Tuesday, May 3, 2011

"Nothing worth having ever comes easy."

Hello my eager readers! What an adventure the last two weeks have been. I hope you are all ready for an extremely entertaining post filled with laughable and ridiculous antics by yours truly. Brace yourselves now. Shall we begin?

The best thing about my Easter break was spending it with my amazing family! On Sunday the 17th, mom and dad arrived in Dublin after a 7.5 hour delay coming out of Newark, NJ. Apparently the weather was horrendous at home and their take-off time continued to be pushed back farther and farther. They finally took off at 4:30 a.m. (home time) and I grabbed the bus into Dublin City at around 11 a.m. my time. I met them at our gorgeous hotel (and I do mean GORGEOUS) at about 4:30 p.m. After navigating the streets of Dublin (thanks, Morgan) the very nice lady at reception showed me to the room, in which I had my own king bed and bathroom. Needless to say I was more than content waiting for my parents to arrive. Because their flight was so delayed, the car rental company gave their car away and they had to take a cab from the airport to the hotel, which was about a 30 minute ride. They FINALLY got to the Merrion Hotel and it was so wonderful to give them a huge hug. I remember when they booked this trip when I came home for Christmas break and we talked about how excited I was to have them come visit. Mom said, "don't wish for us to be there that badly because when we leave you only have 3 weeks left." It seems like just yesterday we had that conversation. And now, this time in 2 weeks I will be at home for the summer. This semester has literally FLOWN out the window. I can't believe it. But anyway...
After mom and dad had a little bit of down time to relax, we all showered and changed for a beautiful dinner with the Kearney's. The restaurant was only a few blocks away from our hotel which was really nice. I can't decide which one I was most excited about: seeing my parents, or eating real food (kidding, mom and dad!) After a delicious meal we headed back to the Merrion. Mom went to go get some shut eye and dad and I grabbed a Guinness (the first of many!)at 23, the quaint little bar on the first floor of our hotel. Not too long after, he was ready to join mom for bed as well.

Monday dad had a lunch meeting with a member from Bord Gáis and mom and I hit the town to walk around Grafton Street. Mom got a few books and we stopped for lunch at a cute little cafe. We met dad later that afternoon at the hotel bar and enjoyed two wonderful bottles of champagne with fresh strawberries. I am way too spoiled for my own good, that's for sure! It was so nice to catch up with them and it was good to see that absolutely nothing has changed since I've been gone. They still poke fun at me and are the wonderful, lovable people I left in January =)
Monday night we met the Geoghegan's and Mrs. Kelly at a chic little restaurant called "Fire." The food was delicious and the company was even more lovely. We retired to a great tradition Irish pub called O'Donoghues, and of course dad had a Guinness. Mom enjoyed the traditional music along with a glass of Harp. After O'Donoghues dad took me down to his favorite pub/bar in all of Ireland, the Cellar Bar. He washed down a few glasses of Irish Whiskey (I will NEVER become a fan of that stuff, sorry dad) and then we headed off to bed.

Tuesday we finally got a rental car thanks so Hertz. Gotta love good old Hertz! They never let ya down =) Dad took a cab to the airport to pick it up and then the 3 of us headed off on a little excursion through southeast Ireland. We explored Wicklow National Park where 'P.S. I Love You' was filmed (yes, be super jealous!) and we also went through Glendalough and saw a beautiful Celtic high cross abbey.

We stopped for lunch in a cute little town where I was introduced to the deliciousness of the "the flake." Basically it is vanilla cream (not even ice cream because it is SO rich) and a thin stick of Cadbury chocolate. It's basically heaven in a cone, honestly. We continued to drive through the gorgeous mountains and stopped at Johnnie Fox's Pub because dad gets cranky if he doesn't have his afternoon Guinness (love you, dad!) This pub is apparently the highest in all of Ireland, but it's also extremely tacky and cluttered with an ungodly amount of unnecessary items. Mom and I agree on this one...

After our daily beverage we made our way back to the hotel to freshen up and relax for a little while. We headed downstairs for a beautiful dinner and then went across the street to O'Donoghues to listen to some great traditional music again. That night I stayed up late finishing a paper for my journalism class and then we woke up and went to the airport to pick up Morgan and Keeleigh! Fitting all of our luggage into this little car was quite funny. I wish I had gotten a picture actually. After many hugs we set off on our drive across the country from Dublin to Co. Tipperary. We arrived at CoolBawn Quay, our home for the next few days, early that afternoon. (Please notice my mom creeping in the background of the first photo hahaha)

Our cottage wasn't quite ready when we arrived, so we drove to get some lunch in town. We found a really neat little pub and Morgan got her first Guinness of the trip. That afternoon I headed into town with mom and dad to pick up a few items while Morgan and Keeleigh got a few hours of rest. Before we headed off to dinner, the girls and I gave mom and dad their birthday present. Since they both turn 50 this year, dad in February and mom in May, we decided to put together a memory book for them. We sent a letter to all of their friends asking for pictures and other special stories/anecdotes, and Morgan and Keeeigh put it all together in a scrapbook on Saturday when mom and dad left for the Emerald Isle. It turned out really well and I think they really enjoyed reading and looking through it. That night we had a really nice dinner right next door to where we had lunch. I've been getting a lot of fish over here because it's so tasty! Everyone headed to bed shortly after we got back to the cottage, including me. I must say, it's amazing the amount of sleep you get when you don't have access to the internet...

