When I made my list of cities and countries that I wanted to visit while abroad, London ranked pretty high. So, when I realized I had a free weekend to travel, I instantly looked into a trip to London. I figured it would be much more expensive to travel to London since I would have to travel by plane rather than train or bus like I had been doing all semester. But, to my surprise, I found some pretty cheap flights! I even found direct flights from Florence's tiny airport to London, then from London to Dublin! With that in mind, I figured, why not get the most out of this weekend and hit both London and Dublin! I booked the flights and the hostels and excitedly waited for the trip to come!
I had been traveling with friends the entire semester, but this was my first time that I would be traveling alone! As hard as i tried to find friends who would be willing to travel with me, everyone had other trips booked or scheduling conflicts. But, when would I get another chance like this? I had to do the trip by myself -- which i was honestly a bit excited about because traveling with others can sometimes require a lot of compromise and patience!
I packed my belongings into my backpack and headed to the train station to take the shuttle to the airport. Quickly passing through security and boarding the plan, I made my way to London. Having gone through my travel experience when I went to Santorini, I was aware of hidden costs that quickly add up, such as transportation to and from the airports. I truly did plan it all out though as I booked a train that lead a few blocks away from my hostel! As I made my way through the streets of London, I instantly felt at peace. It was dark and I didn't know exactly where I was but for some reason I felt safe, and happy, and thus began one of the best trips I've taken to date.
That evening, I was exhausted from traveling so I simply got some street food then settled in for a good night of rest before the long day ahead of me. The hostel I was staying at offered free tours through Sandeman's tours. My friend who had traveled alone a lot throughout the semester said they were some of the best tours she went on, so I was excited to join the tour the next day. The beauty of these tours, is that they are completely free, and the tour guides make their money through tips, which incentives them to give tourists a worthwhile experience! On the tour, we made our way to many of the notable London landmarks over a matter of 3 hours. This was super helpful since I had planned to hit many of those locations over the two days that I would be there, and the tour greatly cut down the list of places I wanted to see. We saw Trafalgar Square, Big Bent, Westminster Abbey and even Buckingham Palace among other sites. We even saw a few royal family members going to and from Buckingham Palace! As well, since our guide was a real Londoner, he was able to give us a thorough and interesting history lesson that enhanced the tour even more!
On the tour, I actually meet a few great people! There was Amelia from Toronto, Rainey from California, and another guy from Texas whose name I unfortunately can't remember. I had planned out my days in London pretty much by the hour and after the tour I had booked a ride on the London Eye. Somehow, I convinced my new friends to come with me, and we all enjoyed a cloudy sunset (in true London-style) on the London Eye. There actually happened to be a Christmas market right by the London Eye, so we enjoyed some mulled wine and other treats as we walked through the market taking in all the Christmas cheer! Rainey had to leave and meet up with some family friends, so the rest of us made our way to a local pub to further immerse ourselves in the culture of London. Then to calm our hunger we ironically decided to get Indian food, and it was actually pretty great! After such a long day, I made my way back to my hostel to prepare for my second and last day in London.
The next day, I had to see the rest of the landmarks that I hadn't seen on the tour the previous day. I started out by visiting St. Paul's Cathedral. Since I've visited a cathedral at almost every location I've been to, it was becoming a fun part of my travels. Being able to compare the architecture and design of each location, as well as the history behind them, was pretty amazing. I actually ended up spending almost three hours in this cathedral! It's interior is pretty huge, plus there's a climb to the top of the dome where you can see all of London! Unfortunately pictures are not allowed inside of the cathedral, but trust me when I say it is breathtaking.
After the cathedral, I made my way to the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge. While I was thinking that the London Bridge was the famous bridge you seen in pictures, I was wrong. The Tower Bridge, is the actual landmark many come to see. I strolled along the river Thames taking in all of the sites and then I made plans to meet up with Amelia at the Camden market.
Since London is pretty huge, it took me a while to get across the city where the market was located, but when I got there I was in awe. There were vendors everywhere, tons of food trucks with every food imaginable, local art and so much more. I found Amelia and we went on our quest to try as much food as possible. We had some amazing Chinese food, some delicious nachos and we finished it off with chocolate and caramel stuffed churros! We then wandered through the markets enjoying all of the products being offered. My friend was actually in town for a few days so I left the market to meet up with her for a quick dinner (even though I was stuffed from all the food at the markets) before making my way to the airport for my flight to Dublin.
I got into Dublin late in the evening, so I simply settled into my hostel to get some rest. I only had one full day in Dublin so I had a lot to cover in only a little bit of time. Fortunately, Dublin is much smaller than London, and everything I wanted to see was within walking distance. So, I took another Sandeman tour in the morning and knocked off many sites that way. On the tour, I learned a great bit about Dublin's history and Ireland's struggles with independence. It was on this tour that I realized how limited my knowledge of European history really is. We rarely discuss smaller countries like Ireland, but I was glad to learn more about the kind individuals who reside there and their stories.
After the tour, I made my way to the Dublin Castle for a guided tour. I was able to see the original structure of the castle and the remains of the moat and castle walls. We then walked through the beautifully decorated rooms of the castle with amazing architecture and art being present throughout. I found out that St. Patrick's official color is actually blue on this tour as we entered the royal blue room dedicated to the saint! After leaving the castle, I walked through the campus of Trinity College, breathing in the fresh air where legends such as Oscar Wilde and Johnathan Swift studied before making my way to my next stop.
To follow suite with my visits to cathedrals all over Europe, I set off for St. Patrick's Cathedral. As mentioned earlier, blue is the actual representation of St. Patrick, and this is reflected in the colors within the cathedral. The architecture is much more Gothic than other cathedrals I have seen, yet it's beauty is still evident. In an ironic turn, my next stop was at the Jameson Distillery to undergo a whisky tour! While at the distillery, I had the opportunity to learn more about the history of Jameson, how their whisky is made, and then I was able to taste it relative to other whiskies to compare. Jameson's whisky is distilled three times and has many dynamic undertones, which I was able to better appreciate at this tasting.
I finished off the evening by getting a bit of traditional Irish cuisine. I went to a local pub and got a beef stew with mashed potatoes and grilled vegetables. Since I hadn't eaten all day, I scarfed the food down! But it was so good that I wish I could go back and savor it more! After this hardy meal, I made my was back to my hostel to sleep off the food and prepare for my early morning flight the next day.
Overall, this has to be one of my favorite trips I have taken. London truly stole my heart. It reminds me of New York, but less chaotic, and messy and I would honestly consider living in London at some point. Additionally, ending my trip in Dublin only further heightened my experience. The people in this city truly pushed it over the edge with their bubbly and friendly personalities shining more light on the historic and beautiful city. I truly do plan to make my way back to both cities, and I hope that I'll be able to explore more of each country one day.
A presto! (Talk to you soon!)