So, as you can probably tell from the title of this post, last week involved lots of travel for fall break.
1st stop: London
I arrived in London on Friday evening with two of my friends after a Chunnel ride from Paris. We checked into our hostel and went out to explore the city and have dinner. We were walking around after dinner trying to find some sort of pub or bar we could go to and stumbled upon a Spanish restaurant, which obviously only means one thing: sangria. It was weird to think that, before arriving in Paris just about two months prior, we had not known each other at all. But as we sat and talked for a few hours, it felt like I had known them forever. I guess living in a foreign country together will do that for you. We didn’t have much time on Saturday morning before our bus left for Liverpool, but we were still able to fit in a trip to Abbey Road, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey!
2nd stop: Liverpool
We caught the bus to Liverpool mid-day on Saturday and arrived a few hours later. That night, we went to “the most famous club in the world”- aka The Cavern Club. It is the very spot where The Beatles’ musical identity was formed and is now known as the cradle of British pop music. The Rolling Stones, Queen, Elton John, the Who, and many other famous musicians have also played at The Cavern.
Upon entering, we had to go downstairs into a small room with no windows and exposed brick. Almost every brick on the walls and the ceiling was marked with the names of individuals or musical groups who have played at The Cavern. As soon as I made my way into the room, it felt like I traveled back in time- Midnight in Paris style (the Liverpool version). There was live music all night long and, not surprisingly, it was mostly Beatles songs. We had a blast dancing and singing along. There was something surreal about knowing that we were in the very club that was at the center of a rock and roll musical renaissance in the 1960s. The energy in the club was unlike anything I had ever experienced. There were people spanning all ages and from all over the world celebrating and enjoying something that, despite cultural and linguistic differences, can bring everyone together into a musty basement in the middle of Liverpool: music.
On Sunday morning, we explored the city a bit by walking around the docks. We also took a ride on the big Ferris wheel where we were able to view all of Liverpool and hear about its history. Fun facts- Liverpool held the title for the European Capital of Culture along with Stavanger, Norway, in 2008. Also, Liverpool is considered one of the most important trading ports in the world.
3rd stop: Back to London
We arrived back in London on Sunday late afternoon and grabbed dinner with two other BC students studying in Paris who were also traveling to London for the first half of their fall break. We got an early start the next day so that we could fit in as much as possible. We started by taking the tube to Notting Hill gate and visiting one of the most famous shopping districts in London.
After probably spending too much time than we should have shopping, we hopped back on the tube and headed to a popular food market in London to have lunch, the Leadenhall Market.
We decided to walk from the market to the London Bridge because it was so close. When we finally arrived, I realized that the bridge we were really looking for and the bridge I was picturing in my head after seeing countless commercials for the Olympics was Tower Bridge, not London Bridge. Touristy mistake, I know. But Tower Bridge was just down the Thames, and there were perfect views of it from the London Bridge, so it worked out well. It was raining at this point, but we still managed to take a few photos before making our way to Buckingham Palace.
There was no official changing of the guards ceremony taking place that day, but we did still witness the guards changing shifts. It was quite hilarious to me to watch them move in such a mechanical and official manner, without any expression on their faces. I read afterwards that these guards, called sentry, are on duty for a 2-hour period and, during this time, they cannot eat, sleep, smoke, stand easy, sit or lie down. Every 10 minutes, the sentry must come to attention, slope his arms, and do a march of 15 paces. We were laughing because the furry black hat that the guards wear (I’m sure there is a more technical name for the hat than “furry black one,” but I don’t know what it is) fell so low one of the guard’s face that it was covering his eyes. This pretty much defeats the purpose of a guard, but I guess he can’t move to fix it, right?
Our last stop of the day was Trafalgar Square where we walked around and eventually met up with two of my friends from BC who are studying in London to enjoy some delicious tea and cupcakes!
4th stop: Dublin
We caught an early flight to Dublin on Tuesday morning and set off to explore the city soon after we arrived. We walked down Grafton street, which is the center of the city where a lot of shops and restaurants are. We grabbed an early dinner on account of the fact that we were starving and really tired from waking up at an ungodly hour that morning. We ate burritos for dinner. I know, I know. I was in Dublin- I should have eaten corn beef and soda bread or some stew and drank a pint of Guinness. But we were just really craving burritos. What can I say? Don’t worry, we ate Irish food for the rest of our time in Dublin!
