Hopeless Wanderer – Thoughts About Leaving & a Long-Awaited Recap

So things have been a little quiet lately. I wish I could say it is because I have been focusing on my studies, but let’s be real, that would be a lie. Of course, I have been writing a paper here and there, and I did have a presentation this week, but I cannot say I have been feeling the stress of my friends back at Cal Poly, who have been spending days on end at the library and pulling all-nighters to cram. Google searching “How to get a Sugar Daddy” is done in much less jest than midterm season. Isn’t the American education system just fantastic?

Okay, okay, I am mostly kidding. Yes, we get that stressed, but we kind of do it to ourselves. But do we change our ways the following quarter? Not a chance. But I digress…

I officially have less than two weeks left in this absolutely wonderful city I have fallen madly in love with, and every moment I think about my flight home is a moment I feel like crying. That sounds rather dramatic, but I can’t imagine going back to the States. There is still far too much I want to do here.

“It’s an excuse to come back,” I keep telling myself. And I will come back, it’s just a matter of when.

But I will stop being so sad about leaving for a few minutes and give you a recap of my last two trips: Scotland with Chelsea and Ireland with Amy. And wow, are these two places absolutely magical. I know, I know, I have said that about every place I have been, but there is no way that the Scottish highlands and the Cliffs of Moher are real. No way. I was there and took pictures, and I still don’t believe it. Maybe if I tell you about it I can I convince myself that I didn’t dream any of this up.

Chelsea’s Visit and Scotland

On Thanksgiving, I did not get a nice Turkey Day meal, which was not the business. I missed my dad’s famous bread rolls and my mom’s pecan pie. Thanksgiving has been a touchy holiday for me the last few years, but it is a reminder of how far I have come since my ED days (which sometimes feel a lot closer than they are). I felt extra thankful for the fabulous people in my life and the friends I have made here, and I remembered that even though I was not getting a full holiday meal to give me a food baby named Joe, I was still going to mentally celebrate. So Becca and I did the classic British activity we have been talking about for two months: Afternoon Tea! It was definitely a good substitute for a Thanksgiving meal: savory brioche rolls, sweet brownies and blondies, and to-die-for cupcakes—and, of course, tea. Becca got a sweet vanilla one, and I ordered a holiday-esque apple and cinnamon one, then we shared. It was the perfect amount of food to make up happy—and maybe a little too happy, since when we walked into a Christmas market in front of the Tate Modern, the sweet smell of waffles and donuts and crepes was sickening.

Worth it? Duh.

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When we got home, it was just a matter of waiting for Chelsea to arrive from the airport. She had no real way to get a hold of me, so it was a game of walking into the lobby to see if a girl with luggage was waiting outside the gate. Luckily, when I decided to just wait on a couch in the common room with my Kindle, there she was! Perfect. We got Nando’s for dinner (a real treat, am I right?), and then that was that. The next day, I had class, and Chelsea took the Big Red Bus Tour to see the city. After my class, we shopped a little on Oxford Street and got dinner. The Christmas lights, as always, were gorgeous, and it really put me into the holiday spirit. I got to Skype with Stacey when we got home, and I stayed up way too late talking to her. And by too late I mean that I only got two hours of sleep. And Chelsea only got thirty minutes. We had to be up very early to get to Gatwick for our flight.

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As tired as I was, it was worth it when we got there. The first thing we did was see the Elephant House, which is where JK Rowling came up with Harry Potter. It was crowded so we didn’t go inside or anything, but seeing it in person was kind of enough. I knew it was real. We walked around more, seeing a castle and the Royal Mile. There was a Christmas market (always my favorite thing) in front of the National Gallery, so we checked that out. Now, I get overly excited about Christmas markets, but when I spotted a poster outside the museum saying that The Goldfinch was on display inside, my heart leaped. Saying I loved the book of the same name by Donna Tartt is an understatement. Getting to see the real painting that inspired such a masterpiece? Sign me the heck up! I just stood there in front of the little painting and just admired it. I was so in love, and I’m sure Chelsea was not about taking various pictures of me in front of it. She was exhausted—almost falling asleep standing up! So we got some coffee and a snack at Starbucks and hit up the Jolly Botanist for some gin and tonics. We were in bed by seven o’clock and totally happy about it, since we would have an early morning and a jam-packed day of sightseeing.

It was pretty dark still when we set off for our tour of castles, lochs, and highlands. I was still exhausted and a little bit cranky, but I was ready to be wowed by the scenery of Scotland. Our tour was led by a guy named Aaron, and I was surprised to walk into a large van rather than a big bus. It was a happy surprise, and I liked the idea of traveling with a smaller group. When Aaron introduced himself, he went on to talk to each person onboard individually, which made the experience much more personal.

