Easter Break

FOREWARNING: Super long post as it was probably the most exciting two weeks of my life ever, thus far.

Over the past two weeks, I have been on holiday from school as a sort of Easter and spring break. It worked out well to have this in the middle of my teaching as a refresher and time to travel to countries I won’t be hitting after I finish up in Ireland. I had many new experiences and many items checked off the bucket list! Let me give a brief recap of the places I visited/things I did. Also, I literally put up over 600 photos on facebook in the past couple days with complete captions, so that will help tell the story, too. GO LOOK AT THEM!

Teaching during that last week before break was fine. I actually had the opportunity to go to Dublin on Monday for a field trip with the 4th Class boys to see the exhibit of Tutankhamen. It was there and back in one day (the trip is 3.5 hours), so it was a long day but wonderfully worth it because I got to experience the age of students here that I had for student teaching back in the states and I got to see the exhibit! Having Monday off helped the remainder of the week to fly by AND they took a half day on Friday…not exactly sure why, but I’m not complaining. 🙂 So the students arrived at ten to 9 and left at 12.

Lahinch

Racheal and I originally planned on going up to Scotland for a few days at the start of Easter break and when we first looked, tickets were super cheap. Unfortunately though, when we went to book them, they had literally over tripled in price and neither of us could afford it for only a few days trip. But as fate would have it, a teacher recommended this little town on the west coast of Ireland (near Galway) called Lahinch. She said it was neat, one of the best places to surf in the world, and wouldn’t be too far of a bus trip for us (and a lot cheaper!). So we went. And it was INCREDIBLE. Lahinch was a tiny town with literally only one main road and only one hostel (there are hotels, too, but the hostels are where youth tend to stay and they’re a lot cheaper). We went Saturday and stayed through Tuesday, so we got to know the people who worked there and several other groups of people, including some from Ukraine and France.  It was a musical weekend as well, which was probably one of my favorite aspects. Many of the people we were with could play guitar, so there were “jam sessions” every night in the kitchen, we went to the pubs together, then came back, drank tea, and played guitar/sang as a huge group. They know so many old-school American classics too…I was actually slightly embarrassed when these other people from all over the world knew ones that I didn’t! ahah.

What else? Well also in Lahinch, we took surfing lessons! Wahoo! I actually surprised myself and was quite good…got up on my first try and rode it in. However, I think it may have been beginner’s luck as it was much harder after that. But it was SO much fun and a feeling that you can’t beat…I actually went again on my own on Tuesday before we left. You just rent the wetsuit for the day or however long you want to use it, and then the guy at the hostel let me borrow a board they had. Let me tell you though…the boards they give you during your surf lesson is light and buoyant and made of something like foam. So when I started using this longboard the next time, it was muchhhh more difficult. I definitely wiped out pretty badly several times and the waves are so big that during one of them, I was caught in the ripcurl part and had no idea which way was up and the board hit me in my head. Quite scary until I finally came up to the surface and had all the wind knocked out of me. ahha

We also traveled to the Burren with my friend, Lauren, and her family (I was with Racheal, my roommate, in Lahinch).  Her parents had come to visit her and they rented a car, which was quite frightening as her dad does not typically drive a manual…or drive on the right side of the car…or drive on the left side of the road…or drive up mountains…or drive on roads with a size actually for one car as it goes around the sharpest angles you’ve ever seen. I seriously was in the middle of the back seat gripping everything I could for dear life and my heart was pounding the entire time. haha. But anyways, the Burren is a huge area which is just made up of rocks with cracks down into the Earth. It was formed from glaciers thousands of years ago and there’s a famous tomb there that we took pictures of, though I cannot remember what it was called exactly (see facebook…sorry, it just takes SO long to upload on here).  On the way back from the Burren, Lauren’s parents dropped Racheal and I off at the Cliffs of Moher. Literally just dropped us off on the road, and we were going to find a way home later ( don’t worry…we asked them to do this since they had already seen the cliffs the day prior). So as we were walking up, this security guard approached us and demanded that we go pay or whatever. It’s a touristy area and to enter the actual cliff area, you have to pay like 4 euro. He thought we were trying to evade the price by just getting dropped off since most people pay when they park. They apparently had been radio’ing about us (security guards from other areas) and he tracked us down. haha.

