The Solitary Scout

A blog about my study abroad experience in Ireland

Friday, December 18, 2015

Giants Causeway

So this will be a relatively short update as I'm really only writing this to put off packing, because I would do just about anything if it meant I didn't have to pack. But as it's my last update from here in Ireland and one of the last trips I took along with one to Wicklow that I might talk about later (just so I can post pictures because it was the prettiest place I've ever been in my life) and therefor very close to my heart.

When I realized I only had a month left in Ireland, I had a mini panic attack one night and immediately booked day trips as I still hadn't seen a few things. I'm still not really sure how people can visit Ireland for only a week... there is so much to see! So the first trip I scheduled was to Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland, which actually meant I would be traveling to a different country!

The trip started at 6:30 am so I was chipper as ever boarding one of the tiniest buses I've ever seen. I managed to snag a row with only one seat which meant my social interaction could stay at around a 1 and my sleeping time could go up to around a 7, it was pretty lucky.

Before we got to Giant's Causeway we visited the famous Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge (locally pronounced carrick-a-reedy). The bridge spans 20 meters, connecting the mainland Ireland to a small island that was once used for fishing. The bridge is about 30 meters above the water which in feet is like really high.
Really high = 100 ft
Photo credit:
 The day we went it was so windy they ended up shutting down the bridge about 20 minutes after we left. It was a surprisingly long walk to get to the bridge but so worth it after I worked up the courage to cross. Apparently some people cross to the island and end up way too scared to cross back and have to be escorted back on a boat but I did it no problem because mama didn't raise a quitter.
The view from the middle of the rope bridge. Shockingly enough this is the "new, safer" bridge.
 I then made the long walk back and got back on the bus to make our way to Giant's Causeway.
I mean as far as walks go, I've had worse. 
After lunch at a pub (which was playing Ashley Simpson, confused? I was too.) we finally made it Giant's Causeway. To give you a general description, it is cold and windy and wet, much like the rest of Ireland but 10 times worse. Don't get me wrong, the entire area was absolutely gorgeous but to be honest, in Texas if it's that windy, there is a tornado coming, so I was a bit uncomfortable.
Took forever to get this picture because I kept falling off the rocks
All in all it was an amazing trip and something I will never ever forget. I'm so thankful that I was lucky enough to fit this into my schedule and see something that I may never get to see again. I leave in two days for America and everything is really starting to set it, the fun (or craic), the friends, the places, and the memories, will all soon be just that... memories. And so tonight I would just like to say, be grateful for every second you have on this Earth, make an adventure out of everything, and don't be afraid to live because some never do.

Sunday, December 6, 2015


So this has probably been one of the hardest entries for me to write. I'm not really sure why but I have put this off for weeks, refusing to even look at the pictures we took in Paris. So bear with me if this is not as detailed as it should be.

We arrived in Paris to Charles DeGaulle Airport around 6:30 pm from Prague and culture shock set in immediately. Just after we had gotten off the plane we were passed by three heavily armed men in camo uniforms. Mind you this was the day before the attacks and therefore this was normal procedure. After that initial shock wore off we set about trying to get a train to our hostel, which was around 5 minutes from the Louvre and found the customer service employees to be extremely rude and unhelpful. We finally managed to find our train and get near the hostel and decided to eat and then gather around to plan the next day.

Now to explain about our hostel, as many people didn't quite understand why they couldn't contact me the next day. Our hostel was in a beautiful old building a short 2-3 minute walk from the Louvre. You had to pay for wi-fi and after living abroad for so long, I've discovered that I can survive just fine without being hooked into the internet 24/7 and so chose not to purchase wi-fi. Alexis, Jayden and I all slept in girl's room on the 3rd floor while Darby and Jeff slept in the boys room next door.

So the next day we grabbed a map and planned out a route around Paris that would take us to all of the major sights we wanted to see, including the Eiffel Tower, Notre  Dame, and the Bastille. We decided the next day we would go see the Catacombs and Moulin Rouge. In total we walked around 17 miles that day seeing some of the most beautiful buildings and statues in the world.