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He took us to two more castles than were on the list, which was very cool. I love castles! The first was one featured in a show called Outlander, which Chelsea is a fan of. It was right on the river and was absolutely gorgeous. I could already tell my serious lack of sleep would be worth it. The second stop was in Stirling, which was where Tori, Kristin, and I were planning on studying abroad—that talk seems like a million years ago—and where Stephanie spent her summer. Coincidentally, she texted me saying she missed me. I happily sent her a picture of the castle, saying I missed her a lot, as well.

Our next stop was Doune Castle, which was used in Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Outlander. We walked around the inside of the castle, learning about what the rooms had been used for when it was inhabited, as well as facts about the filming of Monty Python. Boy, was the medieval bathroom situation a drag.

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After the castle and a short food stop, we were off the highlands! I wish I could describe how beautiful it was. Rolling hills, smooth as glass lochs, tall and luscious trees. Utterly and completely gorgeous. It felt like I was looking at something out of a fairy tale—something Walt Disney had dreamed up and made into a princess movie.

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My favorite stop was probably Kilchurn Castle and Loch Awe. It was more or less a stop on the side of the road, and I had to walk over some slippery grass to get even close to it. I jokingly asked who was going to fall first. As soon as I said it, I knew I would be that unfortunate soul—and what do you know, I was! I slipped right in front of the loch. My left butt cheek was grassy and wet, but it got a laugh. That’s what really matters, right? And honestly, I was just far too excited to see the castle. It was in the middle of the loch, so we couldn’t get too close, but the water was so smooth and beautiful—they don’t call it Loch Awe for nothing! I swear, my pictures are real, even if I don’t quite believe it myself.

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The whole trip was wonderful, and it made me so incredibly happy. Just add it to the list of things I am completely grateful for in this world. And then add Ireland because that place is just as, if nor more, magical than Scotland.

Ireland

My favorite adventuring buddy in SLO is Amy, so there was no one I would rather have gone on this trip to Dublin with. Dublin was the number one location on my list of places to travel while abroad—and I am glad it was my last.

Our plane left early. As in our flight left at 6:30 am so I had to be up at 3:00 in the morning early. The plane ride was more or less fine. I hate flying and I tried to sleep through it to little success. We were checking into our Airbnb (which existed, thankfully!) at 9:30, so we had some time to kill before taking the half hour bus ride into the city. Naturally, we got coffee and sat down to watch cute family reunions. An adorable pair of twins was waiting with their mom, and I nearly cried when their dad walked through the doors. They rushed up to hug him, and he said he didn’t know they were coming. Then they took turns climbing on his luggage cart until it was time to go, which is when the dad made it so they could both ride simultaneously and pushed them away. It was precious.

Finally, it was time to find our home for the next two days. We met our host, a cute and kind woman who was very welcoming. We dropped our things and took a breather before setting out for coffee. Amy and I found a fun bakery nearby and got drinks and a snack, then it was off to the Guinness Storehouse for our tour at noon.

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The storehouse was beautifully done, and it felt sort of elite. There was a fancy waterfall and a big sculpture of barrels (which doesn’t sound cool, but it was). And the building was shaped like a pint glass, which was fun. Then we got to the taste test, and I felt super classy sipping from the tiny pint glass.

Now, I hate beer. I drank the Heineken in Amsterdam because I was determined. It was very hard to drink the whole thing, but dammit I was going to do it! Guinness is a dark beer, like the one I drank at Harry Potter World on my birthday, so I just assumed I was going to hate it just as much. So when I took the first sip during the taste test, I was shocked. I…I…liked it. Appalling, I know. Nobody is more surprised at that than I am. So when we got to pour our own pints (to which I got a certificate—very official), I was eager to drink it: the real test of whether or not I actually liked this beer. I don’t know how I expected this “test” to go, but I definitely enjoyed drinking the full-sized glass. Not only did I enjoy it, but I also got to drink it in the storehouse’s Gravity Bar. The top floor of the building with a three-hundred-sixty degree view of Dublin. Absolutely gorgeous. Of course, it was crowded so it was kind of hard to find a perfect view, but we managed to squeeze through some tall people right to the window. Worth it!

More worth it, I got five postcards and a pair of boxers for myself. It felt weird to buy the boxers because they were definitely for men, but I can’t wait to sleep in them. They are soft and say Guinness all over them. Extra classy, am I right?