So we saw the cliffs, which were STUNNING of course. I think people about had a heart attack when RAcheal at one point just walked over and sat over the edge. And then later, I crawled out to the edge and laid over it partially to take a picture. There literally is nothing to stop you from falling off the side. You just have to use your own judgment as to how close you want to get (or depending on who you are…lack of judgment). Racheal had hurt her foot earlier in the day, though, when we were climbing up the chimney and walls of this ancient cottage in the Burren, so I explored the rest of the cliffs on my own. You can walk along the path, which gets dangerously close to the edge at times, and head out to the end. There are about 4 or 5 large cliffs that stick out and as you get further and further, there are fewer people. So of course, I wandered to the second to last one and just enjoyed the moment. I definitely attempted to take many self-timer shots, too. ahah. I will admit that I was scared from time to time since heights tend to freak me out if I get too close. And there were lots of bees! I kept thinking to myself, “If I die out here from a beesting or I fall off the cliff, no one will ever know!” But clearly, I was fine. hahaah

Now…to get home from the Cliffs back to Lahinch. It was only a few miles, so we decided to start walking….WARNING: PARENTS MAY NOT WANT TO READ THE NEXT PART….and decided to hitch hike. I felt silly at first, but then it was actually really fun to see who might pick us up. After about 20 minutes or so of us casually strolling down the road in super rural Ireland with farmland, hills, and cows/sheep everywhere, a huge van pulls over on the road in front of us and a lovely woman hops out, waves her arm toward us and yells in an Australian accent, “C’mon girls…hop in!” We ran toward the van and discovered it was an Australian family who had come to visit their son over a holiday because he was spending the year working in Dublin. We climbed all the way to the back seat and struck up conversation with the son as they drove us back to Lahinch. We hopped out, said thanks a million times, and they were on their way! (Racheal snuck a creepy picture of the van to capture the moment haah) We were perfectly safe and it was quite exhilarating. Oh, and believe you me, we wouldn’t have even tried if we had not been told by the guys at the hostel that people generally do it quite often in that area and it’s pretty safe.

So that was part one of our trip. Tuesday night, we caught the bus back to Cork, I packed and laid out some plans for the rest, and then headed to the airport Wednesday morning to catch a flight to London!

London

I actually was traveling to London by myself, in hopes of running into another group of IU teachers that would be staying at the same hostel, but made plans for myself if not. So I arrived there, figured out the train to Victoria station, figured out the underground/tube system, and found my hostel all by myself. I was quite proud, especially since I have ZERO navigational sense. After I checked in, however, I realized how large of a hostel it was. I knew I was staying a 15-bed mixed dorm (meaning guys and girls are mixed), but I did NOT realize the beds were three high! They were like little cubby holes with curtains and of course, I ended up with the bed on the very very top. It was funny to try and stand on the ladder while making the bed with my backpack on. Later the second night, I actually fell from the ladder because I couldn’t reach the ground even when hanging from a low rung, so it was quite an entertaining scene, I’m sure. But anyways, that Wednesday night, I decided to go exploring so I saw the British Museum which was really neat, but absolutely huge! After awhile, I was more admiring things rather than reading everything. Then I wandered around the city, stopping here and there, and then grabbed dinner and ate it in one of the parks since it was a beautiful evening. On the way home, I actually got quite lost and did not make it home until after dark, which was kind of scary since it was a quiet part of the city. I wanted to avoid looking like a lost tourist, so I looked at maps at the bus stops instead of standing on the street randomly with a huge map in my hands. ahah.

