Ireland, Family and Christmas in London!

Over the past month I have witnesses a lot of amazing things in the UK. Christmas lights have gone up, the temperature has gone down, my family came to visit and I went to Ireland for an extended weekend. Since I haven’t posted in a while – my apologies – I will take a little time to fill all of you in on these four main components. Ready, go!

Let’s see… we’ll start with Ireland! About a month ago I decided to book a solo trip to Ireland. Solo because the majority of my friends were traveling elsewhere and I knew if I didn’t make moves to travel to the cities I wanted to go to, I wouldn’t make it to them at all. Preparing was one of the more stressful aspects of the trip but having experience with event coordinating from my internship with Red Frog Events last summer I was able to research, plan and book with ease. All I had to do was take the Tube to a bus to an airplane to another bus to my hostel. Easy, schmeasy.

I arrived in Dublin on Thursday night and was set to take off on a three day tour the next morning. The tour took us northwest of Dublin to Cong and Connemara two of the most picturesque locations I’ve ever traveled to. We spent the day exploring natural forests, fjords, castles, mountains and rivers while singing old Irish songs. It was glorious. By nightfall on day one we found our way to Galway where warm food and Guinness was waiting for us! After eating our fill, doing a little shopping and listening to live Irish folk music we found our way back to our hostel to get some rest before a fun filled day two!

The next morning we woke to our quirky bus driver jumping around and humming Danny Boy to himself. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if he did have leprechaun blood in him! We traveled down the West shore of Ireland to the Cliffs of Moher and ended in Killarney. The Cliffs were out of this world – literally. From pictures, you think you have a good idea of what you’re getting yourself into, but being there is a completely different story. The only way I can explain the experience of standing on the edge of a cliff is it being one of the most exhilarating yet frightening moments of my life.

That night we stayed in Killarney and went out to a traditional Irish pub to sample the local cuisine and spirits. The night was filled with dancing and singing as we celebrating our last night together as a group. All of the local musicians and dancers were spectacular but I have to say my favorite act of the night was the broom dancer. This elderly man jumped in the pub off the streets and immediately started tap dancing, grabbed a broom and started doing a traditional Irish jig. I really had no idea what to think of it only that it was one of the coolest things I had ever seen.

The next morning brought my favorite activity of the entire weekend – a horse drawn carriage through the Killarney National Park. The morning was gorgeous and clear after a brisk, short rain which left a layer of fog blanketing the ground. The carriage took us straight through the park over small bridges, fields full of deer and cows and past great lakes and ancient castles. The park itself was surrounded by a barrier of mountains almost protecting it from the outside world. Everything was so green and the air was the freshest I think I’ve ever breathed. To attest to that fact, there was lichen growing on the trees. Lichen is a form of moss that only grows where the air is pure. I was so excited that the driver let me sit up front with him in the carriage and let me drive part of the time! I once had a miniature pony named Romeo and while my mother and sister were training their horses, I taught Romy how to drive. Oh, the memories! The horse, pictured below, was named Delilah. She’s 10 and that was her last carriage ride before her vacation for the winter. She was to go further south to graze on green pastures for 4 whole months. What a life!

After that, we traveled to the Blarney Castle to kiss the Blarney stone. Yes, I did it! It was pretty scary actually. I didn’t know it was at the top of the castle and that we actually had to lean backwards over the edge to kiss it. Some nice old man was there to hold me so I wouldn’t fall but it didn’t keep me from trembling with fear. Still, it was one of those things that if you’re passing, you’ve got to do it. Finally, the bus made it back to Dublin to conclude my trip to Ireland. It was an amazing experience and I wouldn’t have traded it for the world! I’m thankful to my mother and my friends who encouraged me to go on a trip by myself, otherwise I would have never experienced Ireland and that would have been an immense tragedy.

Next order of business – Christmas is in full swing in London! Ever since the beginning of November, neon lights, big silver ornaments, tinsel, garlands and lots and lots of bows have found their ways to street corners and retail shops all around the city. Having an extreme and questionably unhealthy obsession with Christmas, one can imagine that I’d be in heaven. Just this last Friday I went to the Bavarian themed Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. I have to say it was one of the weirdest experiences of my life. I thought that Christmas was supposed to be trees and cranberry steamed pudding and presents and mistletoe… Oh, no. At Winter Wonderland, “Christmas” means two things. Sausage and beer. I felt like I had stepped into Oktoberfest without taking the budget airline to Germany. I was there to ice skate but I couldn’t help looking around in awe at all of the bizarre Bavarian interpretations of Christmas.

This brings me to my next point; part of the reason that an ice rink was even possible is due to the temperature drop here in the UK. Not saying that I am cold, but the general consensus among Londoners is that winter is indeed here. However, there is a lack of what signifies Christmas to me – snow. It has also never dropped below 20 degrees Fahrenheit that I can remember and usually hangs around 30-40 degrees. I long for snowy days and icicles hanging from shop windows… Good thing I’ll have plenty of that once I return to my homeland of Wisconsin!

Finally, I was extremely fortunate for my family to visit me for the week of Thanksgiving. The majority of my peers were not able to see their families on one of the most important holidays of the year and for mine to travel half way across the world to spend time with me meant more than I can say. We spent a week doing touristy things in London which included Oxford Street, Tower of London, West End musicals, Covent Garden, Spitalfields Market, and, most importantly, the Warner Brothers Harry Potter tour. I cannot believe I waited until my family was here to go! I honestly wish I could go back every day because it was like stepping into a daydream from my childhood. I realized that the Harry Potter series will always be a part of me. I can remember falling asleep to my mom reading the books to me all the way to reading the books for myself. When the movies started to release I was the age of the characters in the movies so I literally felt like I grew up with them. Seeing the sets come to life around me was one of the most surreal, most unforgettable moments of my life.

Now, my friends and I have entered into finals week(s) here in London and have cracked down on studying for exams and writing unreasonably long essays. I’m looking forward to my final trip to Switzerland, Austria and Germany with my roommate for our last week in Europe! I’ll hopefully be able to blog a little bit before I leave.

Happy December!

Maddy