After Wednesday, school here was out for the week, so I had plans to do some traveling with one of the other student teachers, Jackie. So, between Wednesday afternoon and when I am currently writing this early Sunday afternoon, the two of us have flown three times, visited two amazing cities, and returned safely to Barcelona for the coming school week.
Our first stop was Dublin, Ireland. As this was our first flight that we were planning and executing on our own, we were understandably nervous about how things were going to pan out, but everything went smoothly! We got to the airport, figured out where to go, and spent a couple of hours flying over Spain and the Atlantic before landing safely at Dublin Airport. After getting directions from several friendly Dubliners, we successfully navigated to our hostel. We weren’t sure what to expect, but aside from a dirty bathroom, the hostel was cozy and traveler friendly. We got checked in, found dinner nearby, and also got information about a free walking tour!
On Thursday, we had a full day to spend exploring the city. We planned to go on the walking tour, but there were a few places not on the route that we wanted to see, so we set out early in the morning to find them before the tour. I was a little nervous about getting to them, but Dublin is actually pretty small. Everywhere we went was within walking distance, and I was kind of proud of myself for figuring out the free map we got from the hostel. Before long we had reached our first destination: Dublin Castle.
While in Europe, we felt it was essential to see a real, proper castle, and Dublin Castle, with its violent history dating back to Viking times, was a perfect specimen. We got to go inside, where all the rooms were huge and lavishly decorated with crystal chandeliers and bright walls. Different parts of the castle were built at different times, so we got to see the change in the stone walls from ancient to more recent. We spent several hours exploring the castle and visiting St. Patrick’s Cathedral before joining the walking tour. It took us through Temple Bar, Christ Church Cathedral, back through the castle, and along the River Liffey with the tour guide’s commentary. He talked about Dublin’s ancient history, with Viking occupation and British rule, as well as more recent history with the IRA and the conflict resulting from North Ireland maintaining its status as part of the United Kingdom. One fact that stuck out to me was that the Irish police aren’t called police. When Ireland became independent from Britain, the people had a very negative association with the word “police,” so the government changed it. Instead they are called Garda Siochana, which is Gaelic for “Guardians of the Peace.”
Friday morning it was time for us to fly to London. Again, the flight was fine, but this time we had a little trouble finding out hostel. A car was supposed to pick us up, but it didn’t, which left us to ask lots of people for directions and ultimately end up on the London Underground. It was actually a really cool experience. We found the proper train without too much difficulty and walked a few minutes to our hostel. After settling in, it was time to get back on the Tube and navigate our way to the British Museum. London has an excellent Museum system. They’re all free and open to the public, which means we got to spend several hours exploring the British Museum, which has thousands and thousands of exhibits on the history and culture of different parts of the world. The first room we walked into was devoted to living and dying, and how different cultures deal and have dealt with these concepts, from taking care of children and venerating ancestors to finding medicines and rituals to ward off sickness and accidents. It talked about the Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico, modern day prescription drugs, and even an African tribe whose people made little huts in which to store their ancestors’ skulls.
Another cross-cultural exhibit was displaying currency throughout history, and then there were the region and time specific exhibits, covering everything from the Roman Empire to ancient Korean pottery to modern Japan. You could probably spend a month in there and still not have seen everything. But we looked around for a few hours before preparing for our next Tube stop. We got off at Westminster along the River Thames to see the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye, and Elizabeth Clock Tower, which houses the famous and gigantic bell Big Ben, before returning to the hostel for the night.
Saturday was our main day in London. We went on a bus tour that took us around the city and let us get on and off to visit different locations, like Trafalgar Square and the Buckingham Palace. I hadn’t realized before just how much there is to London. The city itself dates back to Roman occupation, resulting in an amazing conglomeration of ancient and modern, where in the same view you can see the historic Tower of London and the newly finished glass Shard, and even glimpse the exact reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. We also got to take a boat down the river and learn about the many sites along its banks. We spent the day riding around, taking pictures, and learning about the area, but we didn’t even see half of what the city has to offer.
As amazing as it was getting a brief glimpse of these beautiful and historic cities, today it was time to head back to Barcelona. I returned from the metro at about the same time that my family got back from their weekend trip, so it’s been a fun afternoon of playing catch with the baby and baking muffins with my host sisters. And tomorrow starts my next week at school! I’ll try to tell you how that goes before I leave on my last weekend trip to Rome. Until then, ¡hasta luego!