Our first stop was the Eiffel Tower which is where I took a snapchat of myself  that didn't actually send to anyone until right before the attacks began. I had always heard that there are a great many Parisians who don't actually like the Eiffel Tower and found that to be the most ridiculous thing until I saw it close up during the daytime. It looks like scaffolding. I'm sure that's mean to say and props to the guy who built it for not caring what anyone said.
Scaffolding can be a monument if you make it big enough.
We stopped to eat lunch around the corner where I had my very first crepe. For all of the Texans, these are the French versions of pancakes and are lighter, and thinner than our pancakes. This was the main thing I wanted to do while in Paris and looked forward to sitting beside the Eiffel Tower and eating a crepe. Darby, the more adventurous of the group when it comes to food, had Escargot otherwise known as snails.
"No really! They're good!" -Darby (probably lying)
It was at this restaurant that one of the weirdest things I've experienced since I've been traveling happened. We were all sitting around talking when I finally voiced the odd feeling I'd had since we arrived. One of the others in the group agreed with me that something didn't quite feel right and we both expressed our desire to leave Paris. The rest of our group thought we were crazy, we had just arrived in Paris! But for some reason I couldn't shake the feeling about this place I had been so excited to visit in the weeks leading up to our trip. I remember expressing to people before I left how excited I was about Paris, even choosing to stay and extra night there rather than Prague and yet when we got there all I wanted to do was leave.

We continued our path, parting with Jayden who went to visit a family friend, and made our ridiculously long journey around the city. One of the suggestions I had gotten before the trip was to take a night tour of Paris and so as we neared our hostel that night we found a tourist agency and booked the tour for 7:30 that night. 

Now remember when I said that during the day the Eiffel Tower isn't much to look at? The exact opposite is true at night. I had never seen a more beautiful sight in my life as we pulled up and saw the lights begin to twinkle as they to every hour for five minutes. The night tour was amazing and is recommended for anyone who goes to Paris although be aware, it is very cold as the top is open.

After arriving back at the hostel around 9:30 pm, we considered going back out and watching the France vs. Germany game at a bar or even just walking around a bit more but decided to conserve our energy so we could enjoy the next day. This was the exact time that two bombs exploded at the Stade de France around 7 miles from our hostel. 

There were no televisions in our hostel and as such no news of the attacks reached Alexis and I in our room, so we fell asleep around 10 pm. The two of us were woken up multiple times during the night by sirens and noise from the lobby of the hostel but didn't think too much of it and ignored in until the next morning when one of the girls in the room began to let us in on what had happened. 

Around 10:30 pm La Petit Cambodge a restaurant about 2 miles away from our hostel was attacked by gunmen who shot and killed 15 people who had simply wanted to go out for dinner on a saturday night. 

At 11 pm a shooting was reported at the Bataclan concert hall around 1.5 miles from our hostel where the Eagles of Death Metal were performing a concert. The gunmen stormed the concert hall, killing people and taking hostages.

By midnight the President of France had declared a state of emergency and enforced a curfew, causing many to seek shelter in buildings and homes, unable to return to their own homes. 

By the time I woke up the next morning, the Paris I had seen the day before had changed forever. In the course of one night evil had permeated the city and attempted to destroy all that was good. It wasn't until we got on twitter that we saw just how unsuccesful they had been. People all over Paris were offering their homes to those who were displaced or could not return home that night. We learned that someone had opened their window next to the Bataclan and helped people escape the shooting. We learned that a man carried two young women down to the basement after they had been injured during one of the restaurant shootings. Taxis turned off their meters, getting people home safely that night.  

Darby and Jeff had stayed up most of the night, keeping in touch with what was happening outside as well as our worried families and friends. They chose not to wake us and I couldn't be more thankful. That day was spent in the lobby of the hostel, too scared to move about the city for anything more than going to get food. This led to a lot of boredom.
The new fashionable headwear. 3 hours into our 10 hour campout.

That day I was flooded with facebook messages, texts, and facetimes and realized how thankful I am for everyone in my life who cared enough to contact me. The CAPA program was wonderful, finding us a hotel near our airport in the hopes that our flight would leave on schedule the next morning and our school was in touch with us from the moment they heard about what happened and continued to check on us until we had landed safely in Ireland. 

