day. Even though traveling home was a bit of a fiasco, I learned that I could keep my ish together for the most part and make the best of it. And of course it was worth every second that I got to spend in Ireland! I can't wait to go back one day, hopefully with my family! 

Now it's less than a month before I come home and I know it's going to go super fast, but be filled with a ton of adventures. This is a long weekend so I'm relaxing, going to the National Park in my town and then going to visit Katie in her town and see some Don Quixote windmills! Hope everyone has a great week! 

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