Travel

In Dublin’s Fair City…

Yes, we went to Dublin! It was my first trip out of Spain since I’ve been here and it was amazing. In order to get the best ticket prices, we ended up spending five days there (including the travel days), which worked out really well. We didn’t have to rush all over the city, and we had time to take a day trip to the Cliffs of Moher, which was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. And on our way back to Spain, we got to spend 24 hours in Madrid, which was an absolute treat. Click here for pictures of Dublin, and here for pictures from Madrid.

Some of you international travelers out there are probably familiar with the budget airline Ryanair. It is basically the equivalent of flying in an old school bus, but it is dirt cheap. Ryanair doesn’t fly out of Oviedo, but adding a 50 Euro round-trip bus ticket between Oviedo and the Madrid Airport still made it considerably cheaper than flying with any other airline. So, on Thursday night Shannon, Catey, and I got on a bus and spent the night trying desperately to sleep on the way to the airport. When we arrived in Madrid, groggy but excited, we quickly discovered we were in the wrong place and had to take a shuttle bus to our terminal. But, without any further mishaps, we eventually made it to our gate with time to spare. The two and a half hour flight in the old school bus was not terribly comfortable, but it went by quickly. By lunchtime, we had made it out of the airport and we were in Ireland!! It was pretty much everything I had hoped it would be. Our bus into the city was a double-decker, everyone had an adorable accent, everything was so green, and there were redheads everywhere you looked. We checked into our hostel (which apparently is the most famous and best rated in Dublin), and quickly fell into a tourist trap for lunch. We paid too much for our fish and chips, but man were they good. I think any hot food tastes good when you’ve been traveling for 12+ hours, but there’s nothing like real fish and chips (with malt vinegar-yum!).

We had a fantastic time exploring Dublin. We saw Trinity College, Dublin Castle, Grafton Street, the River Liffey, the Spire, Temple Bar, Christchurch and St. Patrick’s Cathedrals- all of it. On Saturday, we decided to take a free walking tour about  Irish myths and legends. Free walking tours are common in many European cities and I would highly recommend trying one. Our guide was fantastic! The tour was over two hours long and we learned a ton. He was very engaging, and we couldn’t have asked for a better way to be introduced to the city. (We tipped him well.)  Actually, all of our tour guides on this trip were fantastic. We really lucked out. When we visited the Kilmainham Gaol (Jail), our guide was an awesome lady who was not only incredibly knowledgeable, but very passionate about the history. She turned a tour of an old jail into an inspiring lesson about learning from the mistakes of the past and how we can keep history from repeating itself. (We learned a lot about the Irish Civil War, and the War of Independence, which was fascinating.) Our Dublin Castle guide was an adorable lady who could be the poster girl for the country itself, between her blue eyes, blonde curls, and accent. And our guide for The Cliffs of Moher tour, who we were with all day, was also great! He was very funny, and thought that Shannon, Catey, and I were hilarious. He also had the ability to drive a huge tour bus through roads that I couldn’t comfortably drive a Honda Fit through. Classic Pete.

cliffsofmoher.jpgThe Cliffs of Moher was definitely one of the coolest part of the trip. On Sunday, we had to be at the bus by 7am, and we didn’t get back to Dublin until 10pm or so. The bus was very comfortable, and we stopped along the way to see various beautiful sites. We ate a delicious lunch in a tiny fishing village before spending two hours at the beautiful cliffs. I knew they were going to be amazing, but I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. It was breathtaking, and we happened to be there on a particularly clear day, so the view was fantastic. The selling point of this tour for me was that this is where they shot The Cliffs of Insanity for The Princess Bride, which anyone who knows me knows is my favorite movie. It was totally worth the drive and the money. I will say though, that it is a pretty steep 5,000 foot drop off the edge. The grass and mud were pretty slippy, and although the rational part of me knew that as long as I didn’t do anything stupid I would be fine, there were some parts of the walk that definitely made my hands sweat. I am not afraid of heights in places where I know I can’t fall (ie lighthouses, airplanes), but when there is nothing between me and a long drop, I get a little nervous. Even so, this was a great experience-I just didn’t get the aesthetic “sitting on the edge of a cliff” picture that Shannon and Catey did.