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We exhausted our time at the storehouse and ended up walking towards Temple Bar, which is the bustling part of the city center and where Trinity College is. Yes, the Trinity College, home of the flawless library I have saved to my Pinterest about a thousand times. The library I have been dreaming about forever. I know, I am such a book nerd. So I had zero regrets paying nine euros to see breeze over the Book of Kells exhibit and go straight to the beautiful room. High, arched ceilings, dusty bookshelves, marble busts of famous writers and philosophers, rolling ladders…remember what I said about the highlands being out of a Disney fairy tale? That is what this library was like. I could have stayed in their forever.

Unfortunately, it was getting late, and we were hungry. Nando’s was calling our names, and we were ready to answer. So we wandered and then ate and then wandered some more. We stopped at Ladurée for macaroons (salted caramel, rose petal, and chocolate hazelnut), and I felt even classier than at the Guinness Storehouse. The city was popping: pubs were crowded, streets were filled, people were happy. It all had such good energy—kind of like how I feel in London, just on a bit smaller of a scale.

Back at our Airbnb, we decided to watch Shrek and eat our macaroons. We only got about twenty minutes into the movie before getting tired and deciding to sleep. We had a big day ahead tomorrow, and with the major lack of sleep we had gotten the night before, turning in by 9 pm was the best thing to for us. I mean, when we woke up early the next morning and it was still dark out, it felt like we had barely slept at all, but that was not going to stop our day of sightseeing.

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Amy and I successfully navigated our way to the tour’s meeting place—without getting a cab. Go us! This time, our bus was a big, green one, rather than the smaller van in Scotland, but we got on first and therefore picked the front seats. We were going to have a perfect view when the sun came up! Per small world cliche, two girls in my program were on our tour. What are the odds? Even weirder, three people from Amy’s program got on the bus as well. Seriously, who would have thought?

The mini road trip through Ireland made for the perfect Sunday. We made stops for coffee and to see a castle. We drove through the beautiful fantasy that was the Irish countryside. And since we were sitting right behind Val, our driver and tour guide (who was hilarious), he heard all of my sassy side-comments and announced them with laughter to the rest of the bus. Maybe I could be one of these tour guides…new career path? Possibly.

Our first major stop was the Baby Cliffs of Moher. Oh. My. God. Breathtaking! It was a fairly clear day so we could see a good distance over the ocean. And we could just see the real Cliff of Moher up the coast. It was so beautiful, and my heart was happy. The next stop was lunch, where I got a vegetable soup that warmed my black heart cold body.

On the road again, we saw more gorgeous rolling hills—can’t hold a candle to the view from Prefumo Canyon in SLO. So many sheep. So much green. All the beauty! And that was before we even got to the Cliffs.

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In regard to which direction to walk in first, Val advised us to follow the Beyonce song: to the left, to the left. So that’s what we did. I thought the Baby Cliffs were breathtaking, but these were a whole new level of spectacular! It truly felt like magic to be standing on the edge of the world. There’s nothing quite like looking at the Arctic Ocean over limestone that drops hundreds of feet straight down—don’t worry, clumsy me stood behind the low wall they had up, safe and sound. I still can’t quite believe it was all real, and that is how I have felt about a lot of things these last months. Standing on the Cliffs of Moher was like falling in love.

I really did love Dublin. I do love Dublin. I am so happy that I got to see the city and drive around the country. It was magnificent and lovely and wonderful. The city itself was cute and I felt pretty at home there, almost as much as London. It was best that I got to visit this place last because it was the perfect end to a race around Europe. Of course, there are plenty more cities I want to visit, but Dublin was on the bucket list. I would be more than happy to check it off again and again. And I am so lucky I got to go on my last adventure with Amy. We always have a great time!

I have nothing planned for my last two weeks abroad other than a little schoolwork and doing cliche London things with the squad. A few more visits to Winter Wonderland, a night at the Aqua Bar at the top of the Shard, wandering South Bank for Christmas Markets, more lunches at Camden Market…all fun things. And gift shopping for family and friends! Because who the heck knows what I am going to get people for Christmas this year.

With the stress of gift shopping and all the packing I don’t even want to think about, I keep reminding myself how thankful I am to have been able to have this experience. To have gone on this wild and crazy adventure, seeing the world (by world, I mean Europe) and making new friends (granted, most are from Cal Poly…). I will cherish these last ten days in my new favorite city because soon I will have to do this terrible thing called “returning to reality.” It sounds like a horror movie, if you ask me. But hey, at least I get to sleep in my own bed and eat In-n-Out again! Always pros to counteract the cons.

Love always, Ash

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