That night back at the hostel, I ran into the other three who are also student teaching in Ireland and we made plans for the next day. We headed to the Tower of London first thing, which was a good idea because there were not any crowds. (Saw St. Paul’s Cathedral on the way, too.) So we got to see the Crown Jewels, which were unreal. I cannot even fathom them being real though…I feel like i need to pick them up and feel the weight because all of the pieces are so decked out that they nearly are gaudy. The history of things at the tower were neat, though, especially since I’m somewhat familiar with English history just from reading books in that era and family history things (thanks, Zachary…all of those conversations we’ve had helped me out! :))

At that point, the other three had this river cruise booked, so I went off on my own again…saw the Tower Bridge/walked across it, saw the recreation of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre (I didn’t go in because it was so expensive…just pictures haha), and wandered to the Tate Modern. It was definitely my favorite museum of the entire trip, although some of the pieces were perhaps so modern that I couldn’t even really understand how they are art? For example, one “piece” was a mirror. Legitimately just a mirror, hanging on the wall, with a little description next to it about art being the viewer and transcendence of this or that and blah blah. I didn’t understand it (though I guess I can, but still…really?), so I just took a picture. ha.

We had dinner plans at 6 because we had gotten half-price tickets to see “Phantom of the Opera” at Her Majesty’s Theatre later that evening (I know, Mom…sorry I couldn’t tape it for you. You would have LOVED it. Unreal.), but I thought I had just enough time to catch a couple undergrounds over to Westminster. I made it, saw the bridge, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, and Westminster Abbey (which was actually closed in preparation for the royal wedding a week later…too bad I couldn’t have been coming for my wedding rehearsal to become the Duchess of Cambridge, eh?). This would be the point where I made a silly mistake. I planned originally to head back to the Westminster tube station to then get to the area where we were going to eat dinner. But then I saw a sign for Victoria station and thought to myself, “Oh, then that must be nearer so I’ll go there instead.” WRONG. The station was literally at least another mile or more down the road and I didn’t even make it to the station until just about 6pm. I then proceeded to be THAT person…Holding my purse and running through the underground stations and up the left side of the escalators, all while in a dress (casual, but still). I had one transfer and then made it to dinner in about fifteen minutes. It all worked out, but I literally felt like I was in a movie. haha. Dinner was fabulous with a glass of wine and the show was even better. We were exhausted, so we crashed for the night.

Friday, two of the other people went with me to see the National Gallery Museum where there was also some sort of event going on for Good Friday outside. We went to that big toy store (can’t remember what it was called) with literally at least 7 floors. The main stairwell was recreated into scenes from Chronicles of Narnia, too, which was so neat. I felt like a child again wandering through it and looking at games from my childhood and whatnot. Also, there was a 50th anniversary Ken doll in his original outfit of short little red bathing trunks and a blazer uniform outfit. He was snazzy. Right next to him, they were selling a Barbie and Ken wedding set (I”m assuming for the royal wedding), where Ken magically developed Justin Bieber-like hair….really? haha. We saw Buckingham Palace a bit later as well…kinda neat then when I was watching the wedding and saw exactly where I was 7 days prior! 🙂

We explored Harrod’s, which was this massive department store with the most incredible food courts I’ve ever seen. And you could buy just one of anything, so I literally got like three different pieces of sushi, then a mediterranean thing, some cous cous and other stuff. I had like nine small items, which all together made a strange, but delicious lunch….which we ate in Hyde Park as it was yet another beautiful day. (I have been so lucky with the weather here. People keep asking if we brought the good weather with us because it’s hardly rained here in Ireland either…knock on wood. :)) We met up with Lauren, one of the other girls and then headed back to Harrods for a few bottles of wine, which we also enjoyed in the park…along with some gelato. haha. It was a much needed, more relaxing day after the insanely busy one of sightseeing the day prior. Oh, and about Harrod’s though…I saw and looked at this crocodile jacket in the Gucci area…the only one of its kind jsut hanging out…looked at the price tag…31,200.75 euros. That’s like $50,000 probably. I figured I probably shouldn’t touch it anymore. hahah

That night, Lauren and I had absolutely nothing to do until our Eurostar chunnel train that goes under the English Channel left at nearly 7am. We hadn’t booked a hostel either in order to save money since we’d have to leave…so we basically wandered around.  We were in a completely Arab neighborhood with Lebanese restaurants and hookah bars up and down the streets. We were just two young, white girls…tourists…with all our stuff. It was a bit unnerving, though still exciting. In the spirit of having new experiences, we ended up eating a late dinner at one of the Lebanese restaurants where you just sit out on the street and I smoked hookah for my first time. We got some straaange looks from everyone around us, but we had a great time. We then caught the last underground train to our train station….where we proceeded to try and “sleep” the rest of the night until our chunnel left. Needless to say, there was little sleeping done. It was a nicer station since it’s where the international train leaves from, so I slept leaning against the wall in this little cafe, then tried to sleep on these cold metal benches holding my backpack….nothing was too great. But hey, I guess I now have a better understanding of what it might feel like to be homeless, so it was a good experience. 🙂

