Hello all! Let me share my latest big adventure with you all!! My sister and I had the thrilling opportunity to see some of Europe together these past two weeks, before she began an internship in Spain. Who knew we’d make it to Europe together someday! What a blessing! Without further ado, I’ll begin, and divide the post into sections corresponding to each country we visited.
England – London
So first was London! My sister and I met in Heathrow airport, (it was so good to see her again!) and then headed via “the tube” to Aldgate East, an area not far from central London. We checked in with our AirBnB host, dropped off our things, and I believe that’s when we went to Burger King. I know, it’s lame. “You’re in a new
The sister and I at Burger King
country, please don’t eat American fast food.” But, I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to be in a Burger King, a restaurant that I don’t even normally eat at in the States. I was almost embarrassingly thrilled to sink my teeth into an American fast food burger and fries. (And Sprite!) I hadn’t eaten a burger in months I’m fairly certain, and anyhow definitely not at an American fast food joint. It was bliss. I also was still in disbelief that we were in London, and also very happy to be with my sister. Such a moment was definitely picture-worthy. Over the next few days, we attempted to be tourists, with some success. We often didn’t reach our intended destination, but basically always found cool things along the way anyways. We saw St. Paul’s Cathedral, (an impressive structure, as well as basically every old building in London) perused a bookshop, found a shopping mall, and discovered the joys of Costa coffee. (I am generally not a coffee person, but the mocha latte there was very chocolaty and addictive.) We had fish and chips, (delicious!) saw Westminster Abbey, the river Thames, and Trafalgar Square. (Including a street performer who breathed fire!) All of the buildings in the historic part of London are breathtaking. ‘Regal’ and ‘majestic’ are two words I’d use to describe them. Towering, huge, grand structures, often times with intricate Gothic style architecture. One can really imagine hundreds of years ago how this was the center of an empire. We perused more book stores, driven by my search for the book “The Aeronaut’s Windlass” by Jim Butcher, which I never did find. I quite like bookstores though so I didn’t mind. The AirBnB host for our last night’s stay was named Alex, and was a really amiable guy. We got to know him some, talking about languages, places and politics. (Yuck.) He even gave us some beer. The weather was somewhat drary for most of our stay, however this allowed me to use my prized new umbrella, (Pokemon themed) so I can’t say I was upset. Once our time in London was up, we took a train to the airport and headed for Cork, Ireland.
Ireland – Cork, Kinsale, Blarney Castle and Dublin
Ireland was splendid. We arrived at the airport in Cork, and after a short bus ride arrived at the place we’d be staying, another AirBnB home. (This is a system set up that lets people rent out rooms of their house to travelers. The prices are often good and it can be a nice experience depending on who the host is. We had all good hosts.) Our host, Paul, had a medium-thick Irish accent, and was very friendly. He advised us pretty much every day, readily answering our various queries to the best of his ability, on everything from food to tourist sites. As it turns out, he is returning to school to study botany, which I thought was pretty cool. Anyways, after arriving we got food at a place called “Paddy the Farmer’s”, which was a bar-type place with good food. Their menu had pretty much anything, and they literally were playing “Wagon Wheel” and other American songs, so it felt a lot like America. I had a burger and fries. (100% Irish beef!) Then we went to a bar in the city, a 15 minute walk or so, which was a small and extremely packed joint that evidently also runs a barber shop upstairs during the daytime. We came specifically to that one because Paul had said that on that night there would be traditional Irish music there, which there was! It felt like so stereotypically Irish, like a scene you would see in a movie – a cramped pub filled to the brim with people, live musicians playing classic Irish music, and of course what Ireland is known for, alcohol. I had a apple cider thing which was very sweet. The people there were very friendly, no doubt boosted even further from the already-friendly Irish norm by the influence of alcohol.
The next day we explored the city, checking out stores and yet more bookshops, and as per my custom, I had to get a McFlurry. (I have a tradition of getting a McFlurry in every remarkable place that I go. [much to my sister’s chagrin] Thanks to McDonald’s being literally everywhere, this is pretty simple.) We ate at some cool places, saw more of Ireland, and we were both thoroughly enjoying the atmosphere and people. Ireland, I have to say, feels the most like home out of any foreign country I’ve been to so far. The people are incredibly friendly, the scenery is stunningly beautiful, the restaurants are very reminiscent of America, (in the cases that they’re already not literally American fast food places) and most of all the atmosphere just exudes a calm and relaxed air. After being in Israel for a time, though I do love the place, the feeling in Ireland contrasted quite a lot from the tension I feel when I walk around here. This may all be in my head/perception, but certainly I feel like I must always remain on alert in Israel when I go places. With the regular terrorist attacks I’d be stupid not to. And certainly London can’t be considered a relaxing place, so Ireland felt like letting out a heavy breath.