Thursday (if I am getting my days correct here) we headed to Cork City and Blarney Castle. I finally got to kiss the Blarney Stone! I've been waiting for that all semester haha. Morgan, Keeleigh and I climbed to the top of the castle and then walked around and caught up with mom and dad. It was a full day of sightseeing and lots of time in the car driving around trying to see everything! We attempted to go and see the Rock of Cashel, but by the time we got there it was closed. We grabbed dinner on the way back to the cottage and rested up from our long day out.

Friday morning we set off to go and see the Dingle Peninsula, which I had been wanting to see for a while. Unfortunately the weather all week was on and off, which was a huge let down because it has been amazing here for the past month and half, but C'est la vie....it was actually kind of neat driving down the really narrow roads in the endless fog. I don't think dad liked it too much but I certainly did =)
We stopped in the adorable town of Dingle for lunch and did some shopping. I got a really neat Ireland zip-up which I love and can't wait to wear.

We continued driving and sightseeing and made it back to the cottage by late afternoon. We shared a few bottles of wine and then headed to a great dinner at the village centre. Mom and Keeleigh retired after dinner, but dad, Morgan and I headed to the bar. Dad and Morgan of course made some new friends, and I challenged Morgan to a Guinness chugging contest. Let's just say it was a bad idea...I'll leave it at that.

Saturday morning we checked out of the cottage and headed to the town of Ennis to have lunch with Louise, a family friend who lives in Northern Ireland. Louise came down to visit her sister, Sharon, and we all headed into town to have lunch. I hadn't seen Louise in such a long time, and I had never met Sharon before, so it was wonderful to catch up with Weezie and finally meet Sharon. After lunch we checked into Dromoland Castle for the weekend.

We were so incredibly spoiled by the places we got to stay at on this trip, as each place we went was absolutely beautiful. Morgan had been to Ireland a few times before during her study abroad experience and for Louise's wedding, but Keeleigh had never been before. I think she really enjoyed it and loved Ireland as much as I do! I took the family to see UL Saturday afternoon. We did a driving tour of campus and dad was even nice enough to ship my second suitcase home so I won't have to worry about it in a few weeks. My family is the best =) It was great to show them where I've been living for the past 3.5 months! We had a great dinner that night near Bunratty Castle, and after being out until 3:30 a.m. the previous morning, we were all more than ready for some much needed rest on Saturday night.

Sunday morning was Easter, and dad hopped (literally...) into our room to give us our Easter bags. We got dressed and headed to church only about 2 km away from the castle. It was a really nice service and I felt so lucky to be able to spend the holiday with my family. We came back to change after church and then headed to the Cliffs of Moher. It was a gorgeous day so the view was fantastic. A perfect day for the sisters to take in the great scenery and see the true beauty of my favorite place.

We stopped for lunch at a neat little place by the water and the headed back to the castle. Kiwi and I explored the castle grounds and took a walk on this little trail we found on the outskirts of the campus. After our walk we proceeded to use the "go-carts" that were on the tennis courts, which was humorous to those that were watching us I am sure. We decided (okay, I decided) it would be a good idea for both of us to ride on the two seater bike that was clearly made for two small children, of which neither of us are. The end result was Keeleigh falling off the back of the go-cart and us calling it a day. Pretty hilarious now looking back on it. Sisterly bonding at its best!
Easter night we had yet another beautiful meal at the restaurant in the castle. Dessert was complete with a surprise birthday cake for me, and I even got to open a few cards from my family. My parents gave me a gorgeous Tiffany's bracelet with a shamrock charm! I had them take it home for safe keeping, and I'm so excited to wear it when I get back. It was such a wonderful almost birthday dinner. After the night was over, I had to say goodbye and caught a cab back to UL to get ready for my spring break trip. The family flew home early Monday morning, and I had to catch the 7 a.m. bus to the Dublin airport for my trip to Eastern Europe. So now, a total shift in conversation, and I shall now bring you to spring break. Brace yourselves, ladies and gentleman.

