London Day 4: Tower of London, Borough Market, Tate and Street Feast

Well we are leaving for a cruise to Japan and South Korea in a few hours for Chinese national holiday so here is the final London post! :-)

After failing to visit the Tower of London the first time when my neck seized up, we were determined to go on our last day! For the longest time I thought the Tower of London was literally a big tower where they kept prisoners. But oh boy was I wrong. Let’s take a look!

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Ready to rumble.

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First we walked up the walkway along the stone gates, visiting various dungeons along the way and learning about its famous prisoners. It was eerie to see the messages scratched into the wall by prisoners years and years ago. It must have sucked to be locked up in a cold stone room like that. Eek.

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We went into the White Tower which was the strongest structure in the medieval castle. Up each floor we followed the well-designed museum through places like the armory, lodgings for the lords, and chapel. It was a really awesome display and was well worth the high entrance fee to the Tower.

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Then it was time to visit the dungeons!! The line to enter was long and we were excited…. until we walked inside. The “dungeon” was literally a single room with one torture device on display. We almost walked out on accident, thinking there was more! Oh well.

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But we saw a polar bear and were appeased. Bowdoin represent!

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Some “well-equipped” armor made us giggle because we are children.

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And then we waited in line with a large tour group of Japenese tourists to see the crown jewels. Even though they filter you through quite quickly, the whole display was great and the jewels were just unreal.

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We left the Tower of London and headed straight for Tower Bridge to cross the River Thames.

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We were on a mission to find some refreshments at Borough Market, one of the oldest markets in London. It is located under an overpass, making it feel like you are underground.

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Unfortunately the market had just closed, so we got some gelato the size of my head to make ourselves feel better. It worked.

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Then we walked on to the Tate Gallery, which definitely looks as modern as the art it houses. The museum was absolutely enormous on the inside and we saw a few cool displays. However, I was exhausted and more than ready to sit down for a while.

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Once we left the museum we sat by the water to chill for a while before making our way over Millennium Bridge. It was the perfect time of day as the remaining light shown down on St. Peter’s and the London skyline.

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Finally we took the tube back to the flat and met up with Val and her friends at Street Feast! Street Feast is a cool outdoor area that fills with permanent food vendors on the weekends, selling everything from BBQ to Thai food. I had the shrimp and grits which were DIVINE. It was a really cool atmosphere and we enjoyed a few drinks with all our new friends.

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Later that evening we went out to a weird reggae bar called Passing Clouds where we danced to a hiphop latin fusion band. We ended up back at a friend’s apartment under the bright moon and watched the sunrise on her rooftop patio. It was the perfect end to a wonderful time in London.

Thank you Val for being an amazing host! We had the best time!

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Sadly, it was time to catch a train to Southend Airport and head to the final country on our Eurotrip 2014…

FRANCE!

London Day 3: Getting touristy with Big Ben, Picadilly Circus and some One Direction

When in London for the first time, there are a few things that you just need to do. First things first, you must sleep in till noon (again), because hey you are on vacation and deserve some rest. Next you must take the tube, because a true Londoner is a pro at public transportation. Then you must accept the fact that you are a tourist and are destined to take silly photos with famous landmarks.

Well at least that’s what we did on our third day in London. On this overcast and humid day, we started at Big Ben.

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It really was just a big clock tower, a pretty big and immovable clock tower as such.

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We then walked to Westminister Abbey across the street and gazed up in wonder at this massive church. The entrance fee was way too expensive so we admired the exterior architecture before going on our merry way.

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Past Big Ben again. WOAHHH.

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Then over to Parliament which thoroughly impressed us with its intricate architecture and terrifying guards with guns. Yikes!

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The afternoon became a little less terrifying once we entered St. James Park and found plenty of ducks and homey cottages on the grounds.

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Across the park, we walked through the massive Horse Guards Parade and through the entryway where we found the Household Cavalry on duty. Apparently they are actually on duty guards and not just for show, which explains why they just stood there, looking bored amongst tourists waiting for a show. Silly tourists.

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Next up was the National Gallery where we got our free museum time in with some art before heading back to Picadilly Circus. I honestly was expecting something much better than the equivalent of Times Square, but I didn’t really care. Because I was on a mission. A 1D mission to be exact.