I fell in love with the overall vibe of Dublin. There is history, culture, and folklore, there are cute, funky stores, bright green grass, vibrant fall leaves, and tons of adorable pubs. It was cold and occasionally drizzly, but to me the city was downright cozy. One of the nights we were there, we went to this pub that was all decked out for Halloween. We were drinking cider at the bar and we ended up making friends with this older couple sitting next to us. They asked us to watch their drinks/save their seats for them while they got up. We got to talking and they welcomed us to Ireland, and they were interested to hear about what Northern Spain is like, because they had only visited “the hot part” of the country. They also teased us and told us we didn’t look old enough to be drinking. We talked and laughed for a long time, and they ended up buying us a round of cider. They were a great example of all the people we met in Ireland. Everyone is nice and many will go out of their way to help you, but they are also constantly making fun of you in the best way. It is so different than the people you meet in Spain, and in the US for that matter. It was delightful.

I was sad to leave Dublin. I could totally see myself living in the city, with the greys of the sky and the river being balanced out by the warm fall leaves and the crisply green grass. I could live with the cold and rain, as long as I had adorable wool accessories and lots of good Irish tea (and cider!). The people are simultaneously proud to be Irish and exceedingly self-deprecating, willing to help you but ready to tease you. I loved the contradictions of Dublin. We did all the touristy things in the city, seeing the castles, doing tours, trying Guinness, but what I will remember and love the most is the feeling of the city itself, and its people.

On our way back to Oviedo, we had 24 hours to spend in Madrid. We used it to the best of our ability, seeing The Cathedral, the Royal Palace, and just a tiny bit of the Museo del Prado. We did not get nearly enough time in the museum, but I got to see my favorite Goya pieces, so I was happy. I will say, the cathedrals in Ireland pale in comparison to those in Spain. If I had seen St. Patrick’s Cathedral three months ago, it would have been the most beautiful church I had ever seen. But to me at least, nothing can compare with the staggering architecture, attention to detail, and complete ornateness of Spanish cathedrals. So, our short time in Madrid was well spent.

This trip was such a great time! It really built my confidence about travelling internationally (although inter-EU travel is only sort of international). Catey, Shannon, and I had a great time together, and I am so excited to see more of Europe with them. So thank you, Dublin, for an amazing trip!

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Travel

24 hours in Madrid

I am officially in Spain, which is incredibly exciting and surreal. On my way to Oviedo, I got to spend 24 hours in Madrid with my friend Shannon and her dad. This is an incredibly detailed post about what we did in those 24 hours. I will post soon about my first few days in Oviedo, but this is post is too long to include that stuff too. So, please enjoy this blog filled with the minutiae of my first day in Europe.

When I arrived at the TAP Portugal terminal in Miami, it was like already being in Europe: no one was speaking English. Everyone was speaking Spanish, Italian, or Portuguese. Like in any good trip, my flights were uneventful. The only downside was turbulence we had on both rides (Miami to Lisbon, and Lisbon to Madrid). It wasn’t anything catastrophic, but I didn’t sleep at all. When I arrived to Madrid, I was bleary-eyed but so excited. One of the things I was most nervous about was losing my luggage, so I was so thankful when I saw it had made the quick connection in Lisbon. Shannon and her dad were less fortunate- their baggage had been lost. While I was waiting for them in the airport, I had the first of countless espressos I’ve had since I’ve been here. (I’m pretty sure I can say, “Quiero un cafe solo, por favor” in my sleep at this point). I ate a snack and charged my phone and tried not to fall asleep on my suitcase. After about an hour and half, Shannon and her dad texted me to let me know that they were not getting anywhere with their luggage problem and that I could go check into the hotel without them. I was covered in airplane germs and wanted to change and take a shower, so I decided to go ahead. And so, I took my 45lb and my 20lb bag and conquered the Madrid Metro system with absolutely no sleep. I had to ask some workers for help, and I almost died trying to keep my heavy suitcase from falling down the escalator-  But I made it! Our hotel was a few minutes walk from La Puerta de Sol, so I got off at the Sol stop. I had to go up approximately 7 escalators to make it to the surface level. At this point, I was sweating, exhausted, and somewhat overwhelmed. When I made it to the top of the final escalator, I walked through the station’s doors to La Puerta de Sol. Honestly, it was one of the strangest and best moments of my life.  It was exactly like in a movie when someone falls through a portal and ends up in another world. Emerging from the dark, hot metro station, I stepped into this beautiful and dazzling place that looked like it could have been a movie set. So far, I had gone from airport to airport to metro station, without stepping out into the outside world. It finally hit me that I was actually in Spain.

