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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Top o' the Mornin' to Ya, Ireland


Foreword: Before I get to the good stuff, if you haven't seen my Ireland YouTube video yet, it is because I thought it was finally working again (props to YouTube and its strict ban against copyrighted music) but nope. Of course it wouldn't work.
 
I really want you all to see my experience for yourselves, so I'm still hard at work trying to get my video viewable! I'll update as soon as I have a viewable video! Thank you!
 
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In the meantime, let the adventures begin...


The mesmerizing, rolling green hills of Ireland.
 
 
The plane was finally landing, and for some reason I knew it was going to be everything I ever imagined it to be. Ireland. *sigh* Men would greet me with the strong, sexy Irish accents that, until this moment, I'd worried would remain a figment of both my imagination and blockbuster hits like "P.S. I Love You." But this wasn't my imagination anymore and I was determined to find my own Gerry, though I realized he wouldn't come strolling up to me wearing the face of Gerard Butler (a girl can hope). There would be endless rolling green hills going on and on into the depths of eternity. I would drink lots of beer, laugh with my friends, and maybe stumble upon a Leprechaun and its pot of gold. 

"Can ye hold on for a second there, ma friend?"

The old man's voice snapped me out of my reverie as I was meandering down the plane's aisle. I forced my lips to curl up into an uncomfortable smile, trying to remain patient as he slowly maneuvered himself into a standing position and began reaching for a bag in one of the upper compartments.

He leaned towards me as if he wanted to tell me a secret: "There are eggs in here." And then he licked his lips
 
.............So, welcome to Ireland?
 
We arrived by a ridiculously priced taxi van to our hostel, the place we would call "home" for the next three nights. To me, "home" was the hostel in Dublin, "home home" was my house in Sevilla, and "home home home" was my house in the United States. It was a silly thought process my family invented back when we lived in Germany and it was something I continued to use during my travels this semester in order to carry a family joke with me while I lived abroad alone. 

Stepping inside, I had to admit that the hostel was fairly nice, and for the price we paid I was half-expecting our taxi to pull up to a community of cardboard boxes along the side of the road. I could almost imagine a man hobbling over to us and saying (insert thick Irish accent), "We're low on rooms tonight, so unfortunately yer left with the soggy box out back with the rats." So yes, our hostel was like the Ritz compared to the product of my overly active imagination...as long as I ignored the fact that I was sharing a 12 person mixed room with only 2 of my friends and 10 complete strangers. (A.k.a. I definitely borrowed my friend's baggage lock for this trip to secure my good ole faithful laptop and her fancy DSLR camera). 
 
When I had to take a pee break, I was overjoyed to discover that the bathroom was down at the opposite end of the hall for all of my new hostel BFF's to share....with only one stall. This single, lonesome stall was also shared between both men and women. Awesome. The rest of the bathroom consisted of grimy shower floors that were constantly wet, so I was longing for my freshman year shower shoes. Who knows what diseases were lurking in that muck. But you know what I like to think thanks to Drake? YOLO. Suspicious hostel floors are no match for me. I stepped onto that watery shower floor with bare feet like a true champ and even wiggled my feet in the mystery water.

Guess what? I still haven't grown a third foot. I'm officially invincible. 

Clearly I didn't want to spend more time than necessary in the hostel, so after ditching our stuff in our respective rooms, we were off to a filling pizza dinner at a quaint restaurant called "South Street." 

And at the 11th hour we declared...let there be pubs!

Walking in downtown Dublin after our pizza dinner.

 The famous Temple Bar in Dublin.


It should be known that the pubs can be a tourist trap because they easily fool innocent people who are probably just trying to have a grand ole time in Dublin. There is an area called Temple Bar that has a bunch of pubs, eateries, and street performers (If my video ever decides to work, there's a part where you can see a group of guys playing traditional Irish folk music while people dance in the streets…absolutely remarkable). Sometimes people will tell their friends, "Let's meet at Temple Bar." That makes sense, right? Ah, but there's also a pub called "Temple Bar." That little trickster! So when people say to meet at “Temple Bar,” they think to show up at that specific pub and not the general area itself. Hence, the pub "Temple Bar" became very famous and therefore it is overly crowded all of the time. And when I say crowded, I do not mean just the “Wow I’m starting to feel a tad claustrophobic up in here.” Oh no. It’s more like, “Wait…I…can’t…breathe…” I was a sardine being smashed closely together with other sardines, all of us bobbing up and down trying to find any kind of seating, a pathway to the bar, or simply some breathable air that wasn’t being sucked up by the 5 other strangers standing in your personal bubble. Overall, I was in love with the bar scene, especially the traditional Irish music played live at some places like Temple Bar, and I also discovered my new favorite drink: Bulmers Irish Cider. Yum! Downfall? The prices. One Bulmers stole 5 euros from me, and that was the cheapest drink. Now that, my friends, is an expensive outing.