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Yes, I dragged Carina to at least four different tourist shops on the hunt for some Once Direction souvenirs to add to my non-existent collection. I ended up buying a goofy keychain and poster from the latest album, but also managed to sneak a few photos with their extra special t-shirts.

Oh hey lads.

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With my favorite, Louis.

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And with this baby deer in headlights, Harry Styles.

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When in London right? Right?? Haha, don’t answer that.

After satiating my need for 1D, we finished our day off at Covent Gardens, which was absolutely lovely. There was even a quirky little marching band playing old-school tunes in the lower gallery. They had a tuba player which automatically makes any band sound awesome.

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And then we took the most touristy photo of all in a red telephone booth that smelled faintly of piss. And it was epic.

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Overall our ulta-touristy day was a great success!

Back at the flat we lounged around and accidentally missed the England World Cup game. We heard a lot of yelling outside but were too engrossed in OITNB to care. Whoops. They lost anyways so everybody was sad when we met Val and her friends for dinner at an Indian restaurant. I was too happy slurping curry to notice. We finished off the night at a weird basement club that played awkward techno and boogie music.

What a day!

London Day 2: The Hunt for Street Art in Shoreditch

Woohooo we’re in London!!! Well actually we were in London in June which seems so long ago! But it is good that I am finally getting around to posting all these photos. However things are picking up here in China, I have joined a couple of choirs and recently started boxing lessons! Yup, I am a badass. Also on Sunday we are taking a cruise to South Korea and Japan during national holiday so there’s that. OH and there is typhoon headed our way which means lots of rain and gusts of wind. I kind of like it.

Right, back to London!  

tower4After a deliciously low-key first day in the city, we were determined to see more of London. So of course we slept all morning (YES) and walked to the Tower of London after a lazy noon-time breakfast of yogurt and coffee. Randomly in the middle of our walk, my neck seized up and I was paralyzed by a shooting pains running from my neck to my shoulder. Sitting me down a bench, Carina rushed off to buy an ice cream cone which tasted delicious and helped soothe the (emotional) pain while I comically kept my neck completely still. Awkward. We did however get a few photos in front of Tower Bridge. Again with the awkward, “I can’t move my neck and I’m gritting my teeth because this hurts” pose, but it works.

tower3Although I wanted nothing more than to go back to the flat and wallow in self-pity, we had already signed up for an Alternative London Walking Tour. This tour of street art in Shoreditch had come highly recommended from Tasha so we had to go. At 3pm we met our guide beneath the goat statue and away we went like hipster detectives on the hunt for street art gold.

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As we walked around Brick Lane and other areas around Shoreditch, we learned about the history of the area and about the signature style of various street artists. It was fun to try and figure out which artist had done what based on their own style.

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artwalk6artwalk7Some of the street art was very loud and commanding. This mural of the crane was even commissioned for the Olympics. Check out that detail, amazing.

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Other street art was very subtle. My favorite were the artists who placed stickers over street signs, like the photo below. Do you see it?

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Bowdoin polar bears! Represent!

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artwalk16Honestly the details of each piece escape me and I am sure Carina took much more thorough notes on the subject. I just enjoyed finding beautiful murals or figurines hidden in alleyways or on top of lampposts. It was like a fun game of hide-and-seek and our tour guide was obviously passionate about each piece.

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The story behind the Star Wars piece below was that the artist dressed up like a construction worker while he illegally put it up in broad daylight. Awesome.

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The artist created the face below by covering the wall in plaster then drilling away sections piece by piece… till viola! A face! Absolutely incredible. I literally cannot comprehend artists like my girl Carina and how they can create beauty out of nothing. It is an amazing talent.

artwalk22It was a lovely tour, but really long. By the time it was over, the sun was setting and the wind was picking up… it was COLD. Huddled in our thin coats, we rushed back to the flat to get all fancy for our friend Val’s school conference. It was part of her master degree graduation presentation where really smart people talked about really smart things. So Carina and I flocked to the open bar and I ate a few bugs (no joke, they had baked good made from crickets and they were actually good!). Then we joined all the graduates at a place called Canal Bar, hidden away in the middle of a quiet residential area. It was too cool for school.

artwalk23It was very LONDON evening and I have never felt less posh. But no matter, we had a good day despite the pain in my neck. The next day promised to be a full out touristy day complete with embarrassing photos with One Direction merchandise and I was EXCITED.

YES, BRING ON THE 1D MERCHANDISE.

