Just like with les vacances de la Toussaint posts I did back in October, I’ll be doing the same this time for les vacances de Noël in December. Considering that my holidays just started this past weekend (and the fact that I’m currently traveling, so this post is scheduled ahead of time), I thought that I would show you where I went for last year’s winter vacation whilst in France.
For last year’s vacances de Noël, I decided to set the bar high and do a round-trip tour of the UK and Ireland. Since I hadn’t been there yet, it was on my bucket list of places to go. At first, I wanted to hit England (namely, London) and end with Ireland, but I happened to score an incredibly-cheap flight over to Dublin from Paris. Like, 13 euros cheap; it was amazing! Granted, I had to take it from the Paris-Beauvais Airport (located about 100 kilometers north of Paris, funny enough), but still…cheap tickets!
That said, I started my vacation in Dublin; as soon as my last class finished on Thursday before les vacances, I grabbed my belongings and sped off to Paris, where I crashed a night at my friend’s flat (just like the last time before Strasbourg) before waking up super early (before 6h00) to leave and take the shuttle bus over to the airport. Funny enough, the shuttle cost more than my flight, about 16 euros to the flight’s 13 euros! Was super dark when we left for the 1 1/2-hour ride over to Beauvais, but by the time we arrived, the sun had come up.
It was my first time at the Beauvais airport, so it took me some time to figure out where to go to check in and go through security. But all went well, and around 9h40 boarded the airplane (actually had to go outside and climb the steps up onto the aircraft, which was new for me; typically, I would go through a chute that connected with it!). The airplane took off shortly after that and we arrived in Dublin around 10h20 local time (the UK and Ireland are an hour behind France). I took a shuttle into the city center, and from there had some time to kill before I met up with my Couchsurfing host in the afternoon to go to her flat.
I spent the afternoon walking all over the center of Dublin. Admittedly, it was a bit nippy during the winter, but walking helped warmed me up. And of course, I also had to get used to the fact that people drive on the left side of the road there (as it was for the other places that I visited during those whole two weeks). It was interesting to see that the countries are very self-aware that their driving habits are different from the majority of the world’s, so there are markings on the street to tell you which way to look for cars when crossing the street. Personally, I found them amusing!
The airport shuttle bus had dropped me off in the city center near the Spire of Dublin, a super-pointy monument that, in contrast with the sky, seems to pierce right into it. While not a historical landmark (it was constructed back in 2002), its modern take on art and technology makes it pretty ingenious in itself. And again, it was so pointy-looking…
Next, I headed to Trinity College, the oldest university in Ireland and one of the ancient universities in the UK and Ireland (founded back in the late 16th century). It is a famous university, not only for its prestige, but also for its history between the Catholics and Protestants and for the fact that it contains the original manuscript of the Book of Kells, a gospel of the New Testament that originated in Ireland and to this day is an important part of Irish history.
Upon stepping into the campus grounds, I was greeted by the Campanile, the university’s iconic bell tower. I passed through the Humanities area, coming across the “Sphere within Sphere” sculpture and the Trinity College Library, in which the Book of Kells manuscript is placed. I’d wanted to check out the manuscript, but realized that I needed to pay to see it (and for me being cheap, I decided to forgo it). I continued wandering deeper into the campus, stepping into the Science area and popping into an exhibition on art and trauma, which was quite fascinating.
I wandered a bit around the intramural sports fields before deciding to quit the campus grounds to explore the rest of Dublin. I hit the many cathedrals at the city had to offer: St. Andrew’s, St. Patrick’s, Christ Church, etc. Seriously, everywhere I turned, I saw either a cathedral or a church! Ireland is very religious, indeed…
Also went around the Dublin Castle, and wanted to visit the Chester Beatty Library located on its grounds since I’m told that it has a rich collection of art and artifacts from both the Eastern and Western hemispheres. I didn’t have too much time, though, so I had to forgo it as well.
I walked past Temple Bar, a lively cultural quarter known for its nightlife, restaurants and bars (of course) before reaching the National Museum of Ireland- Archaeology. While I did not go inside it, I was quite impressed by its cylindrical, pillared structure; essentially, I only went just for its architecture!
It started getting dark around 16h00 (already?!), so I decided to head back to the city center near the Spire of Dublin to meet up with my Couchsurfing host, who was just getting off work in the next hour. We met up and first walked all the way to her flat, located in the outskirts of the city. She was nice, a Chinese woman in her mid-twenties who had studied abroad in Ireland for university and since then has found a job working in Dublin. She was also my very first Couchsurfing host, as it my first time trying it out to save money on accommodations. I would go on to do it a few more times in the rest of the UK and Ireland during those two weeks of vacation (and then some during the rest of my first year in France).