 
The next morning I woke up to my friend Savannah yelling for me to shut my alarm off once and for all, because apparently I had been pressing snooze for the past two hours and I was driving everyone in the room up a wall (Awkward). After braving our hall bathroom again and seeing a naked man casually strolling around, I went downstairs and downed the oat cereal and wheat bread that our hostel provided for free, because such amenities do not exist in Spanish culture when it comes to breakfast. It was wonderfully filling and perfect for starting our morning in Dublin. When our herd finally gathered in the lobby, we picked some sites that everyone thought would be cool to check out and headed to a little park across the way with actual grass (we don't see grass here in Sevilla) and statues, and I managed to sneak a quick selfie:

 

Just hanging out with my new statue friend. We're so alike.


It was while we were all staring at a group of ducks in a pond that Tori and I realized we couldn’t continue with the original sightseeing plans because we were meeting our friends who were studying in Dublin for lunch and wanted to head to the Guinness Brewery at St. James Gate before meeting up with them. The rest of the group was planning to head to the brewery after lunch, so unfortunately we had to ditch the rest of our group. Despite the fact that our herd shrunk down to a measly two, the self-guided tour of the brewery was incredible, and I even got to volunteer to learn how to pour a perfect pint of Guinness beer. Now how about that for a Friday morning? Take a look:
 
Just chilling in front of the brewery. Casual loner.
 
About to learn how to pour the perfect pint! My teacher told me I was the best. I mean, obviously.
 
I'm official!
 
Here's my perfect pint again. You just can't get enough of this sight.
 
Hey, look, I'm on a Guinness poster!
 
Oh hey, another selfie!
 
 
After meeting up with my friend Erin for lunch at a cute little restaurant (which had vegetarian options?!), we headed off to Trinity College to check the Book of Kells and the Old Library. So cool! The book is so detailed and beautifully crafted and, well, old...but to be honest I was far more amazed with the library:

Rows on rows on rows of books a.k.a. welcome to Hogwarts.
 
 
After the lovely tour of Trinity thanks to the outstanding Erin, we decided that it was time for another coffee break. And as a coffee addict myself, I jumped at the thought and ended up ordering an espresso shot just because it was the cheapest thing on the menu. Honestly, I think I should write a book on how to be poor. I really feel that I’ve mastered the concept. I also bought a tiny piece of Turkish Delight because it was only 80 cents, and I also happen to be addicted to candy. Exploring local coffee shops while traveling is one of my favorite activities because they're all so vastly different, and it’s a great way to rest your legs if you’ve been walking a lot.


Our cute little café stop...good ole place to stop for an espresso shot.

 
My Friday night with Erin ended with an excruciatingly long decision of where to eat for dinner. We ended up picking a random restaurant that we hadn’t heard of before or even considered to be in the running for dinner choices, and the food was meh. I don’t have a good way to describe it, it was just unexceptional and not worth spending the time or money on. Being on a budget (always), I scanned the menu and ordered a bowl of soup that came with a piece of bread. It seemed like an innocent and filling choice. When the waiter came to our table, I said "I would like the vegetable soup with the bread please." 

And you know what he brought me?

The waiter brought my soup with the piece of bread on the side, just as I’d ordered, but then he also brings out a basket with 8 pieces of bread that cost me 4 euros extra. Apparently saying that I wanted my soup “with the bread” meant that I wanted an entire basket of bread to myself in addition to my meal. What. I was livid because my chances of saving money were completely blown. You might be thinking “Whoa, it’s just 4 euros,” but that amount of dough can get you 2.5 cups of coffee, a solid handful of candy, or a selection of postcards. Feeling bitter about my loss of money, I ate every single piece of that bread basket and earned my 4 euros worth, despite the uncomfortable feeling that I might have gained 20 pounds in one sitting. Every. Single. Piece.


Saturday brought my most treasured day of all, because I was finally going to see the rolling green hills I'd been dreaming of for so long. My friends and I took a tour bus to see the Cliffs of Moher, a scenic location where both Harry Potter and The Princess Bride filmed. The tour bus was a bit...flashy, I guess you could say, but you can’t always get what you want. It was definitely a rolling advertisement for the Paddywagon tour company. Here I am sitting in front of it (don't ask me why I wanted this photo taken):



 

The big rolling Leprechaun. What a stunning photo op.
 
