the united kingdom. part II.

this is about 6 months overdue but here is the story of the last day of my trip to the united kingdom.

we flew into dublin about 5 or 6 in the evening as far as i can remember. looking out the window of the plane i remember thinking the irish weren’t exaggerating about their country; it is green. everywhere. the country side was gorgeous. we got into the airport and through customs and tried to grab a bus into the downtown area to find our hostel. i’m sure we looked confused by the bus system and buying tickets because two separate irish guys asked us if they could help. they were both very helpful and super friendly and their accents were really thick. awesome. we took a double decker downtown and obviously we rode on the top, what a thrill.

riding from the airport to the city center (where our hostel was located) was really cool. the neighborhoods we drove through actually didn’t feel much different than the states. we passed a gas station, a mall, restaurants. the biggest difference was that a lot of houses had crazy colored doors and all the restaurants were named “o’brien’s” or “o’malley’s” or “sheehan’s” or “mccann’s” or “kennedy’s” or “quinn’s” or some other obviously irish name.

we pulled into the city center and immediately saw this thingnot really sure what the story is behind this thing, it’s just a big pointy needle right in the middle of downtown. weird. but it’s construction is pretty cool, it underwent shot peening so it reflects light in a really cool way; throughout the day it changes color from a dark steel to reflecting the colors of dusk.

the rest of downtown was a lot of hustle and bustle, mainly pedestrians walking around, shopping, errands, doing whatever. there was a lot of brick everywhere, especially on the streets. we walked around just taking everything in, and then eventually found our hostel. we checked in and got to our room, and yikes. it was a huge room with about 18 other people. there were only two extra beds open, on opposite sides of the room, so sean grabbed one and i grabbed the other. mine was one of the bottoms of a set of two bunks, and the other three were occupied by these three guys from northern england. they were rambunctious to say the least. they introduced themselves and right away offered me a beer. i declined, telling them i was waiting until i got dinner. they thought that was weird but were nice enough about it.

sean and i got what we needed out of our bags and headed out into town to do some real exploring. we walked across the river liffey and ended up finding trinity college, which, along with the university of dublin (they’re like sister schools i think), make up the oldest university in ireland. the campus was incredibly beautiful. it was sunday night, so we probably saw like five people total on campus. the sun was setting as we walked around, and it really gave the whole place a gorgeous feel. the campus was old. everything felt super old, but not musty or stuffy. it was very old-fashioned; every building looked ancient. and then dusk really set in and this is what we saw.

after walking around the campus for an hour or so, we walked on through the downtown city streets. by chance, we ran into the temple bar area of downtown, the area dublin is famous for. i really don’t know why this is though. a guy who studied in spain with us had been to dublin for st. patrick’s day, and he said that temple bar was the best and we had to visit it, and that he thought it was really famous because it was the first bar to be called a “bar”. like the guy’s name who started it was temple bar, like that was his first and last name. unfortunately, none of that is true. it’s certainly not the first bar to be called a bar, and the name might’ve been derived from the temple family, who lived in the area in the 1600s, but certainly not from a guy who’s name was temple bar.

the area was really exciting though. even on a sunday night, the streets were completely packed with pedestrians, partyers, street performers, etc. just so much hustle and bustle. here is a picture of the actual “temple bar”. it was a really pretty building, actually all the buildings in dublin were pretty. but there was quite an air about this neighborhood; it felt so old but really vibrant. so many different kinds of people were out, mostly just street walkers, but also a fair amount of buskers and other street performers too. the whole neighborhood just felt really energetic. one of the weirdest performers we saw was this guy who was standing on a metal bucket. he was dressed like a crazy person, like a person literally crazy, and he had a chain around his neck attached to like a fake wicket close by. his clothes were all black and he looked really goth-like, and he just stood on his bucket with his head down, not moving or making any noise, but whenever a passer-by would come up to throw some change into his change bucket, he would freak out and growl like an animal like he was some kind of mutant or something. it was weird and gross. we also saw a lot of awesome buskers out playing guitar and stuff. pretty happening place.