London Day 1: Buckingham Palace, Westminister Cathedral, and Billy Elliot the Musical

Welcome to London! 

Our second destination on Eurotrip 2014 and my first ever visit to England! Hooray!

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Exhausted from our action-packed escapades around Ireland, we spent our first day in London sleeping in and doing some much needed laundry. It honestly felt amazing to have nowhere to be with nothing to do. AHHHH. But we figured we should probably do SOMETHING so we purchased some spur-of-the-moment tickets to Billy Elliot the Musical that evening and dragged ourselves out of our sweet flat in Shoreditch for some pre-show sightseeing.

Somehow we made it to Buckingham Palace which like…. BAM. You know. Buckingham Palace. So surreal. I finally had the realization that oh wow I am actually in London.

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The sun was out, the weather was fine and we were feeling GOOD, probably due to the fact that we had finally had enough sleep the night before. Sleep is good.

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We left Buckingham Palace and walked towards Victoria Theatre, running into Westminister Cathedral on the way. What a nice surprise! Although I am sure if we had actually studied a map we would have realized that the Cathedral is literally across the street from Victoria Palace. However our attitude towards this leg of our travels was to relax and and enjoy ourselves without planning too much in advance. Oh and to sleep. We needed sleep!

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The Cathedral was absolutely majestic and wonderful contrast to the busy street outside. I love visiting churches around the world, they are just so beautiful and calming.

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We were stoked to find the Chapel of St. Patrick and of the Saints of Ireland. I went in to say a little prayer to St. Patrick to thank him for keeping us safe and letting us see his beautiful country. I also said a prayers to my grandpas to say hello and thank them for watching over me on this life-changing journey.

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Soon it was time to head over to the theatre for Billy Elliot! I have actually seen the musical before so I knew we were in for a treat. After a quick dinner at Pret a Manger, we picked up our tickets and walked inside the grand Victoria Palace.

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Since we had purchased our tickets that same day, our seats were at the very top row of the theater. However, it didn’t really matter since the top section was relatively empty and we could move around to better seats. Our plush velvets chairs offered us a bird-eye-view down onto the stage which came to life with the charming and hilarious story of Billy Elliot.

We absolutely loved the show and found ourselves dancing, laughing and even crying at all the right moments. The little boy playing Billy was marvelous and all the dancing numbers were just wild! And of course the music was amazing and I loved all the big choral numbers. We had so much fun that by the end of the performance we were jumping out of our seats and clapping our hands for an encore.

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By the end of the show were so pumped that we ran out of the theater laughing our heads off like maniacs and accidentally ran in the wrong direction! Weirdos. We caught the tube back to Shoreditch with smiles on our faces and visions of Billy Elliot dancing in our heads.

What a great way to start our 5 day adventure in London! Stay tuned for more…

Ireland Day 7: Last Day in Dublin and London Calling

After a week in Ireland, it was time to take our Eurotrip 2014 adventure to London. But like I mentioned in my last post, we were ready to go out with a BANG.

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Once our bus pulled back into Dublin, we gathered all willing participants from our tour group (mostly the Australians) and made plans for meeting up later that evening. After a filling dinner of fish and chips, we hit the streets of Dublin for some pints and some craic. It was a long and epic night that consisted of swapping American/Australian accents, listening to live Irish music and rambunctiously dancing at a cool nightclub. It was sad to say goodbye to our friends after spending every moment together for the last 5 days but I wouldn’t trade our experience for anything.

The next morning was rough and we almost missed checkout time while sleeping away in our stuffy hostel room. Thankfully Carina was alive enough to drag us out of bed so we could pack our backpacks in the darkness while our bunkmates slept on. That was fun… especially when a new girl checked into our room and spent like an hour hogging the bathroom. Oy, hostels are definitely an experience!

We left our bags with the hostel while we headed outside for our final day in Dublin! Noooooooo….

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We enjoyed a full Irish breakfast in Temple Bar (to the lovely sounds of construction) before walking to Grafton Street. The shopping street was insanely crowded with tourists, unlike our first day in Dublin when the city was relatively quiet. I guess June 16th is peak tourist season.

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I was exhausted so we hung out in a small park before walking back to the Temple Bar Area. We mailed Tana a postcard and walked past Cassidy’s, one of the bars we visited the night before. Cassidy’s was a pretty weird and alternative place with bizarre art on the walls and forgotten furniture on the sidewalk. Weird but cool.