 
Before we got to the cliffs, our bus made a quick stop at some ruins of an old monastery. It was beautiful, although unfortunately I don’t remember the story our driver was telling us as we pulled up to it. We were able to spend 10 whole minutes (so much time, it felt like eternity…not) wandering around the remains and snapping some pics before hopping back onto the bus and continuing onward for the cliffs. It was nice to be able to stretch our legs and bask in the Ireland sunrays, even if it was only for a few minutes. Here are some pictures:
 

First view as we stepped off of the bus.

Looks like the monastery wanted to "put the top down."

Cool archway.

This is where we had to enter the ruins...felt like we were trespassing. 

Just hanging out by a stone wall. Casual loner part two.

More cool archways.
 
 
So cool! Am I right, or am I right? The ten minutes went by much too fast, but I reminded myself that we were about to head out to see the cliffs! But after boarding our rolling Leprechaun we didn't continue straight for the cliffs, nope. Our driver then informed us that after driving for an hour or so, we would have another break stop. And so we did. After an hour or so, the bus stopped in a picturesque town for a break and/or coffee. Now I know I was grumbling about having more stops just a second ago, but this actually turned out to be one of my favorite stops of the day because everything looked like it came straight out of a storybook. So cute! Take a look:


Some of the colorful shops along the street. We got coffee at Brogan's!

 
A yummy lemon pie and "un café Americano," my treat of choice!
 
 
After boarding the bus and then making yet another stop for lunch (seriously, how many stops does the driver think we need?), we were finally headed to the cliffs! After a bit more driving -- which I can't really complain about because the bus was a large coach bus and I was able to stare out at the rolling green hills and little farmhouses the entire time -- we made it. I looked out the bus window and saw a wooden sign that confirmed everyone’s excitement: The Cliffs of Moher! I was actually going to be standing in the exact spot where The Princess Bride, my third favorite movie of all time, filmed one of its most iconic scenes. This surely could not be happening; it had to be a dream. I was going to wake up in Sevilla to my alarm song “Heaven” blasting from my phone, snuggled underneath my Simpsons sheets while the host dog Maya whined outside of my bedroom door. I continued walking with my friends absentmindedly, still waiting for everything around me to disappear in some sort of cruel trick. When I realized that all of my friends had stopped walking, I looked up and saw that I was at the top at last. I stopped and looked out from the top of one of the cliffs and thought to myself, “Yes, this is exactly what I been forever dreaming about,” only this time I wasn’t dreaming. I was on top of the world, and it was absolutely fantastic.

Behold, the Cliffs of Moher!

A different angle. Look how far down the water is!

Hanging out with Libby by the wooden sign. Feeling touristy for the win.

I honestly don't know what I'm doing here... I'm so weird.

Warning: Don't jump off of the cliffs. You could be injured and/or die. But probably die.

Elon University Phoenix go hard with our new "Phoenix" symbol atop the cliffs.
 

Hanging out on the edge, clearly ignoring the warning signs to stay away from the edge.
 
Hanging by the cliffs. Alone. Do I have friends? Casual loner shot part three.

I present to you: Leah Channas and the Cliffs of Moher. Best day in Ireland without a doubt.
 
Pictures don’t do the cliffs justice. If you ever have the time and money to go to Ireland and see them for yourself, do it. Don’t hesitate. It doesn’t even matter that they were used as filming locations for some of the most noted movies of all time; the breathtaking beauty of the cliffs themselves is the main attraction. I was absolutely dumbfounded by the mere idea that I was standing on top of such a beautiful creation, and if I could live out the remainder of my days in a little tent pitched at the edge of the cliffs, I would do it without a second thought.

(Second thought) Okay, so maybe I wouldn’t because that would be a pathetic existence, but I promise, you have to see these cliffs for yourself.

After returning to Dublin from the cliffs later that night, I met up with Erin again and we went to a pub called "Bleeding Horse," a fun, low-key pub that was the perfect mixture of crazy and chill to be the perfect ending to a perfect vacation. Ireland was everything that I always wanted it to be, and so much more. Though I never found my own Gerry (I swore I was going to see Gerard Butler walking down the street), I drank lots of beer, laughed with my friends, and stumbled upon a rainbow while at the Cliffs of Moher that may have led to a Leprechaun and its pot of gold. 

But you'll never know. That's my secret to keep.
 
 

A dazzling nighttime view of the Ha'penny Bridge all lit up in downtown Dublin. 
 

Until next time, my beautiful and outrageously fun Dublin. We will meet again, my friend.