When you get the email that Howard Payne sent out telling all of the students that you are safe in Paris, you get some school pride.
"Ahhhhh STING'EM!"
The rest of our trip was uneventful although the plane ride was a bit nerve racking. Needless to say we had never been more thankful to be in Ireland in our entire lives. Adjusting after what happened has been easier than I thought it would be, mostly because we try not to talk about it. This probably isn't healing the pain and fear we experienced but it's the best we can do right now. 

“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it--always.”  -Mahatma Gandhi

Thursday, November 19, 2015


Welcome to the second installment of three from my week long trip to Amsterdam Prague and Paris! We stayed in Prague for two nights and three days and of all the cities we went to, Prague was very surprisingly my favorite.

Now, the fact that I said Prague was "surprisingly" my favorite is not because I din't think Prague would be cool, I just never really thought about Prague before. I mean really, who daydreams all day about visiting Prague? No one but weird people (unless most of you do, then I'm the weird one). 

Not only did I change my mind about the city, I fell in love with it. The old buildings were spared from the bombings that destroyed many like them during WWII because Hitler planned on making Prague his capital city meaning most of them were built between the 11th and 18th centuries. 

We arrived in Prague on Tuesday afternoon and basically just went to find our airbnb because we have issues navigating and then got a pizza from a random hut which tasted better than it probably sounds. It was at this stop that our friend Darby met up with us, bringing our group total up to five.

The next day we went on a segway tour after reading many blogs praising them. Segways are harder to master than you would think but only for about five minutes, during which time you are 100% sure that you will fall off at any minute. While yes, I did eventually fall off (I was the only one who did because of course I was) I think I did pretty well and even managed to take pictures while driving it which all came out blurry.
Stolen from Jayden.
The confidence on my face is overwhelming.

The tour lasted around three hours giving us time to see just about everything in the city, and me to fall off dramatically once. Shortly after the tour began we came across the John Lennon Wall, which was created back when the communist government enforced strict censorship laws limiting the music and entertainment people could enjoy. The wall was originally spray painted with grievances but has changed to Lennon's lyrics and poems. The government would paint over the wall and the next day it would again be covered in lyrics and poems, eventually leading to a clash between the government and students on the nearby Charles Bridge. Today the wall is owned by the Knights of Malta who allow people to continue to graffiti it. To this day I have yet to see two pictures that look exactly the same of the wall. 
"Imagine all the people
living life in peace..."
 On our way back to our airbnb before dinner we decided it was high time to get one of the weird churro type things we had seen all night. I like to call them chimney struedals because I saw one sign out of five hundred or so that called them that and it's really the only name I can remember.
I mean the name isn't wrong.
P.S. This would look better if I hadn't just scooped out most of the whipped cream.
As delicious as those were, we needed real food so we headed off in search of the oldest pub in Prague which we never found. But we did find this cool guy who could breath fire and has crazy strong lungs. He also swallowed a two and a half foot long balloon so make of that what you will.
Not pictured: balloon
Prague was a great trip and so many more awesome things happened and I would love to spend all day talking about it but that gets boring so my last point of interest will be the Charles Bridge built by King Charles IV which was built between the 13th and 15th centuries. The bridge is lined by 30 statues and guarded by three bridge towers, one of which is considered one of the most astonishing pieces of gothic architecture in the world. This happened to be the only thing I knew about Prague and as such I was so excited to see it, excited enough that I got up the next morning and walked the thirty-five minute walk to see the sunrise on the bridge, which is where I got some of my favorite pictures.
My favorite statue, not for any good reason.
He just looks like a boss.
So to all of you who daydream about traveling, add Prague to that list... and segways. You won't regret it.

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Monday, November 16, 2015


So as many of you know, I took a week long trip to Amsterdam, Prague and then Paris, where I was present for the terrorist attacks. Many have asked me if I will do a blog on Paris and the answer is yes, but I will break the week into three different posts, hopefully giving my brain a little more time to process what happened and how I feel on the subject. With that in mind I hope you all enjoy the first of 3 installments, Amsterdam!