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We then took a detour to Trinity College, which we had visited on our first day in the pouring rain. It was much more pleasant on this absolutely beautiful summer day. It was fun to sit next to the quad and act like students… those were the days!

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We finished our day back at Temple Bar and sat around enjoying the sunshine and colorful shops. Oh look there is Carina in front of the actual Temple Bar, which was on the same block as our hostel. The Temple Bar is very touristy but has absolutely phenomenal musicians playing live Irish music each night so it is worth checking out.

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Sadly it was time to catch the shuttle bus to the airport for a late flight into London. Once we landed in London we would take the train to Shoreditch and meet Carina’s friend Val, who had kindly offered to host us for the next 5 days. I was excited to finally visit London but really sad to leave Ireland.

We had such an incredible time touring Ireland with Shamrockers and I am now a huge fan of backpacker bus tours (hello Stray NZ!). Not only did we see the typical tourist sites like the Cliffs of Moher and Giant’s Causeway, but we also did some truly unique activities in places off-the-beaten path. We biked around the Aran Islands, danced to live traditional Irish music in Galway, learned about the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and walked for miles through green fields to cross a remote rope bridge in Ballintoy. But more importantly, we had fun making unforgettable memories with new friends from around the world and of course with my bestie and travel partner in crime, Carina <3.

Now wait a second, do you hear that?

*RING RING RING*

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LONDON IS CALLING.

Ireland Day 6: The Dark Hedges and Belfast Black Cab Tour

After such a fun night at the hostel in Ballintoy, it was difficult to wake up the next morning. This was also the last day of our Shamrockers Giant’s Rocker Tour and we were sad that this 5 day adventure around Ireland would soon be over. But our spirits were lifted when we found out we would be stopping at yet another Game of Thrones location! Hooray!

Welcome to the Dark Hedges

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If you have seen Game of Thrones (you really should, like now), then you should recognize this stunning lane as the road out of King’s Landing. But this lane of enormous beech trees is also known to be haunted by the “Grey Lady”, which yes is pretty awesome. Lucky for us, we visited at the peak of the morning with the light filtering beautifully through the trees with no Grey Lady in sight. Darn.

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WOW. Just… WOW.

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Belfast Black Cab Tour

It was marvelous pit stop on our way to Belfast for the day. Upon arrival in this big and clean city, we hopped in Belfast Black Cabs for another sobering tour of the political troubles in Northern Ireland.

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First we were taken around the Protestant and Unionist neighborhood and shown the political murals in this working-class neighborhood. Our guide lives in this area and gave his own personal account of the Troubles. It was interesting to hear that his own children have never met Catholic children before and that the division of people is still real. However, he talked about integrated schools and other ways the people are trying to move forward. Like our guide in Derry, he said that everybody in Belfast just wants an end to the violence and to live peacefully.

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Next we left the Protestant area and headed to one of the Peace Walls that separate the Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods. First built in 1969, the Peace Walls have since increased in height and number and stretch over 21 miles in total. We learned that there is a plan to remove all Peace Lines by 2023 and that most residents of Belfast still strongly believe that they are necessary because of potential violence.

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To see these walls in person was absolutely shocking and I found myself tearing up at the messages of hope and support that visitors had left behind. People just peace and this physical barrier is a heartbreaking reminder that they still have a long way to go.

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We then hopped back into the cab and drove through the Peace Wall and into the Catholic and Nationalist side. There we met another guide from this neighborhood who talked about the Troubles from his point of view. It was so interesting to hear a different account of the violence and of events never mentioned on the other side.

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St. George’s Market

We ended the Black Cab Tour emotionally spent and very hungry. So we headed over to St. George’s Market to get some lunch and kill time before our bus departed back to Dublin. In the beautifully lit building, we munched on falafels and coffees while browsing through stalls selling everything from antiques to chocolate.

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And low and behold we ran into Carina’s art friend from college!!! He had been working in Belfast for a few months and this was his first time at the market! What a crazy coincidence seeing as our college is ridiculously small! Life is full of surprises right??

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Soon it was time to get back to the bus, except we had no idea where we were. For the next hour we frantically ran around the city, asking random strangers for (misleading) directions while getting more lost and frustrated by the second. We were positive the bus would just leave, stranding us in Northern Ireland!! Thankfully, a kind bus driver gave us proper directions and we made it back just in time. YIKES.

