After the summer semester ended in late July, I left Spain to travel in Europe for two weeks before returning to Madison to begin my Doctor of Pharmacy program. The ability to connect to free WiFi (pronounced ‘Wee-Fee’ in Spain) at hotels in Ireland, England, France, Switzerland and Italy has delayed these next few blog entries but now that I am home, prepare to be inundated with the recounting of my great European adventures!
After a heartfelt hasta luego with Luis at the Madrid Barajas airport, Shelby and I left Spain with sadness and also excitement for our upcoming visit to Ireland. With just a one hour time difference between Spain and Ireland, thankfully there was no jetlag this time. Due to a short delay in our flight, we missed the tour group pick up from the Dublin airport to our hotel but took a taxi and ended up with probably the nicest driver in Dublin! As we traveled (on the wrong side of the street – by American standards!) past various points of interest, our driver welcomed us to Ireland and gave us an impromptu tour. We drove past Trinity College and he explained that the Georgian style houses were built for the English nobility when Ireland was under British rule and that due to their historic nature are under government order to remain unchanged.
After checking in to the hotel, we found our bus driver/tour director, Charlie, and then headed out with the group for our official tour of Dublin and Dublin Castle. We viewed rows of Georgian houses again (each front door painted a different color to help distinguish the identical homes), and various private and public fenced parks throughout Dublin (Dublin has the largest fenced public park, Phoenix Park, which is twice the size of New York City’s Central Park). Next, we made a stop by the statue of the writer and poet, Oscar Wilde. Our guide explained that the Irish writers/poets are much admired ‘dead celebrities’ and include Wilde, Jonathan Swift, Samuel Beckett, and even Dracula’s author, Bram Stoker!
Charlie also explained that Dublin has over 750 pubs which are a big part of the Irish culture (along with Guinness beer); it seemed as though every three to four businesses was another pub!
We learned that Dublin Castle was originally built in the 13th century, but destroyed and rebuilt in the 1700s and subsequently used as the seat of British power for the courts, military, and government. During World War I it served as a Red Cross hospital and is now used for state occasions, such as European Union meetings. There are two main entryways to Dublin Castle; one entrance includes a statue of Justice above it. This statue is not blindfolded and it holds a sword and unbalanced scales to represent the unjust British rule over Ireland for more than 700 years. Also interesting to note is that Ireland is made up of 32 counties, six of which are in Northern Ireland and are still under British rule.
We then continued on with our bus tour and then stopped by the Famine Memorial on the River Liffey. This memorial commemorates the Irish Potato Famine that occurred in 1845 due to a widespread potato blight. The failure of one crop had a devastating effect since it was a main diet staple, especially among the poor. The blight caused mass starvation and emigration, and could be why I am 1/8th Irish!
After finishing up the tour, we headed over to the Merry Ploughboys Pub for dinner and a show featuring traditional Irish music and dance. The food was absolutely delicious, especially the warm apple pie with whipped cream for dessert. It was interesting to learn that the four vocalists/musicians are also the brothers who own and manage the pub. One brother played the Irish drum, called the bodhran, a smaller version of a bass drum and made with deer skin. They sang Irish folk songs and played while five dancers entertained us with leaps so high it was as if they were jumping on mini trampolines! Overall, the day was a great introduction to Ireland.
The next day (my 20th birthday!) began with waking to alarms set for the wrong time, eating breakfast in about 5 minutes, and quickly dragging our luggage to the bus before we were too late. After that, it was pretty relaxed as we had quite a bit of time to catch up on lost sleep before stopping by the Rock of Cashel to take some photos, and then spending our afternoon at Blarney Castle. The stone fortress was constructed beginning in 1446 though now lies in partial ruins.
They say that if you kiss the Blarney Stone, you will have the gift of eloquence for the rest of your life. I’m not so sure about that because I still say salud (bless you) to anyone who sneezes; I am not quite adjusted to the language change! And yes, I did kiss the Blarney Stone, although I quickly sanitized my lips afterward! To reach the Stone, you have to climb a steep and winding staircase with a rope hanging down the middle of it that takes the place of a handrail. The steps and the staircase narrow considerably as you make your way to the top. The Blarney Stone is built into the wall of the castle, so we had to lie on our backs, hold onto rails and lean back while someone held our feet, and then kiss it. Later, we walked through the nearby Poison Garden (one of the only ones in Ireland) without touching anything, of course! Many of the plant names were familiar from the Harry Potter books, including Mandrake and Wolfsbane.
We left Blarney Castle and arrived at our hotel in Killarney in time for dinner. Our tour group had a nice mix of younger and older people, they were all quite friendly and some of the couples wanted to take us under their wings. It was funny that everyone thought Shelby and I were sisters! One of our new friends let the wait staff know it was my birthday a waiter brought over a scrumptious slice of chocolate cake, complete with a lit candle, while everyone clapped and sang Happy Birthday! Spending my birthday in Ireland was awesome and I’ll never forget it!
Adjusting to the weather change from Spain was just one challenge, and the biggest change was returning to an English-speaking country. Overnight, we transitioned from the hot, dry summer heat of Alcalá to the cool, damp and windy weather of Ireland. I had to wear jeans instead of shorts and stop myself from saying gracias to everyone. Shelby and I would speak Spanish to each other and talk about all the things that are different in Ireland as compared to Spain (our other patria querida, or beloved homeland) in order to make the most of our experiences.