We arrived in Amsterdam on on Saturday Nov. 7 and planned to stay there until the 12th. Our plane was crazy early in the morning and so three of us (being cheap) rode the last bus to the airport the night before and slept there overnight for our 6:50 am flight the next morning. Tip: get there early or all of the booths will be taken and you will have to sleep on the floor.

By the time our flight landed in Amsterdam, we spent the rest of the day wandering around the city, attempting to find our hotel, and eating Belgian Waffles (which were not as good but we didn't expect too much.) We also found this wonderful creation called stroopwaffles which they set out free samples of and we promptly ate them all. Sorry. Kind of.

Wandering around the city like tourists.

That night was my first night in a hostel and as there was a total of 7 of us traveling in Amsterdam, we got a room almost entirely to ourselves. The first night there was a very small asian woman who was going to sleep above me but later that night she also snuck in her boyfriend and they shared the bed. Which was weird.

The next day we went on a hop-on-hop-off tour of Amsterdam and a Canal Cruise. Now to clarify, I didn't really expect to like Amsterdam, I don't know what I expected it to be but thankfully I was proven wrong. The city was beautiful and had a rich history. All of the buildings look like something from a painting (mostly because as historical landmarks, they are required to stay that way.) and everyone was very friendly.

One stop on the tour was the National Holocaust Museum, set in an old theater that at one time was a shelter for Jews in Amsterdam. We saw the progression of hate towards the Jewish community and saw the circumstances that sent many into hiding. I think this was my first time experiencing a holocaust museum in the exact spot where these people once walked and can only say that the feeling is indescribable.
This is a post card thrown from a railcar that was taking Jews to concentration camps. Many quickly scribbled these notes in the hopes that their families would get what they believed to be their last correspondence. 
A few others from our group did the Heineken experience and said they loved it while I'm sure, deep down in their hearts, Guinness still wins. Our canal cruise was amazing, taking us all over Amsterdam in the many canals and also passing the Anne Frank House which we visited the next day.

Update on the hostel bed situation: Night two, thankfully the couple was gone and I no longer feared any shenanigans on the bed above me but almost immediately after I had gone to sleep, a very large man got on the top bunk of my very rickety bed and spent the entire night tossing and turning and basically scaring me to death.

I have always been interested in learning about the Holocaust and so it was no surprise to me that I found the Anne Frank House to be so captivating. We arrived around 9:30 am, prepared to wait for a very long time. Thankfully we had each other to keep us entertained however not much could keep the cold away.
"Jenna stop taking pictures of me! I'm cold!" -Alexis
"Wait no take a picture of us!" -Jayden
"Guys STOP! No more pictures!" -Alexis
Laughing and more pictures- all of us
Once inside we were asked to not take anymore pictures, and I whole heartedly believed that I could not take picture that would do this building justice. My heart broke for this young girl as I saw the building she had been trapped in due to hate and violence. For almost 2 years, the Frank Family, the Van Pels Family and Fritz Pfeffer hid behind a bookcase. They made no noise during the day, afraid to even flush the toilet and had to rely on helpers in the office below them for food.

The people in hiding were betrayed (although to this day no one knows who did it) and Anne Frank and her sister died just 1 short month before the Bergen-Belsen Camp was liberated. The only survivor of the house was Otto Frank, who returned and had his daughter's diary published, and the house made into a museum as a constant reminder that this happened to people then and if good men do nothing, it could happen to people now.

Of the entire trip, my favorite part had to be the Anne Frank house and personally, it devastated me. We spent the remainder of the day walking around and generally enjoying the city.

Update on the hostel: 3 of our acquaintances left and so that night 4 of us stayed in the room. By some stroke of luck, we had no roommates. Unfortunately the first two nights our heater didn't work, so we left it on its highest setting. Well that night it decided to work so we all woke up, drenched in sweat. Ooops.

The next day we left for Prague which will be the subject of my next blog!

"I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart."
- Anne Frank


Monday, November 2, 2015

London in a Day

I'm writing this blog post from the comfort of my bed here in Ireland, still attempting to recover from what I can pretty accurately call one of the busiest day in my entire life. Four other girls and I decided to fly into London for the weekend but ended up booking flights that left late Friday night and EARLY Sunday morning meaning we had only one day to experience London.

