All Aboard!!!

Hello once again everyone! Or should I say–Cheers!!

The past couple days have been INCREDIBLE!! I’ve seen many new sites, tried new foods, stayed in hostels, traveled across the Atlantic Ocean and made some new friends along the way! 🙂 Being on my own, I was a little frightened at first, but I made it through with much more confidence than I thought I would have.

I wasn’t able to write as quickly as I wanted to out of lack of wi-fi and wordpress was being glitchy. So therefore, this post will be about my voyage across the ocean and my day in Dublin, Ireland. I will also tell you a little about my New Years Eve celebration!

Once I leave England, I will put up a nice long post about my whole time here! Be prepared to grab a nice mug of coffee (preferably Tim Horton’s) or some hot chocolate as well as a dulce or galleta for when you read it. It’s going to be chock full of stories, information, pictures and videos! 😀

So back to the agenda today:

To NYC and the Airport

My bus from Erie was an hour late, which caused me to basically spiral into panic because I follow Murphy’s Law—“whatever can go wrong will go wrong.” I starting fearing that the bus wouldn’t arrive at all, or way too late and that I would be late to the airport. Luckily, we found out the cause of the delay and I took a breath of relief. It was a long, restless night on the bus, as busses are not very comfortable to sleep on. I said a teary good-bye to my parents and brother and boarded.

As soon as I stepped off the Greyhound bus in NYC the next morning, it all hit me: I’m on my own…in New York City…with all my important belongings…and I’m just a little country mouse. As a momentary wave of anxiety swept over me, I took a deep breath and told myself I was going to be okay. I put on my best “city face”, meaning, I didn’t gawk with my mouth open at the skyscrapers and I tried to look like I knew what I was doing. I stepped out of the station and luckily there were shuttle busses that lead right to the airport terminal. This cost a mere $16.00 versus the $52.00 I was anticipating to spend on a taxi. Hurray for savings!! J

At the airport, I was daunted by the vastness and metallic, sterile appearance. There were plenty of signs to help me get where I needed to go, and I gave myself all day to acclimate to my surroundings, take my time and not feel rushed. I get very anxious under pressure, so I gave myself 7 hours at the airport. Yes, that is a stretch but I’d rather sit and wait prepared than be scrambling around. Must be the early birdie in me!!

During those hours, I exchanged currency, receiving some in British pounds and the rest in Euro. I also did my self check-in, (receiving my boarding pass) did the security check, and found my gate. I even got my host family some gifts at a shop. At security check, I told the TSA officer it was my first time ever traveling by plane, so he’d understand my confusions and he smiled and said, “you got this, girl!” and gave me a high five, which really helped sooth some of my nerves. Waiting at the gate, I decided to use up my phone minutes, since in a couple hours they would be gone anyway. I called my dearest friend Jess, my sister and my mother to give them a status update.

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This is the money I’ll be using from now on! http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Money/Pix/pictures/2008/07/08/EurosAPJoergSarbach460.jpg

On the Airplane

After hours of waiting at gate 36 for my flight, or vuelo, it was time to board. I felt an odd concoction of excitement and trepidation boil up inside my gut as I walked through and located my seat. 20F—I was right by the wing and turbines. I gazed out the window and pulled out a stick of gum, chicle to help me with the air pressure when the time came.

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My view from the plane! Window seat near the wing!

My mind was back and forth about take-off. At times I was anxious, but the next minute I would be brimming with elation that I would be flying for the first time in my life. I reminded myself of the safety precautions that are taken, and remembered all of the assuring words spoken to me by friends and family prior to my departure. I was ready. Apparently, the plane wasn’t though, because we left about an hour later due to some “minor maintenance issues”. What?! That sure didn’t help my nerves. Regardless, I looked out the window, awaiting the time to fly.

At long last, the plane started to speed down the runway. I clenched onto my travel pillow (as if that was going to help me), and stared out the window like a child looking at a new toy in a storefront. A huge grin of excitement spread across my face as I felt the plane lift off the ground and as we sped down the runway, lights whirring by us as we flew. I stared in awe at the city lights shrink, fade, then disappear under the clouds as I felt the plane go higher and higher. This was it—I was finally flying!

The plane went up to 37,000 feet, and during that time, I tried to think of it as a bus ride, turbulence being the “pot holes” of the air. Luckily, turbulence was very minor during my flight. There was some rain as we descended but that was about it. Once again, I tried to sleep, but the awkward positioning, cramped space and cold draft by the window prevented me from getting much shut-eye. By the end of the flight, my toes were freezing, and all I wanted to do was stretch and warm up. They served us a boxed breakfast on the plane of dried fruit, a muffin, a banana (which I saved for a snack later) and yogurt. Of course, coffee was a necessity.

