First Week of Classes, First Sighting of Sheep

My brain is going haywire thinking of everything I have to share with you, internet. I meant to post last night because I knew today would be particularly blog-worthy, but I got distracted. By what, you may ask? Oh you know, just booking some casual flights to Bruges and London. No big deal. And by that I really mean holy-wow-huge-deal. But we’ll get to that.

For now, lets focus on the academics. (I know, right? Jess you’re in Ireland and you want to focus on the academics? Nerd.) But you know, they’re kind of important with the whole keeping immigration off my back business. I don’t think Ireland would appreciate me just lazing around in their country. And thus this week brought with it my first round of classes for the semester. One was already cancelled. (But don’t worry, it’s rescheduled for next week.)

The verdict? So far, so good. I’m pretty jazzed about how passionate my professors seem about their respective subjects. You don’t always get that, and it’s really reassuring to see that kind of enthusiasm in the first week. Here’s to hoping it lasts!

I’ve also decided that Wednesdays are going to be my cafe days. I don’t have classes until 2 in the afternoon, so I have plenty of time to go out and explore a new cafe each week while I sit, sip some coffee, munch on a pastry, and maybe read, write, or do some homework. Or maybe I’ll even make a friend. Apparently I already look like I know what I’m doing, because while enjoying my latte at Caffe Noto earlier this week, a tourist asked me for advice about what to do while in Dublin. We chatted for a few minutes and he called me his first Irish friend. A compliment if you ask me.

I had to snap a shot of the coffee I bought on my first solo adventure in Dublin.
I had to snap a shot of the coffee I bought on my first solo adventure in Dublin.

We finished off the week with a group karaoke night over at Woolshed Bar. No, I didn’t sing, although some friends and I did sign up to. Unfortunately hours passed and our names weren’t called, so we gave up after watching some friends sing and headed out to get some much needed sleep. As we exited the bar, the bouncer asked to make sure we knew where we were going and warned us not to be hanging around any “gangs of men,” which I thought was sweet, especially given that there were a lot of people inside and he definitely didn’t need to check in on us.

Friday was a bit of a lazy day, but after being out until 1am, who can really blame the roomies and I for sleeping in a little later than expected? We did get out — Abbie and I had to get our student leap cards at Trinity College. Hooray for discounted bus fares! Worth the hour and a half wait in line? We hope so.

And then it happened. Travel planning. Remember how I was saying I meant to write a blog post last night and didn’t get around to it? Yeah, that’s because I was kind of sort of freaking out. In a good way. I can officially say I’ll be visiting Bruges, Belgium in less than a month, and the roomies and I are taking on London in April. (And let’s not forget spring break in Italy, though we already had that planned.)

Clicking that little “Pay Now” button on RyanAir was simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying. I’ve been saving for my study abroad experience for so long, so I have some money to travel. But it’s hard to break out of that savers’ mindset and actually spend it. But I did it! And I know it’ll be worth it. Now is the time to see Europe, while I’m so close by and the flights are so short and reasonable. And as my lovely boyfriend reminded me yesterday while I was panicking, one of them best things we can spend money on is travel.

So today, as I write this, I’m still a bit nervous, but am definitely feeling confident in my decision to book those flights. There are still some details to iron out, but this semester is going to be a blast. After today, I’m pretty sure of it. We took our first big trip outside of the city today, unless you count our afternoon in Bray during orientation. But this was just the four of us: Sarah, Abbie, Courtney, and myself. We booked a tour of Wicklow, the county just south of us. And let me tell you, that was Ireland.

I mean, look how pretty! (Do I mean Sarah or the view? Mystery. Hint: It's both.)
I mean, look how pretty! (Do I mean Sarah or the view? Mystery. Hint: It’s both.)

Dubin’s amazing — please don’t think otherwise. But it’s a city. Not exactly the rolling green hills and fields full of sheep one might picture when someone mentions Ireland. Wicklow, however, has just that. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many sheep in my life. And some were so friendly and got so close! We also saw some folks walking their miniature horse down the curvy road. Casual.

Our sheep friend at Glendalough.
Our sheep friend at Glendalough.

Our tour guide, Johnny, drove us along the coast and out of Dublin on the way to our first stop, Powerscourt Gardens. Owned by the Slazenger family, the gardens are massive, as is the house. It’s January, so we didn’t get to see the flowers in bloom and it was a bit blustery, but Sarah, Abbie, and I still had a good time looking around the grounds and taking in all of the architecture and incredible stone statues. Impressive even in the dead of winter.

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Courtney had gone horseback riding at a nearby stable while we explored the gardens, so we met back up with her in Enniskerry, a nearby village, to grab some lunch at a cute little country cafe. I order the veggie quiche and a side salad. The salad was phenomenal — it’s been ages since I’ve had potato salad that yummy. Unfortunately, I can’t give the same rave review to the quiche. Someone dropped more than a few egg shells. But I told the staff and they kindly only asked me to pay for the salad, so that was nice. (Although I did notice that they suspiciously did not take the rest of the vegetable quiche out of the display case. Poor future quiche-eaters.)

But enough about my eating habits and back to the tour. Perhaps the most unexpectedly gorgeous part of the day was our drive through the Wicklow Mountains and Sally Gap. I expected them to be pretty, but I was completely unprepared for the geographical wonder presented to me. Honestly, I’m not even sure how to begin describing it. Much of Ireland’s natural forest has been cleared away, so they weren’t like any mountains I’d ever seen before. (I’m looking at you, Adirondacks.) Instead, they were made almost entirely of bogs, even at the very top. But not necessarily the typical marshy tangle of weeds and trees you might typically think of. There were just miles and miles of low-lying vegetation, much of it this deep red-brown color.