Our flight out of Dublin left at 9:30 pm on Friday, and arrived in London around 10:45 pm. Once we landed we immediately hunted down bathrooms and then tried to find a way to get to our hotel. After asking an attendant we got a bus that would supposedly drop us off a short 10 minute walk from our hotel.


By the time we were dropped off it was past midnight and about an hour and a half walk from our hotel. So we managed to find a taxi and make it to what could possibly be one of the sketchiest hotels I've ever stayed at (the hotel was part of a chain and they chose not to put the pictures of the dingy hotel on the website, just the nice one) so it was a miracle we survived.

The next day after breakfast we caught a taxi to the Tower Bridge, where honestly I would have liked to spend the whole day standing there waiting for it to raise, but apparently that's "not a good way to experience all of London". Whatever. Little did we know that this would be the start of a day full of insane amounts of walking and bike riding. I think if my feet were sentient and able, they would have gladly killed me after that day.

First stop in London, feet not in the least bit murderous.
After this we decided our best course of action would be to grab bikes and ride to all of our destinations. Unfortunately this meant leaving one of our own behind (does the saying "Never leave a man behind" count if it's a woman?) but it also meant we made it everywhere much faster. After a stop at the Globe Theater we decided to eat lunch at a restaurant called Porky's BBQ owned by a couple from Tennessee. I really enjoyed the food (despite not really liking BBQ) and thought the atmosphere of the place was great.
Did we go to a BBQ place in London? Yes.
We also saw Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament but of course we got there right when the sun made it difficult to see. Undeterred, we crossed the bridge from the London Eye and looked like the gawking tourists we are, as we snapped way too many pictures of buildings that haven't changed in a long time.

Almost dropped my camera in the Thames for this picture. Worth it.
From then on we went to several more places including but not limited to, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abby, Hide Park, and a lot of other parks. Since it gets dark so quickly here in Europe, one of the last picture I was able to snap happened to be of a statue that I was desperate to get to all day. Peter Pan. Basically my favorite character because I too never want to grow up and I'm sure if I try hard enough I could probably fly.
Don't grow up. It's a trap.
Later on in the night we enjoyed a Jack the Ripper walking tour, and an amazing pizza place where I actually ate calamari. We then walked all the way to our bus stop (an hour and forty minutes away) and made our way to the airport where our plane departed at 6:30 am Sunday morning. We slept all day Sunday and today is the first time I am actually capable of productivity.

All in all my trip to London was wonderful and I wouldn't trade it for the world. It was a bit stressful at times and by the end of the night we all wanted to kill each other (note: alone time is key to traveling with people) but it will be something that I will remember for the rest of my life. My only word of advice would be to spend a lot more than one day, and to enjoy it!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Galway Bay

Two blog posts in a week? Alert the media! Jenna has been productive! Joking of course, but only kind of. This weekend a few friends and I had the pleasure of visiting Galway, which has been deemed the most Irish of all Irish cities. I'm not 100 percent sure of the accuracy of this statement because our tour guide didn't really back it up with any evidence but I am sure that this has been one of my favorite cities that I've visited in Ireland.

Our trip began with almost missing the bus to take us to our train which was an hour away. Confused? So were we. Later we found out that there had been a strike thus the train station in Galway was understaffed leaving us to be escorted to Portarlington via bus ride that almost made me puke. Good start! After finally getting on our train we were able to relax for two hours and watch the beautiful Irish countryside pass us by.
Some of us appreciated it more than others.
We arrived and decided that nothing more could happen until we had eaten and promptly found somewhere that was still serving breakfast at noon. As I had been the main negotiator in the "get food first" deal I ate my scone before I could take a picture of it (noticing a pattern here?) but suffice it to say it was amazing! Mary and Jayden had the least American looking American pancakes but they said they were good so I'll take their word on it.

From there we went to get settled in our bed and breakfast which was great except they stuck us in the attic and we almost froze to death. That's neither here nor there. Then we got a hop-on-hop-off tour of the city which turned out to be a stay-on-the-bus-the-whole-time tour but we had an excellent tour guide named Tony who spent most of the time cracking jokes and telling us about how President Kennedy visited Galway right before he was assassinated. 