so after walking around a bit, sean did want to go inside temple bar and check it out, so we pushed our way inside (it was outrageously packed in there) and found a little nook where we could drink in peace. sean ordered us two beers and we just drank and observed the crowd. we also got our picture taken by a friendly irish guy which was nice.

it was a cool bar, very hip and irish, but i’m not sure why it has such a prestigious reputation.

we finished our beers, pushed our way back out onto the street and decided to continue walking. we walked down the block and took a turn down a little alleyway when we saw a bunch of people standing at the end of it watching something cool. the crowd opened up onto this really big courtyard, and out of one corner we heard this great 40s and 50s music blaring out of a boombox, frank sinatra and the like, and there were about 9 or 10 couples dancing to it! they had lots of spectators and eventually a lot of people joined in. sean and i jumped on a ledge on the sidelines and watched everybody have a good time.

we talked and watched the dancing for about half an hour and then decided to keep walking. we ended up finding christ church cathedral. with all the commotion we had seen, evening had managed to settle without our noticing. so when we stumbled upon christ church cathedral, my goodness it was an impressive site.

what a foreboding building. this picture is really a small fraction of what the building actually looked like, we didn’t get a good far away picture so it was much bigger than this photo portrays. but we walked around the building, impressed and a little anxious (me anyway), and decided to call it a night. we walked on towards the river liffey, hit the riverfront and walked awhile until we came upon the ha’penny bridge. to be fair, we didn’t really know any of these landmarks we were hitting, we just kept walking, always making sure we were heading back towards the spire. but this is the river liffey at night. the river was really pretty, as it is in this picture, but if you looked along the banks, it was actually pretty filthy. lots of trash and oily grime. but otherwise gorgeous.

we finally made it back to our hostel after crossing the river, and hit the hay relatively early, wanting to get up for church the next morning. sleep went well until our english roommates returned from their night out. man were they loud. yet it was interesting that even brits find late-night farting giggle-worthy.

sean and i woke up the next morning, showered, had breakfast provided at the hostel, then headed off into town to see some churches. our first stop was st. patrick’s cathedral, one of the two prominent cathedral’s in dublin. unfortunately, as it was under construction, the tower was surrounded by scaffolding so we couldn’t really get a good picture representative of the true beauty that this place possessed. but it was still a gorgeous church. one sucky thing though, we had to pay to get in and look around. lame, it is a house of God, but no big deal. we got in and the place was like a museum. very suspiciously organized almost more like an actual museum than a church building. clearly loads of tourists frequent this place. on either side of the main sanctuary-like aisle there were exhibits of old relics and things from the church’s history, lots of really interesting stuff. and the architecture of the place was astoundingly beautiful. gigantic stained-glass windows, elaborate wall frescoes, even the floor was ornately designed. the whole place was lovely. we wanted to do mass at christ church cathedral however, so we decided to head on over for that. one old irish codger at st. patrick’s told us their mass was better, but we went against his advice and picked christ church.

seeing christ church the night before was a little haunting and creepy. seeing it late morning was far better. the church is just beautiful. i don’t really have any pictures that do it any kind of justice. go check it out on wikipedia if you want. here’s one of sean’s though.

so we went in (for free) and sat down for mass. now sean is catholic, so he knew about mass and what you do and all that. i think i’d been to one or two other masses in my life before that, so i was a tiny bit intimidated by the immense amount of liturgy i encountered. but it was all so cool. it was sean’s first mass in english in like 5 months too so that was cool. and the choir, whoo boy the choir was incredible. it was like 14 men and women who filled the cathedral with their voices so pitch-perfect and beautiful that i thought they were going to leave by flying back to heaven on their angel wings. turned out they just walked out like the the rest of us. the other great thing about the service was communion. obviously, growing up in church i’ve taken communion countless times, but this was way different. i probably shouldn’t have taken communion not being catholic and all, but the priest said it was open which i take to mean any believer can take part, so i went for it. instead of passing a plate around like every evangelical church i’d ever been to, we all went up to the front. how it worked was there was a row where a certain number of people could kneel on this cushion type thing and put their hands out and the priest came along and put a wafer into their hand and they’d eat it. with the wine, a priest came along with a goblet of wine which he would hand to us and we’d take a sip and then he’d wipe it off with a towel and hand it to the next person. it was a very visceral experience; i’d never walked up and knelt to receive the communion from a man of the cloth. it was like i was actually kneeling before God or something, a very emotional and real thing. so cool.