On the chunnel, we obviously passed out hardcore, but I noticed that every so often when I would awaken, we weren’t moving or weren’t moving very fast. Turns out that our train broke down. haha. We got to the Paris Gare du Nord station over an hour late, so the entire station was mass chaos. Lauren and I were both still groggy and with neither of us knowing French, it was quite an adventure trying to figure out what bus we needed.

Paris

So I feel the need to preface this for my parents, family, etc…I am ALWAYS being safe and calculating the risks before I do anything…you know I am a smart girl and have a good gut instinct. That being said, Lauren and I did not have anywhere to stay in Paris on that Saturday night until just about 48 hours prior. We were looking to “couch surf”, which is this whole website thing…go look it up if you’re interested to find out more. It’s actually really neat and I am SO happy we did it, even though I at first thought it might be a bit sketchy. But anyways, so back to catching the bus in Paris…we were headed to this guy’s place who had offered to host us last minute through the couch surfing site. He was also hosting several other people that night, so it would be a bit crowded but we were ecstatic for a few reasons: 1. All the hostels were booked already since it was Easter weekend. 2. You get to stay for free. 3. We had absolutely no plans or ideas about what to do while we were there and with couch surfing, you can hang out with them or at least ask ideas and hints about what to do/see.

So we arrive at this guy’s apartment and he tells us about this couch surfing community picnic happening at the Eiffel Tower. Obviously we were down, so we stopped on the way there for a bottle of wine (literally like 3 or 4 euros for decent wine…crazy) and a piece of quiche lorraine from a little corner cafe, which was to die for.  We then spent most of the rest of the day (until it began raining and we all moved inside) hanging out with the neatest people from all over the world with the opportunity to practice my french, spanish, and english and just learning all sorts of interesting things. If I ever even achieve being half as cool as some of the people I met, my life would be complete. haha. Also, to Papa, I DID have a glass of chardonnay next to the Eiffel Tower…just for you. In fact, I may have had the whole bottle. 🙂

The next day we got a bit of a late start, but Lauren and I realized we had to book it if we wanted to make it to see anything! (Our flight back to Dublin was late that night) Unfortunately, we had our backpacks still and didn’t want to carry them all around the city, so we had to lock those up at the train station and then back track to start sightseeing, which wasted some time. However, we still made it to see St. Michel, Notre Dame (beautiful…kept making me think of the Disney movie, too haha), the Louvre (we actually got in for free!!!! We were waiting in line and must have been in the right place at the right time because this woman comes up and asks if we wanted her two tickets…we were like, uhhh are they good? And sure enough, we were able to cut the rest of the line and go in a side entrance to walk straight in! Got to see the Mona Lisa of couurse and a bunch of other famous things that I can’t remember…it was pretty packed and we were nearly museum’ed out haha)

After the Louvre, we grabbed some food at this cafe just down the road which, typical Paris, was fantastic. Then we wandered through some gardens, saw some beautiful sites, walked down Champs de Elysee which is like the major shopping street and saw the Arc de Triomphe. As we walked down a side road to head back to the Eiffel Tower, it must have been the high fashion shopping area because there was literally like a Fendi, Dior, and Valentino store all in a row. Oh! And how could I forget? In the garden/parks, we got crepes with Nutella and bananas from a little place. They were probably the highlight of my trip. hahaha. But seriously, so fantastic and we ate them on this little bench, while this couple on the bench nearby snuggled and kissed. It felt like the perfect Parisian moment on a sunny day.

We very nearly missed our flight later that night, too, because we did not realize the train took so long to reach the Charles de Gaulle airport….so AGAIN, I felt like I was on a movie and was practically sprinting through the airport and on moving sidewalks that were more like mini-roller coasters. 🙂 Then back to Dublin, where we were staying at Lauren’s place (she lives with a delightful gay couple, one of whom is a teacher at her school). I took a muuuuuch needed shower and passed out.