When I got back to UL on Sunday night I unpacked from the week with the family and packed for my week away with my friends. The difference in packing for this trip was that I was just bringing a backpack for the week, so a lot of packing wasn't really necessary. I got up Monday morning and met Vanessa at the bus stop to take the bus to the airport. We slept for most of the way which was really nice, and Morgan and Heather met us at check-in for our flight since they were already in Dublin for the weekend. We boarded our flight to Berlin and set off for one of the biggest adventures I've ever been on. Everything went smoothly as we landed at around 4:30 Berlin time. We hopped on the metro to find our hostel, a task that was easier said than done. After about a half hour of not being able to locate where we were staying and the locals pointing us in two different directions (of which neither were correct) we stopped and grabbed dinner instead. We got to our hostel around 8, dropped our things off, freshened up and went exploring. We had a pretty low key night as we grabbed a German Beer at a local bar and talked about how excited we were for our week of exploring Eastern Europe.

Tuesday morning we woke up and took the "free walking tour" of Berlin. There is a really great company (go here http://www.neweuropetours.eu for more information) that does free walking tours of major cities around Europe. I had done one of their walking tours in Amsterdam earlier in the semester, so I recommended to my friends that we do it. Our tour guide was pretty low-key, but he provided TONS of great information about the history of the city. We saw the Holocaust memorial right in the middle of the city, Hitler's Bunker where he committed suicide by shooting himself in the head, the Berlin Wall (obviously) and check-point Charlie. Oh and we also ate German bratwurst...interesting stuff that is...

We ended our tour at about 3 p.m., and literally as soon as it was over it started POURING rain and a huge storm came our way. We camped out underneath Berlin's palace along with half the population of the city. This was the first thunderstorm I'd experienced since I left home in January. We don't get storms in Ireland, so it was actually fun to feel like I was at home again experiencing a summer storm. After we waited out the rain we trekked (and boy was it a trek) to the train station to get our tickets for the overnight train to Kraków, Poland. Thank goodness Morgan knows German because she had to order our tickets for us all in German. Our first train left Berlin at around 5:30 p.m., so we grabbed some dinner and then boarded our train. We found our cabin and got ready for our five hour journey to Poznań before we arrived in Kraków. We met a guy, probably about our age, maybe a few years older, who was from Canada but going to medical school in Poznań. We had a two over layover there before our train to Kraków, so he told us what to do while we waited. We arrived in Poznań and exchanged our euros for some Polish zlotys. We walked around this very sketchy place (not my idea, mind you) and then headed back to the station to catch our next train which was supposed to leave at 11 p.m. It didn't wind up showing up until 11:30 p.m., and little did we know that we had no assigned seats on this 8 hour train ride. Everyone was pushing and shoving and trying to get in front of everyone else on the train so that they could find a seat. Well, we didn't find a seat, and the first stop was not for three hours, which would have been 2:30 a.m. Needless to say this trip was not starting out in our favor. Morgan, Vanessa and Heather wound up meeting an American from Texas (of course) and they pretty much stayed up all night talking and drinking with him. I finally found a seat and shut my eyes, but didn't sleep a whole lot. Each time the ticket collector came around (and it was A LOT) I had to point out to the hallway and show him the other three girls I was with because were all under one ticket. It was poor planning on our part, and when the train reached Kraków at 6:45 a.m. on Wednesday morning, we were exhausted. We found a restroom to freshen up, but we wound up getting ripped off by a Polish gypsy for "being in the bathroom too long" and "using too much water." She insisted we pay her double (which wasn't much to begin with) and she blocked us in until we paid her! Vanessa and Heather got by her but Morgan and I were stuck and wound up having to give her 2 euro so we could get past her. This little setback resulted in Morgan cursing in German all the way up the stairs, which at least made it somewhat entertaining if you ask me.

The tourist office opened at 8 a.m. and we bought our tickets to go and visit Auschwitz, which was what I was most looking forward too on this trip. And hey, it was my birthday that day too! Not the most uplifting way to spend my 21st birthday, but an informative and amazing one it was. We found a Starbucks and grabbed some coffee and bagels and hit the road. It was an hour and a half bus ride so of course we slept the whole way which was grand. We got to the camp and wound up spending pretty much the entire afternoon there. It was such a moving experience. I am beyond glad that I did it, as I have always been really interested in WWII and the Holocaust ever since I took a class on it my senior year at Hill.

We took the bus back to the city of Kraków to explore after the extremely somber experience we had that afternoon. But the city was such a neat place, I absolutely loved it. I wasn't a huge fan of Poland countryside when we drove through it on our way to and from Auschwitz, but I really did enjoy the city.

