Home Sweet Dublin

Lizzie Wallace is a third year, Civil Engineering and Philosophy major studying in Dublin, Ireland. Follow along as she discovers the wonders of Ireland.

I made it back to Dublin and boy does it feel fantastic to be back. This past week has been hectic trying to catch up on all the assignments that I put off doing while on break as well as catching up with friends. But its nice to be back in a place where I recognize people and places and can actually understand the language being spoken around me. With the return of my sunburn after my first day in Paris, I was even missing the rain and cloudy weather by the time I got “home”.

Traveling in Europe is eye-opening, exhilarating, and most of all exhausting. By the end of my 2 weeks, I was practically leaping on the plane back to Dublin. And surprisingly, I am SO happy I chose to travel alone. It was a fantastic experience and really allowed me to meet so many new people and really discover the places I visited. Most of all, I gained a lot of confidence in myself and my abilities to make choices and know what’s right for me. I never thought I would be capable of navigating through the labyrinth of constant name changing streets in Paris or figuring out the train system in Italy all by myself. But when faced with the challenge, I was surprised how easy it all became. In addition by traveling alone, I opened myself up to meeting so many new people who were venturing through Europe as well. It’s funny how when you’re with a group of people, you’re less inclined to introduce yourself to fellow travelers or hang out with people in your hostel. This is a huge mistake! On my trip, I met so many people from all walks of life who were adventuring just the same as me. Being alone makes you so much more approachable and just inclined to socializing with others. Normally, I’m pretty shy around people I’ve just met, but I found that when I hadn’t had human contact for a very long time I really wanted to have conversations with random people. It was great; I loved how I could meet someone the day before in my hostel and then spend hours exploring a city with them.

Another perk of traveling alone is the freedom it allows you. You don’t have to follow the plan of a group or compromise on where to go, how long to stay there, what to eat, etc. If I wanted to have gelato for lunch and dinner, then I could. If I wanted to stop and relax by the Seine instead of rushing off to the next monument, then I could. My time was my own, and I think this really allowed me to get to know the places I stayed. Especially in Florence and Venice, I chose to avoid many of the more touristy places and really just explore the lesser known parts of the city to get a feel for the place. I also had to embrace the culture of the city I was traveling in, because I didn’t have someone else to keep me grounded in my American ways. Although this sometimes resulted in me being rather lonely at times, it overall was a great experience. One tip I would give to anyone contemplating traveling alone in Europe is to make sure that you are staying in a social hostel. My stay in Florence was made by how wonderful my hostel was. The staff organized quite a few social events for everyone like pasta parties, and it really allowed me to meet and socialize with so many people. In my opinion, it’s better to stay in a slightly run down but social hostel then a really nice and lonely one. So I guess my overall thoughts are: if you are considering traveling alone and afraid to do it, don’t let that hold you back. It’s a great way to see places just as you want to and don’t worry about being lonely, there’s plenty of opportunity to meet fellow travelers in hostels.

Despite the fun I had on my adventures, I was ready for my return to Dublin after 2 weeks and excited to see all my friends again. I’m just beginning to come to the realization that I may never see a lot of them ever again after this semester. It’s sad to think about but I wouldn’t take back meeting them for a moment. Since I have about a month left, I’m currently making plans to travel over as much as Ireland as I can on my remaining weekends. There still so much I long to see and so little time to do it. I hope I can fit it all in and still have time to study for exams.

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GALWAY ADVENTURES AND GEARING UP FOR SPRING BREAK

Lizzie Wallace is a third year, Civil Engineering and Philosophy major studying in Dublin, Ireland. Follow along as she discovers the wonders of Ireland.

