Alternative Title: I Survived! And Now on to Paris!
Hello dear readers,
I am currently writing this post in the lovely (and crazy large) Heathrow airport, where I’m waiting to board my flight to Paris to begin my study abroad (hooray!). This last week in Ireland and London have been both incredibly fun and nerve-wracking at the same time. Fun because of the wonderful Irish people I met, and terrifying because of the Irish road system. They weren’t kidding when they said that Ireland’s roads are cow paths; I think my mom and I nearly died at least fifty times going around the narrow, curving roads. (On a side note: I think I have been lied to for years. Although sheep are generally associated with Ireland, the entire time I was there I saw millions of cows but only three sheep [thanks to a seemingly complimentary Garmin GPS-inspired cow path detour on our way to the Cliffs of Moher]. Coming to Ireland, I had been under the impression that there would be herds of sheep everywhere, perhaps peeking at us through the shrubbery or stampeding across the road, but alas, that was not the case. Ah well, at least our near deaths on the Cow Paths of Mordor let me salvage my dream of seeing some sheep in Ireland.)
Despite getting semi-lost several times (my Garmin eventually redirected us to a “main” road), I have to say I wouldn’t trade the experience of driving around Ireland. The scenery is absolutely fantastic, with lush valleys, small towns littered with pubs, and rugged mountains that seem like they belong in some tale of old. I got to hang over the edge of Blarney Castle to kiss the Blarney Stone (and even got my mom to do is, though she is terrified of heights!), listen to Irish music in a pub, and talk to a bunch of Irish men and women in the B&Bs and pubs we went to. I had always heard that the Irish were friendly and hospitable, and that definitely held true for my experience. Everyone I talked to was incredibly open and friendly, whether it was helping us find our way or talking about their families and travels. I have to say, I was surprised by the open friendliness. While I wouldn’t consider Americans aloof, I wouldn’t necessarily expect to strike up a conversation with a stranger in a restaurant either. It seems like we’re either absorbed in our phones, our plans, or our music, too busy moving to our next destination to stop for a moment to really interact. Ireland reminded me of the importance of taking a moment to put down my phone and relax for a while. Where I would mind my own business in a restaurant back home, I found myself striking up 1-2 hour conversations with complete strangers in Ireland. It was unbelievably refreshing, and I hope to continue the practice back home.
If Ireland bestowed upon me a stouter heart in the face of strange roads and new people, London instilled a new confidence when it came to traveling. Although I had been to London once before with the Gator Band, we did little individual/small group traveling. This time round was very different. Not only did my mom and I have to navigate the Underground (London’s subway system), but I was also in charge of figuring out the trains and subways we would need to take on our journeys to and from the airport, as well as our trip out of London to Windsor Castle (which was absolutely gorgeous!). Often our plans would change or a certain stop on the Underground would be closed, so I constantly had to reevaluate our routes. Navigating London’s many streets and side streets was another challenge, especially since some of the maps didn’t match up exactly and it was easy to get disoriented. I found I enjoyed the challenge, though. There’s something empowering about being able to find your way around a foreign city.
Sitting in my seat at Heathrow now, I am surprised by just how much I’ve changed in a week of traveling. What will a week in Paris and three in Cambridge bring, I wonder? Although I’m a bit nervous, I feel like this past week has prepared me for the next challenge: getting around Paris without knowing much French. Ah well! My gate has just been assigned, so I’ll save this to post a bit later.