When I got off the plane, I felt very thrilled to be out of the country for the first time ever. “I am in Dublin, Ireland!” I told myself. I went through customs, explaining when, where and why I was here, standard procedure. The lady was very kind, wishing me luck in my travels and studies. I walked over to the shuttle busses and engaged in my first foreign transaction with the Euros. The girl was very helpful and understanding as I counted out my change.

Dublin, Ireland

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A lovely street seen in Dublin. (My photo)

            The only thing I regret about going to Dublin is that I didn’t allow myself more time to spend there. If I could change one thing, I would’ve gotten a hostel so I could stow away my 4 month’s worth of belongings and freely go on walking tours. My shoulders and back ached (still do) from the lugging around of my bags. For a study abroad student, I traveled light—with only one carry-on and a purse. Still, they were packed rather heavy so it pained me to walk around too much.

They were offering some “hop-on, hop-off” bus tours, in which you paid for a 24 hour ticket and that would take you to a variety of places around Dublin. There were plenty of stops as well, with a green bus stopping at them every 15 minutes. Our tour guide, John, was a riot. First of all—Irish accents. I could spend all day listening to Irish people talk. They sound so kind and sophisticated! Or maybe it’s just me. But anyway, our guide was very informative and funny, cracking some jokes about how much Irish like to drink. He wasn’t kidding!!

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This is what the bus looked like, Green Bus Tours. http://bus-and-coach-photos.com.s3.amazonaws.com/1248.jpg

There are more than 1,000 pubs in Dublin alone, a Heineken factory, the Guinness brewery and the Jameson Irish Whisky distillery, all of which we passed during the tour.

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I stopped at the Guinness brewery and paid the student fee of €13 to take the self-guided tour. There was even a free fresh pint of Guinness at the end! I was able to store my big bags at the service desk in a cubby for the tour, which was truly a godsend. There were 7 floors, and each floor highlighted the steps that are taken brew Guinness. They discussed the ingredients, history, advertising, and there were even some nice, pub-style restaurants located in the building as well. I learned a lot about the brewery, and especially about Dublin’s history. For example, the Guinness family bailed out the St. Patrick Catholic church when they were running low on funds. And a “cooper” was someone who made barrels (which are actually supposed to be called ‘casks’) and it’s a very distinguished occupation, with lots of skill required.

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Such a pretty area! (My photo)

So I finally made it to the top floor, Gravity Bar, which offered an impressive view of Dublin through its almost 360 degree glass wall. I was stunned at the sights below, looking at the skyline.

I brought my ticket voucher to the bartender who then checked my ID (the drinking age is 18 there, so I was well above that!) and prepared the drink. To be poured properly, they pour it in at a 45 degree angle, let it sit and foam, and then pour more in to the point where the foam is not spilling over, but is almost bubbling over the edge. Guinness is a very dark lager, and I’m not much of a drinker myself, so I took a few sips to try it. Let me tell you—I’ve tried Guinness at home in the U.S. and couldn’t bear it due to the bitterness. However, this time it was surprisingly good. Although darker, it was rich, bold, smooth. I didn’t cringe or wince at all. This just goes to show the difference between fresh and imported.

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(My photo)

Afterward, I decided it was time to go to an authentic Irish pub for lunch. I opted for O’Connells, a pub on Bachelor Street. The atmosphere was what you would expect, brick walls, dim lights and signs, a chill atmosphere, a television and a bar. I ordered a water and hoped that my body wouldn’t reject it (drinking tap water in other countries can cause you to get sick because your body is not used to those specific microorganisms.). Luckily, I was fine. I got the “soup and toastie”, or grilled cheese in our terms. I got chicken, onion and tomato on it as well. The soup was a creamy, chicken based one. I can’t remember what the server called it. Anyway, it was very satisfying and delicious. My whole meal cost €6—I ordered cheap though.

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Yummy!!! (My photo)

I then decided to go to Dublin Port, where I would be waiting for my ferry. I hailed a taxi for the first time in my life, holding out my arm to drivers. The second driver pulled right up and I told him where I wanted to go. He was very friendly, asking about where I was from, where I’m travelling, offering suggestions—making small talk. When I arrived, I was exhausted so I plugged in my converter to charge my phone and set the alarm to wake me when I needed to check in. I took a brief nap and then grabbed a coffee and a biscuit during my wait for the ferry.

To London!

Finally, it was time to board the ferry. I was pleasantly surprised as I walked on because it looked like a hotel inside. There was a comfortable lounge, a cinema, a bar, food vendors and more. I sat in the lounge to charge my laptop and phone as well as type up this post. J The energy voltage and outlets are different in the UK and in Europe. My friend lent me a converter box so that I could still plug in my American chargers to the wall. The converter plugs in to the wall with the correct plug-in based on the country. Then you simply enchufar your device into the converter and voila! The only thing I wasn’t used to was the decreased amount of energy it would supply. In the U.S, I plug my phone in to charge and it will be fully charged with the wi-fi, data and services still turned on after a mere 2 hours. In the U.K. however, I had to have my phone completely off in order for it to start charging because the voltage is so much lower. Using my phone normally while it is plugged in, only maintained the current charge I had. I’ll have to get used to this!