Entering the fort
Next, we took a bus to Kinsale, a port town about 45 minutes from Cork. The scenery on the way was incredible. Rolling, lush smaragdine hills as far as you could see. The fields were such an intense green, reminiscent of a scene from a movie. We arrived at Kinsale, and (surprise) it was beautiful! Some shops were closed down because it was off-season, but there were plenty still open. We perused a small local bookshop, which was also home to a friendly dog, and got coffee and a meal. After asking around to see what was good to do in the area, we embarked on a walk, which took us along the coastline, with some beautiful outlooks and scenery, to at last end up at Fort Charles, an old Irish fort. We toured around there, seeing the thick stone walls overlooking the sea inlet in the distance. You could also from the high points see out over the port town of Kinsale from a distance, with its boats and shops. You could imagine many years in the past that boats still docked at Kinsale, when the fort held even greater importance. Eventually we caught a night bus back to Cork, resting until the next day.
Next, we went to Blarney castle, a brief bus-ride from Cork. It was a quaint town, and of course the tourist attraction of the castle was its biggest feature. The castle grounds were gorgeous. A river meandered through the expansive lawn overlooked by the castle, and as we approached we were guided by plaques denoting the details of different parts of the castle as we came across them. The castle itself was towering and grey, (as one might expect) different parts preserved to different degrees. Once we were inside, we climbed the (very) narrow winding stone spiral staircase to the top of the castle, where you could look out over the misty hills and farmland of the region, as well as the river and grounds. This was also the location of “The Blarney Stone” the stone that allegedly gives people the gift of eloquence. Of course there were lots of plaques and different things at the top that played up
Some scenery from the castle grounds
the story of the stone, claiming that Winston Churchill had kissed the stone before he became famous for his speeches, etc. My favorite plaque was one about George Bernard Shaw regarding the stone. Evidently he had visited here, but did not ‘kiss the stone’, claiming that his gifts in that area were already sufficient, if not somewhat excessive. That seemed about right. Anyhow, they had two older men up there to assist tourists in completing this silly ritual, and they would actually hang you out a couple feet over a long drop to the base of the castle (there were also iron bars guarding the possibility of falling) in order to be able to ‘kiss the stone’. My sister overcame her fear of heights and did this after some time working up courage, and even did it again in pursuit of better pictures of her doing this. I don’t know whether to shake my head or admire her dedication. I originally didn’t plan on ‘kissing the stone’, only wanting to hang off the edge for the view/experience, which I did, however upon my hanging, I was hit with intense and sudden peer (peer?) pressure from the elder gentleman, and gave in at the end. Oh well.
The next cool part of Blarney Castle was their Poison Garden. They had a garden designated specially for the growing of all sorts of poisonous plants, from the Yew tree to foxglove to common poison ivy, one that I have some personal experience with. Each plant had a plaque with its common name, its scientific family name, and a comprehensive description of the parts of the plant that is poisonous, the side effects it induces, as well often relevant historical trivia. It was really interesting, and a rare chance to see and be able to recognize so many poisonous plants together. There’s some nasty greenery out there. Not all of the plants were really visible, because of the off season I presume. Many had cages around them to prevent people from getting close, and of course there was a warning not to touch or even sniff the plants. Once I’d taken a look at everything, my sister and I eventually headed back to Blarney town, wandering through a more lush, forested part of the grounds on our way out. There was more to see, but we’d seen the main things and I think my sister was ready to go. We picked up a drink at the local grocery store, and waited for the bus back to Cork.
We rode a bus to Dublin, unfortunately arriving too late to go on a tour of the Guinness Brewery, an idea we had considered. We booked a room in a hostel in the central area of the city, so that we’d have a place to rest until we left for the airport at around 4am the next morning. I wanted to exchange some American dollars for Euros, and so we checked out a few currency exchange places, which were all closed by then. (It was probably about 7pm or so) We walked a few main streets, taking in the atmosphere and looking at the stores. There were lots of restaurants of all different varieties, there were musicians playing in the street at different places, including a particularly talented electric guitarist. We eventually stopped at a Mexican style restaurant, and had burritos. Sometimes you just want a burrito, ya know? Anyhow, I afterwards talked Megan into going to the nearby McDonalds, so I could expand my McFlurry world map to include Dublin. We picked up some pastries to eat for breakfast early the next morning in the airport, and eventually went back to the hostel. It was somewhat colder in Dublin. That night was sleepless for me, Megan only got a nap, and then we headed for the airport.
Spain – Barcelona, Valencia
Did I mention I always love the view from the airplane? It’s magical, looking down on earth from so high up, you can see everything. And then you can actually be above the clouds, looking out upon that white sea. It’s enough to make you a little disbelieving, that humans can actually fly above the clouds. Right, Barcelona. So, we didn’t actually stay for any length of time in Barcelona, only enough time to catch a lengthy 3.5 hour train ride to Valencia. But, from the train we did get to see some of Barcelona from a distance, enough to know that it’s an enormous city. Or maybe all cities are bigger than I realized. Or maybe the train was just equally slow, and I saw the city for a long time. Regardless! It looked big.