Dublin

Bright and early the next morning though, we were up and at ’em again. We made french toast for breakfast, then headed to the Guinness Factory to do some of the touristy things of Dublin. In the factory, there is this photo contest going on so we made fools of ourselves as I took a picture with my pint trying to hold a scorpion (cheerleading move) next to the sign. Outside on the sidewalk (or “footpath” as they call it here in Ireland), we used self timer to take pictures of us doing handstands beneath the signs. We’re going to submit them to the contest and obviously win the 1000 euro top prize….ahha. Not.

Let’s see…I saw some other sights in Dublin…St. Stephen’s Green (large park), Grafton Street (shopping area), Trinity College (where we proceeded to do IU symbols in front of one of the buildings), Temple Bar, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. All of which were beautiful, but to be honest, I love Cork City much much more! 🙂 We got some pub grub for dinner, complete with my first Irish coffee since arriving, and then wandered around until we found a pub with some live music. We must have wandered to the right place because this couple was fabulous. Check out my facebook for a brief video of them playing and the girl singing…she had an awesome, throaty voice.

Glendalough/Wicklow

Wow, these adventures just keep going, don’t they? Sorry it’s so long…i guess this is kind of a journal for myself as well, so I’m just writing through stream of consciousness here and hoping you can all follow my ramblings. 🙂

There’s only one bus that goes to Glendalough each day and one bus that returns to Dublin. Let me clarify…Glendalough is a tiny town within County Wicklow and is where the Wicklow National Park is with all of the mountains and whatnot. Later in the night, we were going to somehow get to the actual TOWN of Wicklow, which is still within its own county on the east coast actually situated on the Irish Sea. So we took the one bus into Glendalough and had all our stuff in our backpacks with us.

The woman at the information desk where we asked for a map of the national park advised us to do this easy, one hour hike just around the two lakes. I nodded and smiled like yeah thank you, but in my head (and Lauren was in agreement), I didn’t want to do the “easy” one! So we got our bearings, read through the map and different trails, and chose the hardest one…entitled Steep Hill with a little danger symbol next to it about cliff edges and needing navigational experience, blah blah. I was a little bit concerned, but we had a compass, tennis shoes on, water, and two footlong Subway sandwiches (first American food I’ve had here yet!) to eat along the way as we felt hungry. Turns out we went the wrong way on this trail and we ended up hiking up these huge rocks next to a waterfall and slowly meandered our way up the mountain. It took foreeeever and was really hard especially with our backpacks, but it was incredible to look behind you after hiking a bit and look at the view…it got better and better each time. When we reached a good stopping point a couple hours in, we sat on this giant rock and ate our sandwiches. We were so far up, though, that the wind was insane and cold so we moved on pretty quickly. Once we got to the cliff edge area, there were these ancient wooden log-type things laid out to guide your path, which was helpful. We also did brief video checkpoints along the way (though we never did one at the very very top unfortunately), and it’s funny to watch how our attitude and enthusiasm fades as they go on. It was definitely a wonderful hike and incredibly beautiful, but by the end of it over four hours later, my legs were shaking and like jello…I was ready to take a break. haah

However….we actually had no idea at this point how we were going to reach the actual town of Wicklow from Glendalough. We knew it was just over a 30 minutes drive and there was a cab we might be able to call, but it was 40 euros and we didn’t want to take it unless we had to. PARENTAL WARNING AGAIN. Yes, we hitch hiked again. We had to do it twice because the first guy could only take us down the road a bit to Laragh, a tiny tiny little corner stop basically with one pub, one shop, and a hotel which is actually connected to the pub. We stood there for awhile, tried to make a sign but then realized it was actually more confusing for people, and then waited…hopeful.