As nice as it was, my journey wasn’t quite over, and I needed to find the hotel. I wandered around with all my baggage for at least 15 minutes before I figured out which direction I was supposed to go. I felt pretty silly because I was so obviously lost and could feel people looking at me dragging all my luggage around.  When I finally made it to the hotel, Shannon and her dad where already there! They had finally been able to let the airport know about their luggage and had taken a taxi. My little single room  in the hotel was very nice and had a beautiful view of La Puerta de Sol:viewMAD

We quickly changed and then went to lunch because we were starving. We found a sandwich place off the plaza which was… gross. Apparently Spain likes smushed, crustless white bread, like you would see on little cucumber sandwiches. Also, everything was very expensive because of how touristy the area is. After the disappointing lunch we were fading, but decided we needed some cafe. We wandered all around til we found La Fragua de Vulcano, a cute little place that had a cauldron of paella on the bar and jamón hanging in the window. We sat down and Shannon’s dad (Dan)  ordered an espresso, and the waitress brought us free wings! She seemed to really like me specifically and we joked about it. I ended up getting a coffee too, as well as some french fries. She brought us some bread too! It was an eclectic but yummy make-up meal, considering I only ate half my sandwich. I loved how the restaurant was decorated, too.

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After all that, we came back for a siesta. I crashed for 2 1/2 hours, with the Madrid sun shining in and the sounds of the plaza rolling in through my cracked window. Nothing feels better than getting to sleep after being awake for more than 24 hours.

After our desperately needed siesta, we walked around looking for a place to eat, and settled on a little tapas bar outside. The menu was disappointing though (and hilariously translated) so we just drank our expensive water and Shannon had cheesecake. Our general consensus was that the food in Madrid is very hit or miss. Also, I do not think I will every get used to water not being free!  We then decided on a gorgeous restaurant called La Catedral which was amazing. I had gazpacho that was to die for, and bread and Rioja and lamb with roasted green peppers and potatoes. Muy rico. After that delicious dinner we walked around and had some ice cream, or in my case, berry sorbetto.  After that we walked around some more and tried to soak up as much of the city as possible. We finally made it back to the hostel around midnight, and I immediately passed out. Here’s a picture of Shannon and I watching a street performer en La Puerta del Sol:

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We were up and about by 8:30 the next morning and went to breakfast around the corner.  I had a really good croissant that was much doughier than those I’m used to. The espresso there was good too- not creamy but excellent flavor. They also had fresh squeezed zumo de naranja. Apparently they say zumo instead of jugo here, and boy do they drink a lot of zumo. I didn’t realize that oranges were such a big thing here, but apparently they grow a lot of them in southern Spain, and so everyone drinks a lot of orange juice. Even more than we do in Florida! So breakfast was a success. Our train to Oviedo left at eleven, so we needed to find our way to the station. We  decided we would walk to the train station after breakfast so we could leisurely find our way instead of being lost with our (my) luggage. The walk was beautiful and we passed El Museo del Prado. I really wanted to go to the art museums, but they were more or less closed by the time we got up from our nap on Thursday until we were leaving on Friday.  I am flying out of Madrid on my way home, so I can definitely visit them then if I don’t come back to Madrid earlier in the semester.  So by the time we got to the station, it was time to go back and grab our stuff. Dragging the luggage 20 minutes was not so bad because I had help (that was the lucky part of my friends’ luggage being delayed.) We could’ve taken the metro, but we got some pretty pictures on the way to the station.

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A huge wall of greenery
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Outside the train station
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I wish I had caught the name of this building!

The train station at Atocha is huge and very beautiful. We were a little panicked when we couldn’t find our platform, but some nice people helped us and we got there on time. Unfortunately Shannon and her dad were in a different car from me, but that was fine because I rested/napped the whole way there. The train was comfier than the plane, and the views were amazing. Going through the mountains was breathtakingly beautiful.

And just like that, we were out of Madrid. It was an incredible whirlwind experience, and I can’t wait to come back. That being said, I am very glad I am living in a town like Oviedo, instead of a huge city like Madrid. I think I would be overwhelmed if I lived there all the time. I will updated soon on life here in Asturias, but I can tell you that it is wonderful.  Thanks so much for reading! Hasta pronto 🙂

PS: Shannon’s luggage arrived the night we got to Oviedo, so don’t worry about her.