August 2014

Wish You Were Here

Author: Lily Bartell

When my family told me that going to Europe would change my life, I had no clue how true that really was. After the end of school in May, my friend Victoria and I went to visit our friend Heather who had attended high school with us on Hilton Head Island. We visited her hometown of Cork, Ireland and stayed for a week. We also ventured to London and Paris the week after. Needless to say, the adventures and shenanigans were abundant!

Ireland
“The tune was sad, as the best of Ireland was, melancholy and lovely as a lover’s tears.”
– Nora Roberts

Ireland is not only the clichéd rolling green hills, cows and sheep in the distance, and pubs lining the streets that you might see in the movies. Granted, without those things, it would not be Ireland. It’s also the people, the culture, and the wide open spaces that made me fall in love with the beautiful island country.

We arrived in Ireland at 8:45 a.m., which was 3:45 a.m. at home (we didn’t plan that well). Victoria and I were more than a little excited to see Heather, whom we hadn’t seen in over a year. Screams and hugs were exchanged, and it was as though she had never left.

The next morning, she cooked a classic Irish breakfast, consisting of rashers (bacon), black and white pudding (not nearly as gross as it sounds), scrambled eggs, toast, hash browns, and tea. “Grand” cuisine as the Irish would say! We slept off our jet lag and prepared for a week of fun.
Obviously when one visits Ireland, one must kiss the Blarney Stone. So we ascended the tight climb to the top of the tower and risked our lives (not really) by lying upside down, holding onto bars, and reaching down to kiss the stone. I haven’t had any particularly noticeable luck yet, but I suppose time will tell!

We explored the city of Cork throughout the week, and it was quite the alluring town. With a bustling downtown, an array of shops, local and chain restaurants, and a terrific nightlife, it played a good host for us.

We attended a 90th birthday party, hosted by one of Heather’s co-workers, which was anything but dull. Listening to their Gaelic banter, watching grandmas take shots with their granddaughters and dancing to oldies hits, it was a fantastic night.

Finally, we traveled via train to Cobh, which was where the Titanic last stopped before it sank. The town was colorful, active, and the surrounding land and water magnificent. A massive cathedral looked out over the town, and just across the waterway was an abandoned prison known for its haunted halls.

London
“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” – Samuel Johnson

In my opinion, English writer Samuel Johnson is completely accurate. I could never see London becoming stale. It is a vibrant and bustling city with a great deal to offer; my friends and I instantly fell in love.

We arrived in London in the early afternoon. This was ideal, considering it took us about two hours to figure out the public transportation system. In one word: chaos.

It was the first time I had ever seen an underground map, or a “tube” map; and the number of buses (2,000 according to our tour guide) was overwhelming. Thankfully, we met a nice bus driver who was advertising his night bus tours. Ready to sit down and enjoy the sights, we were eager to climb aboard. (Anyone new to London should consider taking a bus tour upon arrival, because it will help you understand where you are in relation to the tourist destinations you want to visit.)
During our second day, we decided to take another tour bus, which allowed us to hop on and off as we pleased for the entire day. By doing this, we got to see a great deal of the city, including Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, the Tower Bridge, the London Eye, MI6 (from the Bond films), and shops on shops on shops. Did I mention there were lots of shops? It was one of the nicest days weather-wise, and we took advantage. We took a loop on the London Eye, which allowed us to see the River Thames winding through the city, Big Ben in all its glory, the massive Waterloo bus station, and all the surrounding boroughs.

At night, we ventured to Soho to see the artsy side of London. Despite it being a Tuesday, the atmosphere was exciting and the bars and clubs were hopping. We met nice people, danced our hearts out, and didn’t want to ever go home.

Paris
“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”—Ernest Hemingway

Ah, Paris. Words honestly cannot do this city justice. Its architecture, its people, its language, and its aura are nothing but extraordinary. In high school, I took AP European History, and my teacher (Shout out Mr. A.W.!) got me interested in French history, particularly the French Revolution.

Because of this, I felt I was better equipped to appreciate all that Paris had to offer.
We arrived at our hotel where we were met with a brilliant surprise. Our room was on the top floor and had a balcony, overlooking the colorful, scintillating city. Quite honestly, I could have spent an entire day of our trip simply sitting on that terrace.

We traveled to the Basilica during our first day, which was a few blocks from our hotel. The cathedral is well worth the climb to see the inside. Classic French architecture with uncanny spirituality nearly made me cry. Second to the beauty inside the cathedral would be the view from the steps of it. We could see a great deal of the city and could even see the Eiffel Tower in the distance.

We also traveled to the top of the Eiffel Tower at night, or at least Heather and Victoria did. I chickened out at the second level. I looked up and knew there was no way I was making it to the top (sigh.). As the girls made their way through the “queue” to the elevator to the top, I stayed on the second level and watched the lights illuminate the tower. At least there was one perk of staying behind.

Last, we made our way out to Versailles to see the historic palace. This stop was the only thing on my list that was a must. I was fascinated with Versailles because of my love of the French Revolution, and to stand in the same places where kings and queens and commoners stood hundreds of years ago was powerful and inspiring. The robin’s egg blue and gold trimmed palace stood out with gusto, and the gardens surrounding the building were pristine works of art. I was in heaven.

It’s impossible to choose my favorite place during this trip, but I definitely left a little of my heart in Paris.

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