To be honest, the van that stopped to pick us up was the sketchiest thing you could have asked for (oh, I wish I had a picture!). It waas kinda like those “Free candy!” vans, but instead it was like a water pump and well drilling type company truck. So we had to share the front seat with this middle-aged man, who of course I noticed didn’t have a wedding ring on as he pushed tools and random things off the seat apologizing for the mess (though he looked perfectly normal and nice). Lauren and I were kinda like, ehhhhh is this a good idea, but then chose to go for it. Along the way, I was chattering up a storm and trying to make conversation to cover up my nervousness (typical). He at first said he was just going to Arklow on his way home from work and couldn’t take us all the way to Wicklow. But then he turns down an even more rural side road than we were already on, curving up a mountainside/forests, and mentions that it’s a backroad to Wicklow. He was literally driving SO fast and I was freaked out and all I could think about was how he was going to use his tools to kill us and then either throw us off the side of a mountain or put them in his van. I was totally thinking “Dexter”, the TV show. hahaha. Anyways, his phone rings and it’s his wife (assuming he didn’t wear his ring because of the type of work he does), and he tells her what he’s doing, when he’s home, etc…instantly I felt better knowing someone was expecting him. And then we discovered he had three young children and it was great. Haha. He actually ended up taking us all the way to Wicklow, where he dropped us off on the main road (another tiny town) and we were able to wander around for a bit to find our hostel.

Wicklow was wonderful…small coastal town with a few good pubs, local shops, nice people, and a beautiful view. We didn’t do anything too particularly noteworthy while there besides hanging out with people at the hostel, playing cards and teaching the Irish some American card games (Egyptian Ratscrew or Kemps, anyone??), wandering around the coast and seeing an old lighthouse, a ruined Black Castle, getting groceries and making a full breakfast at the hostel, hanging out in a tiny cafe and drinking amazing cappuccinos and homemade apple pie with freshly whipped cream while playing Rummy for awhile, exploring the shops, etc. It was a wonderful end to a hectic, go go go few weeks of traveling. Then we caught a train back to Dublin that evening, hung out with Lauren’s hosts for a bit, drank some wine and recorded funny events of the break, and passed out.

The end of it all

Thursday I spent some time in the city centre area of Dublin and then caught the long bus back to Cork. I caught up with Regina (my host), told her all the stories of the trip, and pretty much had a relaxing weekend from then on. I wrote a paper on the service learning project I had to do at a family centre/preschool (one of the IU class requirements), wrote a scholarship essay about my experience abroad, explored Cork a bit more on Saturday and discovered many festivals and little things happening so I just soaked it all in, uploaded a zillion photos, went for a jog, caught up with friends from home via skype and facebook, and booked pretty much my bank account’s worth of travel for after I finish teaching. It was insane to try and find some of the connections I needed (for a cheap price, that is). I spent hours and hours researching, but it’s mostly all booked now! There’s just a few trains I need to figure out, which is a relief.

I head back to school on Wednesday, so tomorrow I’m going to try and start my last field assignment I have to do for IU. They take quite a long time to complete and since I have ZERO motivation to do schoolwork while I’m here, they take me twice as long…at least.

It’s been a bit crazy though, as I see people getting teaching jobs or applying for them right now. It isn’t even in the front of my mind since I know I’ll be in Spain for the next school year. However, it does definitely worry me that I won’t remember everything teaching knowledge-wise, be able to get the same references, or have the same interview skills/tips in my head when I begin applying next year. Perhaps I’ll just continue pushing off the real world as long as I can…stay overseas and keep teaching (if I enjoy it…hopefully)? Get a masters? Get another masters? Become a professional student? Probably. 🙂

That’s all. Like I said, please please see facebook photos and let me know what you think! 🙂 I’ve also put up/been tagged in a couple videos, some from the hike and others from music in pubs and hostels. For those of you that aren’t friends with me on facebook, email me at ccwoodward1989@gmail.com and I can send you some pictures perhaps! My internet is often quite screwy here at the house, but it doesn’t take as long to attach.

I’m pretty much exactly halfway through my time overseas and I could not be more excited about how it is going. For those of you that i haven’t had a chance to speak to in awhile, email me and let me know a good time to get on skype. I can’t skype after 5pm your time because of the time difference and when the others go to bed. So we might need to plan a time! 🙂

Love and miss everyone!

One thought on “Easter Break

  1. Courtney – I just love reading these stories – brings back my times overseas so vividly. You’re right to record it all – you’ll always look back on this time and smile. Safe and fun continuing adventures to you!

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