Greetings from March! This month has flown. I’m having a hard time remembering the date, constantly thinking that I’m living a month in the past. What do you mean, there is less than a month of the program left? What do you mean, my precious time here in Dublin is running out? I’m living in a state of denial.
That’s another blog post in it’s entirety, though. (The love letter to Dublin is coming, don’t worry.) Today, let’s talk: exploration, travel, and hostel beds.
In my very short (but still feels quite long) time in Europe, I’ve been to: London, Paris, Amsterdam, Belfast, and Reykjavik. I’ve not travelled as far or as extensively as some of my other classmates, both because I’m a homebody who appreciates a good weekend in a city they know and a bed they trust, and because I’m a poor student whose bank account weeps every time I so much as even think about browsing the Ryanair website.
My first trip outside of Dublin was to London in the first weekend of Februray. I was to visit a graduate school - Goldsmiths, University of London, to look into their master’s program in creative and lifestyle writing - and to meet up with a few friends. I am no stranger to travelling alone - I go to school thousands of miles away from where I grew up, am used to navigating planes/trains/taxis to get where I need to go, and yet, travelling alone to London was absolutely terrifying.
I was incredibly lucky that one of my best friends is a London native, and she very patiently explained the Tube system to me, drawing out a diagram to get me from the airport to the city centre and from the city centre to where I was staying. I got lost, beacuse of course I got lost (in the duration of the entire weekend I gave up on Google Maps and reluctantly hailed a taxi like, three different times) but I made it eventually! I met up with two different friends, one of whom is studying at the IES Abroad London program, and did a lot of venturing around the city. Highlights included English tea in Trafalgar Square, the Tate Modern Museum, Camden Market, adventuring around Southbank, lots of conversation with black cab drivers, and seeing the central London tourist sites.
Travelling by yourself is equal parts terrifying and rewarding. London is a really, really big city, and the thought of getting lost, and then actually getting lost, was very, very scary. But finding my way out of that was rewarding. On the day of my graduate school visit, I travelled from Camden, which is north London, to where Goldsmiths is, in New Cross, the opposite side of the city. This involved taking the Tube, transferring lines, and than transferring again to get the Overground. A complicated procedure, without data, but I walked out of the Overground station in New Cross and felt a new found independence, the knowledge that I could navigate across a city I didn’t know perfectly fine.
After London, the travelling was haulted for a few weekends, because midterm break was coming up. The number one city I wanted to go to during my time abroad was Amsterdam, my roommate's Paris, and we hit both cities in seven days.
I fell in love with Amsterdam. From the second we made it out of Amsterdam Centraal, I was heart eyeing everything, from the beautiful canal houses to the bridge and the lines and lines of bicycles. This was a city full of calm, where the walking pace in the streets was slower. We spent our days just walking around - eating hotdogs in Vondelpark and watching the families, spending hours walking the floors in the Amsterdam Public Library.
It was the perfect beginning to our midterm break, an actual time to relax and explore a city I’ve always wanted to go to. We left Amsterdam on a morning full of light rain, pancakes for breakfast, and feeling ready to take on the rest of Europe.
And then we made it to the train station, realized that we’d misunderstood our train tickets, and missed our train. After paying too much money for a new ticket, we elbowed our way into a seat at Starbucks, backpacks heavy on our shoulders, sweating in our clothes. The day felt ominous.
The first afternoon we were in Paris, the Paris Disillusionment set in. There’s this thing that happens with Paris where you build it up so much in your head, see the beautiful landscape photos and expect life to be directly out of a movie. And some parts of Paris are like that, yes, but on our first afternoon, taking a taxi down a street with people approaching the windows and knocking on the side of the car door, we felt the sinking dread of disappointment.
Our hostel wasn’t in the most accessible neighborhood. We couldn't see anything that looked remotely Parisenne from our balcony window. Where Amsterdam was all calm ease, Paris felt faster, more hectic. We walked around a little, bought some treats from the local bakery, and called it a night, set up to find more excitement in the morning.
That first night in Paris, feeling ungrateful and disappointed, is not a moment that I’m particularly proud of, but it was someting that was good, in the end. I had a few hours of sulking before, as I journalled out my feelings before bed, I realized I was being the Most Ungrateful Person in the Entire World and needed to stop.
I was in Paris. A city I’d dreamt about since middle school, in my rudimentary French language classes. So there were some bad bits? It didn’t outshine the beauty of seeing the Latin Quarter in person, of walking along the Seine. Of standing on Point Zero outside of Notre Dame, a brass band playing in the distance.
Paris evened itself out. We stumbled upon a band of students drinking and playing songs from the Lion King along the Seine. We made our way to Shakespeare and Company, the famous English bookstore, and made it just in time to stumble into a reading. We crowded in the backroom of the bookstore and listened to a talk on David Vogel, a prolific and interesting Hebrew writer, who innovated language in a way that many have not seen since. We ate a lot of bread and cheese, spent hours staring at masterpieces in the Musee d’Orsay. We got lost on the metro and were approached by a lot of strange men, but it was still worth it.
I have always wanted to travel. I have vivid memories of the dented globe in one of my middle school classrooms, of spinning it around and grazing the countries with my fingertips, waiting.
Now, at twenty, I am so privileged to be able to do these things. The logistics of travel are not always fun, and there will always, always be bumps along the way, but some cities and some afternoons are magical. And coming home from these cities has only made me appreciate Dublin more. I know the skyline of Dublin bay out of an airplane window well, have come to associate the first stretch of green as “home”. I love coming back to an apartment in a city and neighborhood that I love, enjoy turning on the kettle and sitting by the balcony and watching the people pass by on Rathmines.
These explorations have taught me a lot about myself: what to do when the Metro breaks down at ten o'clock at night, the exact tone of voice to repeatedly say no when someone invades your person space to sell you something, how I react to moments of disappointment and moments of elation.
Sometimes the world of travelling and adventure isn't as glamarous as it seems, but then other times you hit your perfect moment, and it is.