Florence Files, Uncategorized

This one actually picks up right where FF011 left off- on a plane from Paris to Dublin. When we learned that we would have time to travel after our academic trip, Dublin was my first thought, but I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to sell my friends on the idea since it was the weekend everyone was going to Oktoberfest. Luckily enough, we opted to go to Oktoberfest a weekend early, leaving us wide open to go to Ireland. I was thrilled, because Ireland is the very first place I ever visited in Europe and the reason for the intense travel bug I caught when I was fifteen. That school trip to Ireland, Wales, and England is the reason I decided to study abroad in the first place, so as you can imagine, I was pretty excited to revisit Dublin and explore more of the place where half of my heritage comes from.

We landed in Dublin around 6 pm, which was actually around the time that we took off, because Ireland is an hour behind Paris and the flight was a little over an hour long. It was so awesome to see the miles and miles of green meeting the sea as we landed after being away for five years. For this trip we chose an Airbnb, which was a new experience for both of us. With Airbnb you can book either a whole space or a room, but since there were only two of us, we chose to stay in our host Laura’s spare room which was right off of the front of the house. Since we were basically staying in someone’s home, we were skeptical, but I really liked it, since we had a room to ourselves but were not paying hotel prices. We were pretty busy as well, so it wasn’t like we were hanging out in the room all day. Our host was even kind enough to leave us breakfast food out in the mornings and to lend us two Dublin bus passes, which were very helpful since we were staying about a fifteen minute drive from Dublin city center.

We freshened up after traveling all day and headed into the city center to grab a late dinner and check out the Temple Bar district. We both had awesome meals and blonde brews at Elephant & Castle, and as anyone who travels knows, all it takes is a little bit of good food to bring you back to life after a long day. For those unfamiliar, Temple Bar is the neighborhood of bars and restaurants on cobblestone streets surrounding the legendary Temple Bar, one of the most historic bars in all of Ireland. There’s tons of live Irish music, great food, and all around good vibes. We, of course, had to start our night at Temple Bar itself, and wound up staying there for quite a bit, enjoying the band, dancing, and making new friends.

The next morning we headed across the country to Galway, which was, in a word, adorable. Galway is everything you picture when you think of a seaside Irish town, complete with a huge port, little cobblestone streets, Irish music everywhere, and quaint little shops. The bus ride was pretty long, so we didn’t have a ton of time in Galway, but we spent about five or six hours there, which honestly was all we needed to just have a peek around. I got the most amazing fish and chips in Galway, which wasn’t a surprise because there were so many great little spots with really fresh fish. I love seafood, and since Tuscany is a landlocked region, I don’t get to have it very often back in Florence, so I was loving all the options in Ireland. We walked around and just soaked it all in, popping into little shops and seeing what the city had to offer. Galway is known for the claddagh ring and Irish wool, so there was lots to see. If I had the luggage space, I would’ve bought a sweater, but since I was packed for eight days and two very different climates out of a backpack, I opted for a pair of amazing wool socks. They were put to good use, since Ireland was freezing! My family collects Christmas tree ornaments from our travels, so I got a really beautiful hand-sewn claddagh ornament for our tree as well.



A lot of people only know Galway from the Ed Sheeran song “Galway Girl”, and while that’s not the only reason I went to Galway, I just HAD to visit the bar where the music video was shot, since I love both Ed Sheeran and the star of the video, Saoirse Ronan. When we arrived at O’Connell’s, fully intent on hanging around for a pint, we were incredibly disappointed to learn that they didn’t admit anyone under 23! This was most likely to keep out crazed Ed Sheeran fans, but stung all the same. We headed back to Dublin on what felt like a VERY long bus ride, got a quick dinner in Dublin town and then headed home for the night.


The next morning we woke up at the crack of dawn for our 6:30 departure to Belfast, but the wake-up was nothing compared to our excitement for the day. We weren’t going north of the border (and, for me, behind enemy lines) just to check out the city, we were on our way to a nine hour comprehensive Game of Thrones shooting location tour, with a detour to the Giant’s Causeway. Game of Thrones is my favorite show of all time, and I read all of the books before beginning the show, so to see real-life Westeros was so special to me. I tried to keep it cool, but I was geeking out the whole way. Northern Ireland and Game of Thrones have a very special relationship, since the Game of Thrones soundstage and home base is in Belfast, and 80% of footage is shot in Northern Ireland. All production crew, including hair, makeup, cameramen, and extras, must have a home address in Northern Ireland, so Game of Thrones has done wonders for the Northern Irish economy. This also means that nearly everyone in Belfast has been a Game of Thrones extra at some point in their life, even our awesome tour guide. She was a wight during the Hardhome episode; those who watch Game of Thrones will know just how awesome that is.

Our first stop was the quarry just outside of Belfast used as The Wall and Castle Black. There wasn’t much to see here, partly because all of the snow and ice is CGI and partly because HBO keeps huge fences around the whole location. We moved up the coast to a tiny little marina in Carnlough, whose stone steps were used by Arya to pull herself out of the Braavosi canal after being stabbed. The next stop was one of my favorites, a tiny cave in Cushendun that was used in one of the weirdest Game of Thrones scenes ever. This was the cave in the Stormlands where Melisandre gave birth to the shadow assassin, as Davos watched on in horror. The cave itself was really beautiful, and actually offered great views of the Scottish coastline, which, at that point, is only fourteen miles away.