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These are what the outlets look like in the UK.

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And this is the converter I’ll be using.

Once the ferry docked, I waited to go into the station in order to catch el tren, the train—another first for me on my journey! It was about 2:00am at this time, and my train wasn’t leaving until 4:48am. The train station was very cold, and the seats were none that could be slept in. I was thirsty, so I grabbed a water from the vending machine: ₤1.60, which would equate to about $3.00. England is going to be expensive for me, so I will have to budget carefully. As I mentioned before, one U.S. dollar equals .55 in England, fluctuating a couple cents now and again.

Finally, it was time to board the train. Soooo warmmmm! I longed to sleep, so I dropped down the seat tray in front of me and put my pillow onto it and lay my head down. I was out in a matter of minutes. I was SO sleep deprived. I wasn’t able to print my ticket at the self-service station during my wait because the machine was broken and the service desk was closed. So the attendant who punches the tickets told me I would have to get them at another station along the way during the 3 minute stops. There was one problem: 3 MINUTE STOPS. How was I supposed to find the station, put in my information, print the tickets, a make it back in time before the train left again?! I had no choice. At the next station, I bolted out and asked one of the station workers where the ticket station was, I sprinted up the stairs according to his directions, and alas—there they were! I scrambled over to the booth, inserted my credit card for verification, typed in my name and reference number, and the tickets printed below. I ran faster than I’ve run in a while back to the train and triumphantly showed the worker my ticket. I must’ve broken some world record, I swear. I was so terrified of the train leaving without me and all my belongings going with it—and then me being stranded at the cold train station. It’s a good thing I run.

I fell back asleep on the train and before I knew it I heard the authoritative, female British voice over the intercom stating that we had reached Euston Station in London. By this time, I looked out at the daylight and gray brick buildings of London. By this time, I had been running off of maybe 10 hours of light sleep within the past 3 days combined, not much food due to anxiety and being busy, and jet lag was kicking in strong. I needed to get to my hostel, shower, and sleep before I could do anything. Besides, I wanted to be rested up for the New Year’s Eve celebration that night! I resolved to start finding my destination.

In London, they use an underground transit system that many call “the tube”. This system is very much like the metro system in NYC, and follows the same general rules. Recalling back to the day in New York with my sister, I used that information to help me navigate the tunnels. First, I needed to purchase an Oyster card, which is the same as the metro card in NYC. You scan it when you go through to get to a tunnel, and then rescan once you’ve arrived at your final destination. Money is deducted based on the time of day, mode of transportation and distance travelled. The card cost ₤5, and then I put another ₤15 on it as a balance. You also may use this same card on busses, which I found convenient.

I took the Victoria Line from Euston to Green Park, and then transferred to the Jubilee line toward Willesden. Once I arrived, I took a bus to my hostel. I asked one driver where I would find my hostel, and we kept on exchanging looks of confusion as we were asking each other to repeat ourselves. Finally he said, “I’m sorry—I can’t understand your accent. You have a very thick accent.” I found this rather funny because I was thinking the same thing. Now here I am in another country and I am the one with the accent. The tables have turned, it seems. In fact, a lot of people I’ve encountered have asked me to repeat what I said, and vice-versa. Once I say that I’m from New York, they understand.

I will admit though—I am completely adoring the English accents here. Everyone speaks so beautifully. What is it about Americans loving British accents? Also, who is the one that really has the accent? Both of us think the other one does. Who has one? Does everyone? Just something to ponder…

Hostels

Anyway, I finally get to my hostel and check-in. I take a hot, soothing shower and lock up my belongings—it’s SO nice to not have to carry everything around anymore. I climb up to my bed and take a nice long nap to pass the day. The bed was not the best quality by any means. I felt each and every spring below me—but it was a luxury just to be able to actually LAY DOWN in a BED and sleep.

Let me tell you a little about hostels. I had never stayed at one before this moment but I had a general idea of what to expect, thanks to other friends who have stayed in them. They are basically budget hotels for travelers at an economy rate, offering less than a hotel would offer. The basic premise is that travelers would have a safe place to sleep and somewhere to lock up their luggage. Most hostels offer wi-fi now too, to attract customers.

For New Year’s Eve night, all of the prices on hostels were jacked, so I opted for a cheaper one. Thankfully, I’m only here for a day because the neighborhood is pretty sketchy and kind of far from central London. Also, it’s about as low quality as it can get. But hey—it served the purposes I was looking for: sleep, shower, and storage.

Okay, that’s all for now–next time I will tell you all about London, England!!! 😀 Get your bags of popcorn and grab a friend! Until then, cheers!! 🙂

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