I’ve just gotten back from a weekend excursion to Galway and boy am I glad to be “home.” The trip was organized through one of the international societies here at UCD called the Erasmus Student Network (ESN). This was the second weekend trip I have taken with ESN (the first was to Belfast in early February). Although I enjoyed the trip and it was insanely cheap, I’ve decided this will be the last of these large scale organized trips that I will take during my time here. I feel like part of the fun of travel consists of the adventure of making your way to your destination, locating your hostel, and figuring out how you want to spend your free time. With these organized trips, everything is planned for you. You hop on the bus precisely at this time and are dropped off here for X hours before getting back on the bus and going somewhere else for another specified period of time. In addition, you’re always packed in with so many other international students on the trip that it’s hard to escape the packs of people and see the sights independently. You can’t really get lost or decide to change your plans, and there is always the time you need to be back on the bus hanging over your head.

On the other hand, you get to meet a lot of new people all studying at UCD and see all of the sights. For instance, this weekend I went on the trip not knowing anyone, since most of my friends had family visiting them in Dublin. However, I feel as though I have met so many new people. Just among my roommates in the hostel alone, I met people from three different countries. It’s also funny how you can always seem to find common ground, whether it be classes or Game of Thrones, to talk about despite your different backgrounds, beliefs, and points of view. It’s nice to get out of your comfort zone every once and a while and force yourself to branch out in the people you interact with. Even on study abroad, it’s easy to find yourself traveling and hanging with the same set of friends within a month or so.

The west coast of Ireland was absolutely breathtaking as well. Even if nothing else had gone right the whole trip, it’s impossible not to love the rolling countryside and the cliffs of the west coast. The weather is finally lightening up here, so I got to see the Aran Islands and the Cliffs of Moher in the sunshine which further added to the experience. Despite the hype over the Cliffs of Moher, I think I preferred my visit to the Aran Islands. It reminded me of Newfoundland, Canada. To get there, we had to take an hour ferry ride and the islands felt just like a rock in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. It looked like there were more  miles of rock walls stacked across it than people, and you couldn’t go far before you reached another cliff wall jutting over the ocean. Unlike the Cliffs of Moher, no area was fenced off, and you could sit right on the edge of the cliff and gaze off into the ocean. It was refreshing to escape the endless stream of tourists and just sit alone and watch the sea. I love how rugged and old Ireland is. Even in Dublin, the biggest city in the country, the haphazard state of the streets and the cobblestones give it an older and more laidback feel. Modern cities always feel to me so structured and efficiently designed. Everything shouts function and utility. Dublin and Ireland seem to defy time. It’s easy to feel as though you’ve gone back twenty years when exploring the streets of the city. It just seems to make everything simpler and more natural.

Well now I’m officially preparing for my wild (actually probably not so wild) European excursion. Spring break begins at the end of this week and unlike UVa, we get a full two weeks off instead of just one. I plan to travel to Paris for 4 days, Venice for 4 days, and Florence for 4 days before heading back to Dublin. I’ve decided to miss St. Paddy’s Day much to the shock of really everyone I’ve told. Most international students I’ve met are making a special trip back to Dublin in the middle of break just to see the festivities. While I’m sure they will be good craic (hehe), I feel as though I’d rather experience Italy then participate in the drunken revelries. Anyways the idea of partying on St Paddy’s Day is actually an American tradition that the Dubliners adopted. Originally St. Paddy’s Day was simply a religious holiday in Ireland before the Americans decided it should be excuse for a day of drinking. The Irish were too happy to follow along. Although many people would say this is blasphemy, I don’t really feel as though I’m missing out on an Irish tradition by skipping the festivities.

This will be my first solo trip, and it’s kind of intimidating to think that I will be all by myself for the next two weeks gallivanting through France and Italy. I guess I’m finally getting the opportunity to see what the five years of high school French I’ve taken will do for me. I’m hoping that I will be able to at least make myself understood by the French and hopefully understand the majority of what they’re saying. And even if this doesn’t work out, I’m at least fairly confident that I know enough French to ask for directions and order food. Italian, on the other hand, is a complete lost cause, but my Austrian friend told me that the Italians are much more inclined to speak English with you than the French. So I guess I’m just going to trust he’s right and print out some useful phrases and hope things turn out for the best. It’s weird to think that by the time I return, March will almost be over. People always tell you that time flies when you’re studying abroad, but you never really understand how right they are until you experience it yourself. But I suppose there’s no point in dreading the future; everything must come to an end eventually. For now I’m just going to soak up every moment of travel and culture and Ireland that I can. SPRING BREAK HERE I COME!