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Drive back to Dublin

Although the Black Taxi Tour was interesting, Belfast just did not hold my interest. I think in general that I prefer visiting places off the beaten path instead of big cities. However, I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to visit Northern Ireland and learn about the political history of a place I knew so little about before. It was an emotionally exhausting experience but was worth it in the end.

On our long drive back to Dublin, we stopped at a convenience store and my spirits were immediately lifted when Carina found “Roomie” Coke bottles and One Direction chocolate bars. Yay!

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Yep I am not ashamed. I am a huge One Direction Fan. 1DAF FOR LIFE!! Let’s just say that although I was so sad that our amazing Shamrockers Bus Tour was coming to an end, I was pretty stoked to fly to London the next day and find some funny 1D souvenirs. You know… as a joke… hmmm. But Niall is from Ireland so of course my inner fangirl has already been partially appeased. Should I even be writing this? But I cannot NOT mention it. Sorry I’m not sorry.

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We then settled back on the bus for the final haul to Dublin, trying to memorize the gentle green slopes outside our window and the warmth of the sun on our skin. I didn’t want to leave Ireland the next day. Not when I had fallen in love with this incredible country.

Good thing our new friends on the bus were all ready to go out with a BANG. It was going to be a night to remember in Dublin, and perfect farewell to Ireland. *cries*

Ireland Day 5 Continued: The Iron Islands and Rope Bridges in Ballintoy

Once we left Giant’s Causeway, it was only a short ride to a teeny town called Ballintoy where we would be staying the night. But on the way we had to make a stop at the infamous Iron Islands.

Dunluce Castle aka House of Greyjoy on Game of Thrones 

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Walking through a field past the “Wee Cottage”, we gingerly stepped over cow paddies to stand at a fence overlooking Dunluce Castle. The dilapidated castle stood high up on a lonely rock, surrounded by steep drops on all sides. The weather was very misty and cold, adding to the mystical atmosphere. Thankfully Theon Greyjoy was not there, or else I would have had to cross the narrow bridge to fight him. Nobody likes Theon.  dunluce2 dunluce5 dunluce6 dunluce8

Village of Ballintoy 

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We then pulled up to the small village of Ballintoy which has only one restaurant, one bar and one hostel on a singular street. After dropping our things off at the hostel known as “Sheep Island View” for, you guessed it, it’s stunning view of sheep, our group set off on a walk towards the water. We followed Rachel down a winding and steep street down Knocksaughey hill to Ballintoy Harbour, also known as the town of Lordsport in the isle of Pyke in Game of Thrones! So much Games of Thrones, so little time.

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Although we fell behind the group taking selfies (whoops), we caught up on the path along the coast through fields of soft green grass. We trudged along for more than half and hour, dragging our exhausted bodies through the fields and sweating our faces off. It was quite the hike.

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The endless trek was worth it once we reached the island of Carrick-a-Rede and the terrifying rope bridge connecting it to the mainland. Carina stayed behind while I made my way across the treacherous wooden planks, probably not a good activity for somebody afraid of heights. But I did it!! My heart was beating out of my chest but I did it!!

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Having a heart attack.

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The view from the island was stunning and we had fun running around the dirt paths crisscrossing the small island. A few times I thought we were going to take a tumble off the edge but we kept it together.

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BOOM. Finally not sleepy! What a day!

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You can see Carina in the photo below. She is the tiny speck on the fence. Hello Carina and Rachel!! Watch me cross the bridge of doom and almost lose my mind one more time!

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We walked back to the hostel then headed back to town with the Australians for some dinner at the only pub in the village. Carina ordered a salad with the hope to consume some vegetables and was served a “salad” consisting of meat, cheese, and a single piece of lettuce. Hahaha. The Guiness pie was delicious thouugh.

The rest of the night was spent drinking beers and playing games with our entire tour group in the hostel common room. It was an epic and hilarious night which involved sharing embarrassing stories and corrupting poor little high school Irish kids. There was also cake. It was great.

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Wow I can feel these recaps getting sillier and sillier. Probably because this trip was SILLY and AWESOME and FUN and my brain is not allowing my fingers to type with any eloquence. Don’t mind the commentary. Just look at the pretty pictures ;-).

Only one more Ireland post to go! And there is still London and France and New Zealand… and omg SO MANY PHOTOS. I LOVE IT.

<3