That night we took an overnight bus to Vienna at 9:30 pm. I was excited because we would actually have a seat for the night which meant some rest, if nothing else. Of course we didn't sleep too well on the bus, but it was better than nothing I suppose. We arrived in Vienna at 4:45 a.m.(BUMMER) which was way earlier than expected/scheduled. So what did we do you may ask at 5 in the morning? We bought a 24 hour metro pass and rode the metro line up and back until the McDonalds opened at 6 a.m. No, I'm not kidding! We are clever, I know. And hey, we got an hour of sleep in, too. Once 6 a.m. hit, we got breakfast, mapped out a game plan for the day and freshened up. We roamed the beautiful streets of Vienna for the afternoon and took advantage of everything the city had to offer. We spent almost 3 hours in the amazing Kunsthistorisches Museum, had a picnic (okay, more like a nap) in the park and did some window shopping.

Before setting off for Prague, we hit the palace and gardens on the other side of town, which proved to be just as beautiful as the rest of Vienna. Vienna was definitely my favorite place we visited. I would love to go back in the near future.

We took a train to Prague late that evening

and got in a little before midnight. Finding out hostel proved to be a difficult task once again, but when we finally did find it, we were all ready to shower and crash. Two and a half days without sleep was a little rough, needless to say. Of course our room was right outside the common room of the hostel, so it was not the quietest environment to sleep in. But headphones worked magic and we were all out like a light by 1 a.m.

We got up Friday morning and took the free walking tour of Prague with the most enthusiastic tour guide known to man, and that's coming from me.

Prague proved to be an incredible city and it was number two on my list of favorite places. I love these free walking tours because a) you get to see literally the entire city in 4 hours (even though your feet hate you later) and b) it's free, which to a poor college student is a major win.

The four of us got talked into going on a pub crawl that night, so we signed up for that and headed back to change for a nice dinner out with Morgan's friend Maggie who is currently pursuing her master's degree in Prague. She took us to this fabulous restaurant with traditional Czech food and it was absolutely scrumptious. Maggie was so nice and it was neat to hear about Prague from someone who is currently living and studying there. We headed to our pub crawl after dinner which proved to be quite the
experience. There was a French bachelor party on the crawl with us (no comment) and we also met a group from London and a group from Australia. (Quick rant: why do I ALWAYS meet Australians on pub crawls and all around Europe?) We went to four different bars on this little tour and ended at a five story dance club which is apparently the biggest in Europe. We got back to our hostel at 4 a.m., but hey, our sleeping pattern was already screwed up to the max, so what's one more night, right?

Saturday was our last full day to explore Eastern Europe, so we hit up the palace and the gardens which was on the opposite side of the town, just like Vienna. It had a beautiful view which looked over the entire city, much like Barcelona! Okay sorry, I need to stop comparing European cities here.

It was about a 30 minute tram ride back to the train station where we hopped on to head back to Berlin where our journey began. It was easiest (and cheapest) to fly in and out of Berlin for this little extravaganza, but a little inconvenient as well. Alas, the five hour train ride back to Germany was beautiful, and we got to the city at about 8 p.m. We grabbed dinner and then headed to our hostel, which was the same one we stayed at the first night. Yes, I booked it that way on purpose so we could easily find it again! We crashed by 10 p.m. which sounds great but we had to get up at 6am to catch our plane home. We arrived at the airport with about an hour and a half to spare, but we had a layover in Stockholm, Sweden. Now, when we booked these tickets we thought it would be a great idea to have this layover because it was about 30 or 50 euro cheaper to do it this way, rather than flying directly back to Dublin. However, now I see the errors of my ways, and now that I am looking back on it, it is the stupidest thing we could have done. It made for a really long day! We got to Dublin at about 3:30 p.m., so we missed the bus that goes directly back to UL by 15 minutes. Morgan and Vanessa used a different bus company to get back to campus, but I had already bought my round trip ticket back to school and I wasn't about to lose 30 euro. So I grabbed a book from Eason's and waited at the bus stop. It was a quiet 4 hour ride back to campus (stupid rush hour) which I really needed. I got back to campus at about 9:30 p.m., showered and SLEPT.

So this now concludes my update about the last two weeks of my life. Exam week started yesterday, so I have just been cleaning, packing a little and studying a lot. I spent Monday relaxing and catching up on sleep and today (Tuesday) doing laundry and studying for my two finals this week; geoscience and macroeconomics. I will be the happiest person in the world come Thursday night, but until then, these will probably be two pretty sleepless nights. Lots of studying and reviewing to do to pass these exams that are 100% and 70% of my grade respectively. I've never had this much pressure on me for finals before. They are usually about 25%-40% of my grade back home. I am not the best test-taker to begin with (haha) so this is extremely nerve racking. The fact that I've attended almost every class just isn't enough here, unlike at home. It's a lot of teaching yourself the material. So now, I will go to bed after a day filled with studying and laundry and wake up in the morning and get back to cramming and reading.

This time in 2 weeks I will be home! Can you believe it? Can't wait to see you all!

Huntley =)

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