5th stop: Galway
On Wednesday morning, we caught an early bus to Galway. Our tour guide for the day was a little Irish man with a thick brogue named Joseph who spent most of the time singing, cracking jokes, quoting Oscar Wilde, professing his love for Guinness beer, talking about how important it is to love one another, making us hug people we didn’t know who were also on our tour and also somehow fitting in interesting information about Ireland and its tumultuous history with England. We made a few stops during the day, the main one being the cliffs of Galway, which were absolutely spectacular. It was probably one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen in my life; I was blown away by the breathtaking views. I was also almost actually blown away. The wind was SO strong, which makes sense considering the fact that the cliffs soar 702 feet above sea level. At some points, we could not continue walking because the wind was holding us back. Despite the winds, we were still able to take tons of pictures.
6th stop: Back to Dublin
On Thursday, we visited the Dublin Castle. We learned that, in 1169 AD, the Anglo-Normans invaded Ireland and captured Dublin. The Dublin Castle became the most important fortification in Ireland and functioned as the seat of colonial rule and the center of military, political and social affairs. We were able to visit St. Patrick’s hall, which is the most important ceremonial room in Ireland. Today, it serves as the focal point of important State functions, including the inaugurations if Irish presidents. It became known as St. Patrick’s Hall when the Order of St. Patrick was instituted in 1783.
After touring the castle, we visited the Chester Beatty Library, which was still within the walls of the Dublin Castle and by far my favorite part of Dublin. Chester Beatty was born in New York in 1875 and, from a young age, became a collector of minerals, Chinese snuff bottles and stamps. Later on in life, he began to buy European and Persian manuscripts. After traveling to Egypt, Japan and Asia, he became interested in richly-illustrated material, fine bindings and beautiful calligraphy. He wanted to preserve texts for their historic value. He became Ireland’s first honorary citizen when he built a library for his art collection in 1954. In an interview in 1956, Beatty was asked how be obtained so many great works. He responded by saying, “It was all a great adventure.”
The first gallery we saw was called Arts of the Book. We viewed books from the ancient world including Egyptian Books of the Dead, medieval European manuscripts and Old Master prints. Additionally, we saw many different types of Islamic manuscripts, including calligraphy and bindings from the Middle East and India. The gallery also holds one of the finest collections of Chinese jade books in the world, Japanese picture-scrolls and woodblock prints.
We then made our way to the exhibit that was, ironically enough, on French fashion. (We were joking that, even when we leave France, the French follow us!) It was still quite interesting to learn about the evolution of French fashion, especially concerning dress for dinner. I found it interesting how, during the early 20th century, wealthy women changed their clothing multiple times a day depending on the season, activity or event. Each mealtime carried its own dress code and the cut and cloth of the clothing was dependent on the time of day or the occasion as well. Women spent thousands of pounds per month on clothing and accessories. In fact, Chester Beatty’s first wife spent an average of $850 a month in 1910 on the family’s wardrobe. That’s the equivalent of $21,000 a month today.
Finally, we visited the Sacred Traditions gallery, which is dedicated to the world religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. We read about the rites of passage (birth, marriage and death) in the various belief systems. It was especially interesting to explore this gallery after having taken a year-long theology class comparing Catholicism to Confucianism at BC this past year.
**Unfortunately, we were not able to take pictures in any of the exhibits. Trust me, I tried. And I was yelled at.
On our last day in Dublin, we visited Trinity College to see the Book of Kells exhibit. It was written over 1000 years ago when the Irish church was largely monastic and the life of Christ was spread through gospel books. The Book of Kells contains a Latin copy of the four gospels and is estimated as having been created in the early 9th century. At Trinity College, we were also able to walk through the library, which is widely considered as one of the world’s greatest research libraries with the greatest collection of manuscripts and printed books in Ireland.
That afternoon, we took a tour of the Guinness storehouse. The building was originally a fermentation house opened in 1904 and is shaped like a Guinness pint glass. As we walked through the exhibit and learned about the four main ingredients that make Guinness beer, we were essentially walking up the pint glass. After learning about the long and laborious process of producing Guinness beer, we were able to have a free pint on the top floor while enjoying panoramic views of the city of Dublin. It was a fantastic way to end our time in Ireland.
Arriving back in Paris, I was tired and hungry, but relived as I thought to myself: “I’m home.” I found myself excited to return to my apartment and tell my host parents about my week. I absolutely loved traveling around Europe for a week but, at the same time, I missed our dinners and the conversations we have together over (probably too much) camembert cheese and baguette. I feel so blessed to be able to have a host family that feels more and more like my second family every day and to be able to call this city my “home,” even if it’s just for a few months.