after the service ended, we headed downstairs for some refreshments. the basement was a crypt-like place slash museum. they had some crazy old artifacts and the whole place just looked like a medieval prison. they even had gallows. so we walked around a bit until they started handing out refreshments and then we got a few cookies and some irish tea while we talked to an irishman about our trip and the rest of our day. we asked him a few questions about where to go and he recommended heading to howth, a little town outside of dublin on the coast. we thanked him and headed off to our next destination.

our next destination was the guinness storehouse. there was a second where we laughed at us drinking communion wine and then immediately going off to have a pint at the storehouse. this place was awesome but also a little disappointing. i was hoping we would see the real brewing of guinness beer, but instead the place was set up like a science center, you walk through this marked off paths and they had exhibits of old guinness family artifacts and signs, videos, and pictures that show how guinness beer is brewed, but we didn’t see any real brewing going on. still though, the place was super sweet and i’d totally recommend going. one sweet artifact was the original lease that alec guinness signed for the property that the guinness storehouse is located on nowadays. the incredible thing is that the lease is for nine thousand years. yes. NINE THOUSAND YEARS. he really wanted to make sure he’d have that place locked down. the other awesome thing about the storehouse is that with your entry ticket you get a free pint of guinness beer up in this super sweet bar area called the gravity bar. this little bar area is just a circular room with windows on all sides, overlooking the city. gorgeous views and you get to enjoy a guinness. this was my first taste of this beer, and it was pretty sweet. i had always heard it was super heavy and really bad but as far as beer goes, it was strong but not horrible. i thought it was gonna have like a milkshake consistency and it wasn’t nearly anything like that. it just had a really strong beer flavor, just a bigger kick in the mouth than a normal beer. but still good. look at how sweet our pints look too.

so sean and i downed our pints while we looked out over the city and then decided to head back down.

back out on the street we walked through the city back to our hostel, packed up our stuff, and signed out. luckily we were able to keep our packs in the lockers of the hostel so we didn’t have to drag them around the countryside. we stopped by tesco’s first to grab some lunch, i think i ended up with some cookies and chocolate milk, and then we headed off to the train station to grab a ride out to the coast.

the train ride out to howth was about half an hour or so. and gorgeous. as we sat and talked and watched the scenery go by, we saw small cathedral-looking churches, soccer fields, parks, i even saw a golf course. the suburbs were really pretty. and then as we got out into countryside, all we could see was green. after ten or fifteen minutes we finally spotted a beach-like area, and the ocean wasn’t far off. we pulled into the train station at this little fishing town called howth and immediately started exploring.

talk about picturesque. this town was straight out of a thomas kincade painting. there was a port area with a bunch of fishing boats, like old-time type fishing boats. the port looked like it was the setting of a thousand piece puzzle. check it. there was a farmer’s market type deal going on in the plaza/park area right next to the dock, people out walking dogs, one or two mildly posh restaurants and then a few smaller, cheaper looking pubs lining the road, just a very small-town feel all over. the beach was less sand and more rocks, and inland the landscape was at a much higher altitude than the coast was. we were sort of on a corner of the coast, at least the summit area we climbed around on wasn’t just a straight coast line, it was really jagged and we hiked around on a corner-like part of the coast. jutting out from the coast was this really long concrete pier, and straight out from the pier off the coast was this really big green island with a little island right behind it. it was, without a doubt, the most beautiful coast i’ve ever seen.

since sean and i had no itinerary, we just decided to hike up the coast and see what we could find, so we started up the coast hill. it was really pretty; lots of houses we passed had really vibrant colored doors that are characteristic of ireland, and the landscape was just gorgeous. dark green, with patches of yellow from these flowering bushes. it was so pretty. the higher we got, the more the scenery blew us away.