This picture just isn't pretty enough.
This picture just isn’t pretty enough.

From afar, the landscape looks kind of bland. I remember thinking they looked lifeless as we drove through the valley before beginning our ascent. I apologize, Wicklow. I was wrong. Despite the varying shades of browns and red-oranges, the mountains are very much alive. And beautiful. Pictures truly don’t do it justice.

But here's another one anyway.
But here’s another one anyway.

We got to stop at the famous little bridge featured in a scene from P.S. I Love You, and I’ll admit I fangirled a bit thinking of all the cutesy romance. (Screw you, Johnny, for saying it was lame. Maybe I think weird, outback-y cowboy hats are lame, but you don’t see me bursting your bubble.) This was also where Courtney began to bond with her Australian boyfriend she met on the tour. (I jest, but more on that later.)

The famous bridge. Where's Gerard Butler?
The famous bridge. Where’s Gerard Butler?

Anyway, if we thought that was pretty, we were in for a treat. Up the road a bit further we were able to pull off at a little look-out point and admire the view. The stunning, gorgeous view. There was a small parking area, where a man in a van had actually set up shop and was selling coffee and other hot beverages. (Very entrepreneurial of him if you ask me, especially given the whipping winds and cold drizzle atop the mountains.)

Across the street, we made our way along an outcrop of rocks to overlook Lough Lake and the private estate of the Guinness family in the valley below. I braved the slight rain with my camera, shielding it as best I could with my scarf, because this just needed a good photograph. My iPhone wasn’t going to cut it. I don’t think I even realized how frozen I was until I turned to head back to the van. The view was that consuming. And this from a girl who’s always complaining of how cold she is.

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Our last stop of the day was my most highly-anticipated: Glendalough, an ancient monastic site of ruins nestled in the Wicklow scenery. I’d read about it in travel books and seen pictures online, and I don’t know, man. Something about ruins just really gets me. It was lovely.

Just want to say that photography in the rain while juggling an umbrella? Not easy, friends.
Just want to say that photography in the rain while juggling an umbrella? Not easy, friends.

Unfortunately we didn’t get to spend nearly as much time there as I would have liked. A few walkers from the guided tour that took place while we were busy exploring the gardens fell behind during the hike, putting us at least 45 minutes behind schedule. That combined with the light rainfall meant we only got a short walk around the monastery. I would have loved to go further toward Upper Lake to get a glance at the site where the famed St. Kevin first made his home — a cave only accessible by boat. But maybe another day. The round tower, the church, and the cemetery will have to hold me over for now.

I tried to get everything in one shot. I sort of succeeded?
I tried to get everything in one shot. I sort of succeeded?

All too soon, it was back on the bus for our drive back into Dublin. And let’s just say it’s a good thing my mom wasn’t in the car, because the tiny, winding, and at times bumpy back roads combined with Johnny’s need for speed made even me a little nauseous. If you’re reading this, Momma, it’s not something I’d recommend for you. Rent a car. You’ll feel better behind the wheel. Just watch for sheep.

Despite his questionable driving abilities and his tardiness early in the day (and can we really even blame the slow walkers on him?), Johnny, Sarah, and I had quite a good craic in the front seat as we approached Dublin. (That’s Irish for fun, in case you were wondering.) Remember Courtney’s Australian boyfriend? Okay, well he isn’t her boyfriend. At least not yet. They started chatting during our stop at Glencree, a small German cemetery, and were basically inseparable for the rest of the day.

We speculate it was their encounter at the P.S. I Love You bridge that sealed the deal. All that romance? Plus they almost got left behind together. (Not really, we were teasing, but it was pretty funny to watch the two of them run alongside the van as we pulled away.) Either way it was quite the bonding experience. The two were so enamored they didn’t even notice us poking fun at them from the front seat. I mean come on guys, marketing isn’t exactly the most romantic of topics. Step it up.

Johnny was even talking about them over the speaker system at one point, and they didn’t even notice. Too cute. And then it came time for them to say their goodbyes. Being the savvy travelers that we are, we made nice with Johnny and casually hinted that we’d have to walk all the way home to Dublin 8, just near The Brazen Head. And what do you know, Johnny had to head that way with the van anyway, so we got a lift almost straight to our door. Anyway, this meant good old Simon had to climb out before us. (Did I mention that was the Australian fellow’s name?)

And boy did we have some questions for Courtney when he did. Even Johnny, gossiping with the rest of us. Turns out Courtney’s as lovesick as we thought. But she didn’t get his number. Oh, Courtney. Johnny even tried to pull up the tour records and help a girl out, but Simon didn’t leave any contact info. Oh, Simon. And so the story of two paths, crossed once but never to meet again, almost came to an end.

Thank Mark Zuckerberg for Facebook. The happy couple now has plans for tomorrow, though he does leave town on Monday, so she better act fast. (Just teasing, Courtney, but know we really are glad it worked out.)

They better give HilltopTreks a good review on TripAdvisor. I can see it now: “This tour introduced me to the love of my life. Everyone should take it.” I know I sure had fun watching it all happen. Plus the gorgeous views and sites? A+, my friends, A+.

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