I just finished two great weekends of travel! Our visit to Aachen and Monchau Germany was amazing. Aachen, although not so scenic, had great German food. We tried some bratwurst, pretzels, and these doughnut esque things...all were delicious. We had a guided tour of a cathedral in Aachen where the bones of Charlemagne were kept! I actually saw the femur of Charlemagne. That is a pretty cool claim in my book. We also saw a giant cathedral in Aachen that was dark and scary. It had a beautiful gold mosaic roof though, sort of similar to St. Mark's in Venice. After touring Aachen for a few hours, we headed to a small town called Monschau ( may or may not be spelling this correctly). This town seemed like it was out of a story book. There were beautiful streams and Swiss-like cottages everywhere, all surrounded by wooded hills. Because it was right before Halloween, everybody was dressed up and they were selling this hot wine drink that everybody loved. It was neat, because nobody really gets into Halloweeen in Belgium. There was a 5 story Christmas store in this town as well, which made me excited for the holidays. It was nice to just be able to relax in this town, because many of the times when we are traveling it is rushed and hectic. I strongly believe that traveling to any city when you're only allotted a few hours or days is going to be this way. That's why it's nice to travel outside of cities and see lesser known places.
After our short Germany trip, we rested up, celebrated Halloween here ( very fun, but I was sick), and then we took off for Ireland. All together there were 7 girls in the group to Ireland. We flew into Dublin on Halloween night and were immediately excited when we saw bonfires and fireworks everywhere from the plane. We realized that Halloween is huge in Ireland...makes sense due to it's Gothic nature haha. We trekked to our Hostel, which I had apparently booked for the wrong night. It worked out though, and they gave us a room. We then headed out to meet my friend Cookie's friend from home who happened to by studying abroad in Dublin. We hung out at his place and then he walked us to a favorite bar of his right by the River Liffey. There were 3 stories in this bar and everybody was in costume; it was so much fun. We dressed as the rainbow; I was green. We got a lot of whistles from the Irish men, so apparently we looked pretty good. We all tried our first Irish Guiness, which was so delicious, but obviously really thick. I didn't make it through more than 1/4 of it. I tried some Bulmers cider too, thanks to the recommendations of my friend Kevin O'Conner, who studied abroad in Ireland last year. It was really sweet, which is quite different from Guiness, but also very good. We were disappointed to find out that the bars close at 2 in Dublin, because they stay open until 7-8 in Leuven haha. This was probably good though, because after a few pints, I was ready to just go to my hostel and sleep. On the way home, we ran into some crazies who were just being silly I guess. I, being the genius that I am, started to speak to them in an English accent. They started berating me and pointed to the nearby post- office with bullet holes in it from the Easter Uprising. I forgot about the minor detail that the Irish don't like the English as I was speaking to them, which I attribute to the pints I had at the pub. Oops. Oh well. W e made it home safely.The hostel ended up being decent, because we got some sleep and basically had the room to ourselves, which was great.
The next day we walked around Dublin and saw St. Pats, etc. It was probably the most beautiful thing in the city. Then we took a 4 hour bus ride to Cork, which was really scenic, and stayed with friends that night. Loyola has a program in Cork, so it was nice to see familiar faces. We got up on Friday and took a trip to Blarney to kiss the Blarney stone. That was our favorite part of the trip. It was so gorgeous there. The castle was so old and it was hard to believe that we were walking up the stairs of a 600 + year old place. I was the first to kiss the stone and I was nervous, because we had to bend over a wall. The 70 year old guy working there eventually said, "You either kiss the stone, or kiss me", so I kissed the stone haha.Supposedly this endows you with eloquence, although I am not so sure that I have received this blessing. After kissing the stone, we wandered around the grounds and then had lunch at an Irish restaurant. I had ham, cabbage, and potatoes. The potatoes tasted like gold, if gold could be tasted. Thank God that the Potato Famine was only temporary, because Irish potatoes are heaven on earth.
On Saturday, we planned to go to see the cliffs and then head back to Dublin for the night. However, when we arrived at the station at 7:30 am, they told us that there were no buses on weekends in the winter to the Cliffs of Moher. We woke up really early just so that we could go there and were really let down, because we wanted to see these (at least I did). We almost rented a car, but I was the only 21 year old and had left my wallet here in Leuven (just another part of the hilariousness of the trip). So we decided to go to Kinsale, a small town about 45 minutes from Cork. It was really really quaint there, as it was a fisherman town right on the coast. There were cottages everywhere painted in pastels and there were sailboats all over the harbor. We walked around and shopped a little bit, because they had handmade jewelry everywhere for reasonable prices. I bought a ring and a pair of earrings, both of which I love. The earrings were only 9 euro and are so cool. The whole day consisted of us walking with our bags, because we had nowhere to put them. Most of the trip was spent this way. We were always traveling and dragging luggage haha. We also lived off of peanut butter sandwichs and chips. We tried to travel as budget as possible. We definately looked like a bunch of ragged, broke students throughout the entire trip, which was funny.
Saturday night we headed back to Dublin and we went right to bed. However, there were problems with the hostel. It was like a refugee camp and they jipped us 2 beds. We eventually figured it all out, but it was just hard working this out on our own when we were dead tired. The hostel was dirty, skechy, and loud, but because we booked it so late, it was all that was available. We're currently trying to get somewhat of a refund because our reservation was not met. All I know is that I'm getting on hostelworld.com and telling people not to stay there. I did not like that night. Sunday morning we got up early( yet again) and went to the Guinness Storehouse. It was really neat and at the end we got to drink a pint with a 360 view of Dublin. We sat down and looked at the misty mountains while we sipped on the beer at 10 am, haha. Awesome. I won't forget that part of the trip. After this, we made our way to the airport and ended up arriving in Leuven about 8 hours after we actually left for it. We chose to fly through Ryan Air, which is cheaper, but in the long run, not worth it. The airport that we flew out of was 2 hours away from leuven. We had to take 2 trains and a bus to get there, which was a pain in the neck. On the way home it took about 5 hours. I will never take that airline again...I have learned my lesson. Brussels airport is only 20 minutes trainride from here, so I am definately taking that route next time. Forget Charleroi Brussels South.
Soo all in all, Ireland was great. We saw a lot and had so many laughs. Every time we missed a bus, didn;t have a bed, had to get 3 hours of sleep, or were forced to eat chips for dinner, we ended up laughing about it in the end. I guess that I really learned a lot from this trip and next time I will definately be able to plan better. I want to go back to Ireland this year, so I may try to get a flight into Shannon or Galway and just stay there for a night. I feel like it would be worth it to do this. Some of my friends were talking about wanting to go camping when the weather gets nicer, so we may try to camp in the Black Forest part of Germany or maybe the coast of Ireland. I'd probably like to do travels with a smaller group in the future as well. It is extremely difficult to travel with more than 4 people in my opinion.Dividing up the money and making sure everybody was happy was just kind of hard to do. Also, of course there are tensions when it comes to what people want to do. Everybody always wants to do something different. They say that you get to know people the best when you travel with them, and this is definately true. A person's true character shows when it comes down to difficult moments during a trip. I know I kind of lost it the last night, but I definately calmed down and just went to sleep. I think our group did pretty well with this now that I look back on it. I'm just glad that we were safe and had so much fun. It was definately an adventure that provided me with alot of memories and also taught me a lot. My parents come on Wednesday morning, so I need to get stuff cleaned, do homework, and get rested up!! I can't wait to see them :-)