Everything in plane sight
Additionally, we got to see a lot of pretty countryside on the train ride, mild foothills and pretty expanses of fields used for agriculture. I simultaneously enjoyed the cheesy martial arts movie that was graciously provided us train riders, although I watched it without audio. Thankfully, does a movie (or to a bigger extent, genre – debate ensues) that is already 80% exaggerated fight scenes truly need any sound, dialogue, or plot? Of course not. If that’s what people watched them for, they wouldn’t be an attractive genre. Eventually arriving in Valencia, we were pleasantly surprised (or at least I was surprised) that our hostel was within a mile or so form the train station, an easy walk.
The city is naturally very pretty. The buildings are often made out of what appears to be some white stone, much like Jerusalem, but this stone is a little darker in tint. The place we stayed was just a couple streets from the main square. The main square was a medium sized plaza paved in what I think was marble, or anyways some very smooth and pretty stone, lowered down a couple steps from the surrounding space, with a large fountain featuring statues pouring water. It was flanked on two sides by some restaurants and with streets branching out in every direction, a small decorative orange tree garden to the side, all overlooked by a large historic cath
Part of the plaza (and my sister!)
edral. In the center of the plaza was an inscription in Latin, which I could only vaguely make out some of. (It’s been a while since I was in Latin) It seemed to be a tribute to some ruler. This plaza seemed to aptly display the essence of the overall feeling that Valencia gave me. The ambiance in Valencia is really nice, its a very pretty place. I think when my sister and I arrived on the first day, we were exhausted from traveling and lack of sleep, and rested for a bit. My sister also began to get sick, so that was no good. After a day or so, we met up with one of the people that Megan would be working with during her 3-month internship in Spain, as well as a guy that the coworker of hers had met in the hostel we were staying at. Together we walked through
Churros con chocolate. Yummm.
some gorgeous city park area, that separated the old and new city of Valencia. The weather was great, it felt like vacation. I guess it was vacation. Anyhow, then we saw some buildings along the way that were constructed by who I presume is a well known architect. The buildings were of complex and interesting design, and the guy that we met from the hostel was an architect himself, and knew of the designer. From there we continued walking, eventually reaching Valencia’s beach, which was (redundant, I know) also very pretty. We chilled there for a while. I also saw this amazing sandcastle, that a guy had been working on for 10 consecutive days. When I saw it I couldn’t even believe it was real, and walked up to it to confirm that it was not real, only to be stopped by its evident creator, who by now I’m sure was quite used to people trying to touch his painstakingly sculpted creation. I’ll see if I can dig up a picture! Other things we/I got to do over the next couple days include: 1. Having Churrós con chocolate at a chocolate shop, they were heavenly. Freshly made, with real, hot melted chocolate to dip them in. (we bought them at a chocolate shop that advertised their churros)
2. Talked to a homeless guy, who is a self-proclaimed Christian, ex-neurosurgeon, filmmaker, war deserter, alcoholic and drug addict. Unfortunately, he seems to be beginning to go blind, and does not have enough money to pay for the corrective surgery. Instead he has ordered a service dog to help him. 3. Had tasty pizza. Odd that the tastiest main course food I had in Spain was pizza. 4. Had tapas, which are basically just mini-sized snack foods, like tiny subs and stuff. I was underwhelmed. They’re so unsatisfying, you have to eat a ton of them to be filled. I much prefer a real meal. 5. Overheard a guy speaking Hebrew on the phone in a restaurant that we’d stopped at, so I (pleasantly surprised) struck up a conversation with him in Hebrew, and made a new friend. Thankfully his English wasn’t better than my Hebrew, so we talked in Hebrew, and somehow managed pretty well. 6. Meet some people from the hostel. People can be pretty interesting sometimes.
My sister and I said our goodbyes, and then she left to go get situated at her language camp internship. I set out the next day, taking a subway line to the airport, to return at last to Jerusalem.
France – Paris
….Buuut, I had a layover in France – both on my way to London from Israel, and again on my way back to Israel from Spain. Happily, this let me fulfill my mini-dream of having a chocolate croissant in France. It was an airport croissant, but I’m fully counting it.
Israel – Jerusalem
I arrived safely in Tel Aviv, and took a shuttle to Jerusalem, finally arriving at my home-away-from-home. After so much traveling, it was really nice to be back. It’s great to travel, and it’s also great to return.
29 When people are brought low and you say, ‘Lift them up!’
then he will save the downcast.
30 He will deliver even one who is not innocent,
who will be delivered through the cleanness of your hands.”
23 Yet if there is an angel at their side,
a messenger, one out of a thousand,
sent to tell them how to be upright,
24 and he is gracious to that person and says to God,
‘Spare them from going down to the pit;
I have found a ransom for them—
25 let their flesh be renewed like a child’s;
let them be restored as in the days of their youth’—
26 then that person can pray to God and find favor with him,
they will see God’s face and shout for joy;
he will restore them to full well-being.
27 And they will go to others and say,
‘I have sinned, I have perverted what is right,
but I did not get what I deserved.
28 God has delivered me from going down to the pit,
and I shall live to enjoy the light of life.’
29 “God does all these things to a person—
twice, even three times—
30 to turn them back from the pit,
that the light of life may shine on them.