The Whirlwind of Arrival

Lizzie Wallace is a third year, Civil Engineering and Philosophy major studying in Dublin, Ireland. Follow along as she discovers the wonders of Ireland.

Wow! Here I am in Dublin, Ireland for a whole semester. It’s hard to believe I’ve only been here for a little more than week. I feel as though half a lifetime has passed. I’ve met so many new people from all over the world and experienced so many new things that I can’t even begin to describe it all.

Arrival was a whirlwind. All these strange buildings and roads leading to who knows where and so many faces. The girls sitting next to me on the plane, the man on the bus, orientation leaders, security guards… So many names that I’m supposed to remember but seem slip right out my head as soon as I hear them. Yet at the same time it’s amazing how quickly an area and people can go from being foreign objects to familiar faces. Despite my initial nervousness at arriving in Dublin, I have adjusted to life here rather quickly. It was really after meeting my flatmates that I began to get settled. One of them is from Australia, another from Connecticut and the third from Malaysia. They are all really friendly, and its been wonderful having someone to share my confusion with as we get endlessly lost in Dublin.

I think that meeting so many international students is the best part of study abroad so far. Just through simple conversation, I’ve found out so much about the rest of the world. New ways to express things, new customs and holidays. I love just hearing other’s opinions  and comparing them to the way I view the world. Already, I feel as though I know so much more about the world and Europe. Its hard to pinpoint exactly what I’ve learned, but I’ve somehow acquired more knowledge on the way life can be I guess. With so many people behaving and thinking so differently, I feel as though I can branch out of my American shell and live a different lifestyle. And I’m loving it!!

As to Dublin itself, there is really only one word that comes to mind: MUSIC!!!!!! It seems that everywhere you go there is a talented musician on the streets, in restaurants, pubs, everywhere. I could just walk around all day reveling in the music. Goodbye American rap. Everything it seems  is in walking distance (albeit a long walk but still a walk). The grocery store is  ”a good 5 minutes walk” away from campus (which in Irish speak means 30 minutes, since apparently they don’t want to disappoint you by telling you how far it actually is… I learned this the hard way.) What isn’t accessible by foot is easily reached by bus. Unlike the UVa bus system, the public transportation system here is lovely, always arriving on time and at regular intervals. You don’t have to worry about getting lost, because just around the corner is another bus stop that will get you back where you are going.

I originally I thought the persistent rain and cold would get to me, but quite the contrary. Once I began to embrace the rain, put aside the umbrella and just face it, I was surprised to find out how much I like it. All this moisture is what keeps the landscape so beautiful, so its certainly worth it.The scenery here is absolutely beautiful. All the greens, grays and blues… Its seems to be out of a dream. I’ve always dreamed of living on the water my whole life and being here makes me realize that it wasn’t an ill founded dream.

My first morning I decided to run out to the seaside town of Blackrock to explore the area and get my first view of the ocean. I was awestruck at what I found. Right along the water was the most beautiful wildlife reserve and park. Despite my initial hope to get some exercise, I ended up just exploring and soaking in my surroundings. Since that first run, I’ve returned every opportunity I can. I named the two swans that live in the lake, Stella and Stanley, because I figure I will be visiting them regularly. In general, there are a lot of swans in Ireland. I found out yesterday that it’s illegal to kill swans in Ireland, because of a myth called the Children of Lir. The legend goes that the wicked wife of King Lir put a spell on his children turning them into swans for 900 years. So in order to avoiding murdering children, you have to protect your swans. Apparently there is a statue somewhere in Dublin of the Children of Lir, so my next goal of exploration is to find it.