To clarify, President JFK came from a long line of Irish men and, despite the possibility of a curse on the family for cutting down a fairy fort, they love him here. I have also made the mistake of telling people I'm from around Dallas, Texas as this is the closest major city. Guess what they associate with Dallas? Yep. I swear every time he spoke about Kennedy he was looking at me. Same goes for any other tour guide who I mistakenly told I was from Texas. 

"And there you can see where President Kennedy spoke just a few months before the Texans killed him." -Tony on probably every other tour.
We also learned about several famous love stories that occurred in Galway including one between  Michael Feeney and Nora Barnacle (the wife of James Joyce) who fell in love at just seventeen but when Michael died Nora fled to Dublin where she met Joyce. This story is recounted in Joyce's final short story The Dead. 

My personal favorite story though, would be when Steve Earle (the country singer/songwriter) came to visit and met a lovely black-haired blue-eyed woman. Unfortunately it seems his love was unrequited but it provided one of my favorite songs, "Galway Girl" (also featured on P.S. I Love You, you know the scene where Gerard Butler sings and it's so wonderful you want to die? Yea that song.) which has been on repeat while I write this blog post.  
I like to pretend this is the "old long walk" Earle referred to in his song, but it's really just the Latin Quarter
We spent the rest of the day walking the Latin Quarter which was beautiful and finding gifts for friends and family. The next day was one of the coldest/rainiest since I've arrived in Ireland and while we attempted to explore more, after I destroyed a pair of boots, we gave up (we did manage to see part of the bay so it wasn't a total bust). We boarded the train and spent the next three hours reading (me) and sleeping (everyone else). In typical Ireland fashion we passed in and out of rain the entire ride home and I couldn't be more happy with where I chose to live for these three months.


Monday, October 26, 2015

Brussels; City not Vegetable

*Disclaimer this was actually a week ago but I have very little self discipline and I just finished writing this post today.*

This weekend, three of us decided to have hop, skip, and jump over the puddle to visit Brussels, Belgium and what a great (while perhaps poorly planned) idea. Having never really even thought about going to Belgium, we didn't know much about the city and as a result began our trip by flying into an airport about an hour and a half away. The ensuing chaos included watching cabbies argue loudly in french (I think) and later discussing how we would escape the car in case our cabbie tried to kill us. These are the things that must be discussed.

Burger King the pregame meal for picky eaters the world around
We finally made it safely to our Airbnb where our wonderful hostess had provided Belgian beer and cheese and we finally got to sleep around 2 am. The next day we woke up bright and early and set out in search of Belgian Waffles. 2 hours and several hangry conversations later we sat down at a "Waffles and Churros" stand. These turned out to be the best waffles we had all weekend and due to severe hunger pains we ate them before I could get a picture but I managed to snap one the next day.
I've never had a harder time eating food in my entire life. I mean look at those forks.
We also walked the city and were amazed at the sheer beauty of Brussels. Something great I found about Brussels is that there are literally hundreds of chocolate shops and they sell delicious chocolate for pretty cheap.We took advantage of this, grabbing a few pieces of chocolate in every store ensuring that we would have a massive sugar crash on the plane (which happened).
I don't want people getting the idea that all we did was eat on this trip, we walked a lot (between chocolate and waffle shops) and saw a lot of beautiful architecture and statues including Manekin Pis (the statue of the little boy peeing), and the main square (where we saw a beautiful wedding which was really just a giant party that we weren't invited to but crashed anyways).
A giant building. Probably important, definitely beautiful.
Probably my favorite part of Brussels (besides the waffles) had to be the small side streets scattered throughout the city. Most of the time you were walking through streets lined with shops and people but every now and then you would walk past a street that looked like it hadn't changed in decades.
Probably my favorite street in Brussels which I found by accidentally walking out of a fire exit in a shopping mall. 
Overall I was pleasantly surprised by all that Brussels had to offer not only in the way of food but also in regards to architecture and history. Truth be told, I would go back for the waffles alone and I probably should be embarrassed about that but I'm missing them too much to be embarrassed, so I'm going to go eat a grilled cheese and cry about it.

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