We reached her flat, which was actually a shared building with other people (couples, families, etc.). Her room was tiny, and there was only one bed, so we had to sleep together for the two nights that I was there (which I wasn’t comfortable with at first, but it was all right; thankfully, we’re both women, so I wasn’t as weird as if my host had been a man). Any case, I dropped off my bags and we headed out again to the city center for dinner, taking the bus down instead. My host took me over to a pub not too far from Temple Bar, and there I had my first real taste of the pub life, along with pub food! I ordered a Guinness-and-beef pie, along with a Guinness beer to boot (because it’s Ireland, why not?). The meal was super rich and hearty and even though I’m not a huge beer person, the Guinness I had was a good complement to the savory, starchy pie.
We finished dinner and walked all the way back to her flat, where we spent the rest of the night watching a film before turning in for the night.
I woke up the next morning before my host and decided to go explore more of Dublin for the day. We’d made plans to meet up at 14h00 at the National Museum of Ireland- Collins Barracks, so I had the morning to go out on my own.
The Kilmainham Gaol was on the top of my list of places to visit while in Dublin, so I made the 40-minute trek over to the other side of the city to check it out. It was originally a prison that once housed a variety of different “criminals,” from dangerous murderers to petty thieves, some of which were even children! The Kilmainham Gaol also had imprisoned leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising, a tumultuous event that helped the Irish gain their independence from the British a few years later. Admission cost 2 euros as a student (I used my student card to get in, even though I no longer am a student, but it worked!), and I have to say that it was worth every penny; I learned so much from the tour I took, peering into the dark, cold, and depressing conditions that the prisoners lived in back in the day. Learning about the violent history of how the Irish Republic came to be was heavy as well, but also very humbling; my knowledge before of Irish history had only been limited to reading William Butler Yeat’s poem “Easter, 1916” and that was it. I’m glad to have gotten a more insightful look into Ireland and what it took for the people to gain their independence, especially when my own country, the United States, had fought for it 150 years before…and against the British, nonetheless!
Left Kilmainham Gaol after the tour ended, and for the rest of the morning explored the more-outer parts of the city; I passed by the Guinness Storehouse and the Old Jameson Distillery, both of which are popular tourist draws, but I chose not to go there, just because I didn’t want to fork over money to have a tour of beer, which personally isn’t my favorite drink to begin with.
Around 14h00, I went to the National Museum of Ireland- Collins Barracks to meet up with my host to visit it together. We spent the next two-and-a-half hours going through the surprisingly-large museum of decorative arts, from silverware to clothing to porcelain. The exhibitions were so extensive that it was almost dizzying so!
After we finished, it was nearing 17h00. I was starving, so we headed down to the city center near Temple Bar again for an early dinner. No Irish pub this time, but rather Chinese food at a small takeout joint that my host says she frequents. It’d been a long time since I’d eaten good-ol’ Chinese food, especially living in France, and it was so nice to have the richly-flavored dish varieties…with chopsticks, too!
We finished eating and before heading back to her flat, we took a quick tour around Temple Bar, which was hopping that night with people and warm, neon lights. Bars were in full swing, and everything was so lively; the Irish definitely know how to have a good time!
Although it was only 19h00, I was really tired after having spent the whole day out and about in Dublin. My host and I went back to her flat, where we just spent the rest of the night watching television shows on her laptop before turning in for bed.
The next morning was my last day in Dublin. I woke up, said goodbye to my host who was still sleeping, thanking her for her hospitality, then headed over to the Heuston railway station to take the train at 11h00 to my next destination in Ireland.
I would have to say that Dublin was a good city to start off my vacation with. Trinity College and Kilmainham Gaol were the highlights of my visit, architecturally, culturally, and historically speaking. Personally, I think another night in the city would’ve been ideal, since I couldn’t get around to the Beatty Library, St. Stephen’s Green, and the other national museums, which I would’ve loved to do.
My first-ever Couchsurfing experience was pleasant enough as well, although I admit that I had different expectations of it, e.g. my host would take me around the city to see monuments, spend time with me, etc. My host did those to an extent, but I suppose our habits were quite different to the point that they never quite aligned. In any case, it was a modest introduction to Couchsurfing and over time, I experienced different ones.
Before this post gets any longer, I’ll end it right here. More to come on my past adventures during les vacances de Noël! Next stop: Cork, Ireland!