Leah

Monday, December 2, 2013

I Will Go the Distance to Get to Granada


I had a blast this past weekend with my two friends Tori and Sam as we explored one of Spain's most beautiful cities: Granada. The free tapas with drinks, the city exploring, the shopping bargains and the ceaseless laughter are my most prominent memories when I look back on my time in Granada now, but the beginning of the trip was far from smooth sailing. Then again, what else would I expect? Welcome to my life. Clearly the odds are never in my favor.

My weekend starts off with Friday morning, when I woke up in a panic and realized that I still hadn't packed for the trip. And we were supposed to be leaving in 30 minutes. So there's that.

After speed-packing and a throwing on some clothes for the day, I managed to only be running five minutes late. I told my friends that I would just meet them at the bus station in order to keep them from waiting for me. I was half way to the bus station when I realized some terrible: I forgot my passport back in my room. We were taking a bus to Granada and I didn't know if I needed it for anything or not (Side note: Never used my passport of course), but I didn't want to get stuck somewhere because I forgot my passport in Sevilla. I hightailed it back to my room, grabbed my passport, and sprinted back towards the station with 10 minutes to spare.

Oh, wait, but of course that isn't all I forgot. I also happened to leave my bus tickets back in my room, and didn't realize that until I had arrived at the bus station. And nobody would let me cut them in line so that I could talk to the woman at the counter and possibly still make my original bus... Did I mention that this bus was leaving in ten minutes?

Long story short: I had to go back, grab my old tickets, pay for a new bus ticket for a different one an hour later, rode the bus alone while trying to work on my podcast report for my class, arrived to Granada an hour later than my friends, walked aimlessly through Granada with no map for an 1 and 1/2 alone before calling my parents (because they would be so much help from across the world) and finally getting a taxi to meet up with Sam and Tori at the Alhambra, a famous palace in Granada.

 I have to say though, after half of my day consisting of one anxiety joyride after another, it was a relief to walk through the Alhambra and let my jaw drop at its indescribable beauty. The wooden walls were carved with an immense amount of detail and the fountains were exquisite. I wish I could show you photo after photo of this magnificent palace, but my camera died after taking one photo. So here is that one photo:


I have to admit that I wish my one photo from the Alhambra had been of the wooden wall detailing, but this isn't the absolute worst photo I could have ended up with. I could have accidentally taken a picture of my foot (so attractive) or gotten a pocket shot where the screen is just completely black (also insanely attractive). The picture above, however, is much better than those options, and shows part of the ceiling of the baths in the Alhambra.

After seeing the Alhambra, we headed out to the streets to do a bit of shopping at the Mercado Artesenal.


It was so fun! We made friends with a cool Moroccan guy, he gave us discounts, we bought some things. I opted for an elephant blanket-ish thing. It's colorful. Pretty much a win-win situation. The market reminded me of Morocco, which made me wish I bought stuff in Morocco rather than the Mercado Artesenal, but it was still neat to check it out and have some things to take home.

Afterwards we headed to get some Chocolate y Churros at this cute little Cafe we saw that specialized in such treats. It was so yummy and the perfect midday treat! Seriously, if you ever need a quick picker-upper, this is your answer my friends:

Don't forget the delicious Cafe Americano to accompany your snack!

Later that night, we headed out to Calle Elvira to check out the tapas bars. In Granada, if you buy a drink, you get a free tapa! (Which means free dinner what what). 


It was all fine and dandy, minus the fact that everything is so busy so it takes over 30 minutes for the waiter to come back over to your table to order another drink and tapa combo. And seeing how small the free tapas were (please note the image above), it would take quite a few tapas in order to make a satisfying meal. A.k.a. it wasn't much of a dinner, so I was still starving. Finally deciding to ditch the whole drinks/tapas ordeal, we stumbled upon a a little Falafel joint and I got myself a yummy sandy for only 3 euros. What a steal! Although I really struggled for a long time with figuring out how to approach the sandwich...it was quite intimidating:

Like seriously, how do I even approach that?

The next day we decided to have an easy, breezy, carefree day that was not strict to a schedule. We moseyed around Granada, and although I was already out of money (what's new?) we went shopping for a bit. Later in the afternoon we headed to Mirador de San Nicolás, a lookout point that you have to hike up to in order to get a magnificent view of the whole city. Though I was dying and out of breath by the time we got to the top, the journey and ending view was well worth the trek. Take a look at the walk up:






And finally...a panoramic view from Mirador de San Nicolás:


It was a short but phenomenal weekend filled with good food, breathtaking views, and lots of laughter. Despite my hectic experience getting to Granada, I'm glad I stuck it out and made it through, because the weekend trip was well worth the moments of stress.

Finally, we had to say goodbye to our adorable hostel, but it was euros well spent, and I would stay there again if I find myself in Granada sometime in the future:


Until next time,

Leah