Although classes started this week, I don’t feel as though I haven’t quite gotten a feel for what they’re going to be like yet. They all seem interesting though and I’m eager to gain more knowledge on the Irish perspective on science and engineering. And I suppose that I have the next 4 months to find out…

A Whirlwind Tour of Europe with Stefanie Muller

Hey everyone!
I’m currently on exchange at University College Dublin (UCD) in Ireland and am having a fantastic semester. Besides experiencing Irish culture here in Dublin, I’ve managed pack my weekends and breaks with some amazing trips to different parts of Ireland and Europe.
The first trip I took was a bus tour of Glendalough, Kilkenny, and around County Wicklow with a group of friends in January. Ireland has a huge tourism industry, so there are plenty of different tour options to find online just a click away. A good tour guide will tell you a bit of history along the way.
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Two friends and I (center) at Glendalough’s glacial lake.
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The monastic site at Glendalough.
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Me at the gorgeous Wicklow Gap.
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The whole group of us in front of Kilkenny Castle.
There are two international societies that offer weekend trips to different parts of Ireland. However, I elected not to sign up for them because they were a bit pricey and I’d rather not travel in an enormous group. I much prefer traveling with a few friends, seeing the sites I want. I don’t see as much, but I think it’s better to take your time getting to know a place than rushing through sites just to check them off.
That being said, a few friends and I organized our own trips to Galway, the Aran Island Innismore, and Belfast. Buses are by far the cheapest option, and it’s pretty easy to find a direct route from Dublin. It’s a good idea to research different hostel options to know what you’re getting into. Most provide wifi; some may provide breakfast and or/towels. Ask your receptionist for any discounts at local restaurants and for places to see.
I had a travel guide of Ireland on my Kindle, which for Galway recommended the Crane and Tigh Coili, two pubs with live music. Both were great venues, and in both we got into conversation with cool old guys, something you really can’t do in a big group.
We took tour buses around the Galway and Belfast areas, but on Innismore we simply rented bikes and had a fantastic time cycling around the island.
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My friends and I at Poulnabrone, a portal tomb in County Clare on the Galway tour.
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A rare, somewhat warm and sunny day at the Cliffs of Moher.
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Bikes are by far the coolest way to see the Aran Islands.
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I made some new friends (and am sporting a new wool hat handknit on Innismore!)
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Political murals in Belfast. I highly recommend taking a taxi tour to learn the recent history of the city.
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St. George’s Market in Belfast
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The unreal Giant’s Causeway near Belfast.
During my spring break, I went to Paris, Barcelona, and Madrid. Book flights as early as you can; they’ll only get more expensive the longer you wait. Budget airlines may take you to inconvenient airports, but they’re still the cheapest option. Make sure you read the fine print; they’ll often want you to print out a boarding pass and check in or else you’ll face an extra fee. And absolutely make sure your carry-on will fit! I once had to refold all of my clothes in the middle of the airport because my suitcase was a little too bulgy.
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Versailles is a just a train ride away!
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I didn’t end up going up the Eiffel Tower—it’s expensive and there are huge lines. I recommend the Arc du Triomphe: free for EU residents (which you are as an exchange student) under 26, and you get a great view of the Tower lit up.
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The food was definitely one of the highlights of Paris, though it’s an expensive city. I took this picture of a Japanese-French pastry shop.
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Be prepared for sudden mid-March snow days, but don’t let them stop you from experiencing the city!
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If you go to Barcelona, you need to go to the food market. There’s an incredible selection of fresh foods, and it’s nice just to stroll through the stalls.
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Ride a gondola or take a metro to Park Montjuïc for a stunning cityscape.
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Madrid is a lovely city to stroll around, even though a sudden rainstorm hit us. Unlike in Dublin, the rain clears up quickly!