it was so good to see green again, to get real fresh air from the country. that’s one thing i didn’t get a lot of in spain, lots of nature time. so much time was spent in the city that the few times we took trips out felt so good, and this was the best sojourn away from society that i went on the whole five months. the air was so cool, fresh, pristine. just crisp. the sound of waves on jagged rocks. seagulls talking. passing the occasional irish couple out walking and saying hi. it all just felt so good. i wouldn’t say sean and i felt at home, but i felt more comfortable there than i had for a really long time. it felt so good to be there.

once we had gotten to the top of the hillside more or less, sean and i both just wanted to enjoy our few hours there. we walked slowly around the hillside, saying hi to passersby, climbing around in an old abandoned stone house, splitting up and enjoying the environment by ourselves, throwing rocks off into the ocean, finding a lighthouse, getting lost, finding our way back to the coastal part of town. it was so great to walk around and take everything in, hillside, the sea, the sunset, the people, the architecture. it was all so pleasant. and the whole time we walked sean had his little pack on and i was carrying our tesco bag. for some reason that will be a special memory in my head for a long time.

after the sun had set, we had gotten lost and subsequently found our way back into town, we stopped at a little seafood restaurant on the coast. it was a long john silver’s type place, except everything was fresh. so fresh in fact, that they were out of most of their combo deals because their daily supply had run out. we got some genuine seaside fish and chips and ate them in the park area where the farmer’s market was earlier in the day. it was awesome just hanging out with my friend, listening to the surf, watching people pass, eating our seafood. it was dark by this time so after we finished up our food we had about an hour left before the train headed back into dublin, so we stopped at the bar underneath the train station, the bloody stream, and ordered two straight jameson’s on ice. jameson is a famous whiskey made in ireland and we thought it would cap our ireland experience. here are our two drinks.

man were they bad. whiskey on ice is a pretty rough drink. but it was a lot of fun to sit there in a pub, football on tv, irish people all around, drinking our whiskey.

our hour was up so we headed upstairs to wait for the dart to pull into the station. by this time it’s about 11 pm and we are both exhausted, so we rested on the ride back to dublin and then headed back to our hostel to figure out how to get back to the airport for our early morning flight. there was a computer in the hostel lobby so we were able to kill a few hours there on the internet, writing emails to loved ones, checking the news, etc. we tried to decide whether it would be worth it to take a taxi back to the airport, cause the bus ride from the airport to downtown took about twenty or thirty minutes, and a taxi ride that long would cost us each around ten or fifteen euros. we toyed around with walking a ways and then just grabbing a taxi when we got tired. so we google mapped our route back to the airport, memorized the few turns we would have to take, grabbed our packs and headed off into the night. this was around 2 am.

and we walked. and walked. and kept walking. we saw so much city, and every time a car passed us, it was a taxi, and we always said to each other, “nah. let’s keep walking.” the city was really quiet, aside from the occasional taxi that passed us every ten minutes or so, you couldn’t really hear a sound. and it was a night, so it was a little chilly, a little creepy, but good to walk and just digest the weekend with sean and sometimes we would just walk in silence and reflect on all the stuff we saw internally. it was a healthy walk. and it took us almost two and a half hours, but we made it all the way to the dublin international airport. that last half an hour was one of the hardest walking experiences of my life; i could barely lift my feet to keep going. i still can’t believe we walked that entire way. here’s our google map route. according to the map, we walked 7.0 miles. crazy. reaching the airport was such a relief.

we caught our plane back to santander, our bus back to oviedo, and that was our weekend to the united kingdom. without a doubt, it was the best weekend i spent on my whole trip. no serious mishaps, we saw loads of incredible things, saw some old friends and made some new ones, and got out of our day-to-day existence in oviedo. such a memorable trip for me. london was a place i’ve dreamed of for years, and it was just as i had expected it. and ireland held so much beauty that i hadn’t really expected. i couldn’t have asked for a more fulfilling weekend.

-jon

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