We drove quite a bit to arrive at the Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site formed 60 million years ago by volcanic activity. Much of this stretch of coastline consists of interlocking hexagonal basalt columns with flat tops, giving the appearance of stepping stones. The Giant’s Causeway is also the subject of an Irish fairytale I grew up reading about, the story of the giant Fionn mac Cumhaill, who, long story short, used the bridge to get to the Scottish giants on the other side, and after a particular instance, the Scottish giant Benandonner destroyed the bridge while fleeing Ireland. This was the only non-Game of Thrones site on the tour, and will likely never be used on the show because of how instantly recognizable the site is, but simply couldn’t be missed. We arrived here around lunchtime, so after taking in the beauty of the coastline, we headed up to the top of the cliff to have lunch at the adorable Causeway Hotel. This is where I had what was probably my favorite meal of the whole trip, seafood chowder with Irish brown bread and Kerrygold butter.



After warming up with our lunch, we took a pit stop at Dulunce Castle, which isn’t the exact castle used for Pyke, but looks pretty close, considering it’s a deteriorating castle by the sea. The castle had already reached its max visitors for the day, so we didn’t have the chance to go inside. About half an hour later, we arrived at our next stop, and by far my favorite stop, the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, built in 1755 by salmon fisherman looking to connect Carrick-a-Rede island to the mainland about 100 feet above the water. Not only is this rope bridge used as the bridge inside of Pyke where Euron Greyjoy kills his brother Balon, but the beach below is the site of the duel where Brienne of Tarth joins Renly Baratheon’s Kingsguard as well as pretty much every scene where someone comes ashore at either Dragonstone or Pyke, considering there’s tons of unique little coves and bluffs that all look different, but equally breathtaking. The island was hands-down one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been in my entire life, and just made me feel really lucky to be able to travel like I do and visit these places, especially Ireland where so much of my family history resides. We finished up the tour at the Dark Hedges of Ballymoney, used in the very first season for the iconic shot of Arya on the Kingsroad fleeing King’s Landing. After this, we headed back to Belfast, where we caught the bus back to Dublin and headed into Dublin town for the night.




Sunday was our last day in Dublin, so we checked out of our Airbnb and saw the town for what we had of the day. Grafton Street is, as always, a must, so we shopped and walked around the area, grabbed a quick bite to eat, and then set off on our walk towards the day’s main event; the Guinness Factory Tour. The last time I was in Dublin, I toured the in’s and out’s of the city, but the one thing I really didn’t get to do was the famous Guinness tour, because, well, I was 15 and with my school group. Now that it’s five years later and I’m well over the legal drinking age in Ireland, I finally had to experience one of Ireland’s greatest exports. For anyone who’s ever been to Hershey Park’s Chocolate World Tour, I would definitely say they’re similar, except instead of singing cows and a chocolate river, it’s walls of hops and fountains of fresh water. The building is designed so you begin at ground level and work in a circular motion upward, finishing at the upper two levels, which are bars. Before you’re even allowed into the bars, you first learn how to taste a Guinness; upon first sip, you must hold the beer in your mouth and hold your breath to allow the foam to dissolve. This came in handy as we ascended to the final level, the Guinness Sky Bar, offering 360 degree panoramic views of Dublin. Included with your ticket to the experience is a complimentary pint of either Guinness or a soft drink, which we happily took them up on. I got ID’ed for the first time in weeks, so lucky for me, I had my passport on me, because after finishing our pints, we got in a cab to the airport to head back to Florence for the first time in what felt like forever.



Anyone who knows me knows how much I love Ireland, so this, of course, was one of my favorite trips by far. The people, the food, the scenery, it’s all so worth the visit. So much so that I’ll be back in January with my sister in tow for her very first visit to one of my favorite cities in the world, immediately followed by a trip to London before I head back to Florence for the spring semester and she heads home.

Thanks for sticking through this long one!! I really do appreciate it, and to all my mom’s friends who want more pictures out of me, here you go!!




Florence Files

Yep. I did it. I went to Oktoberfest. The hallmark fall semester study abroad trip. And I loved every minute of it.

On Friday, October 21st, I arrived to my classes looking like a vagrant turtle, carrying a giant backpack in anticipation of my journey later that day. When class ended at 4pm, Gabby and I made our way to the train station and set our for Bologna, where we would catch our flight to Munich (for those who don’t know- when traveling in and out of Florence, many opt for the Bologna or Pisa airports instead of Florence Peretola because they are cheaper and generally well-connected to Florence by bus and train). We departed Italy on Air Dolomiti that evening (a Lufthansa partner and a lovely little airline!) and landed in Munich around 9pm. After what felt like years trying to understand the Munich U-Bahn subway system and taking a total of three separate trains over about two and a half hours, we arrived at our accommodations- a campground.

When we were searching for accommodations way back in early September, Oktoberfest seemed like a black hole of expenses, considering prices are astronomical around their busiest tourism period of the year. This is when we found Stoke Travel, a Barcelona-based company that organizes campsites for some of the biggest parties and festivals in Europe. We chose to go with their glamping package; a two-person tent with beds, sleeping bags, and an outlet, along with breakfast, dinner, and all-you-can-drink beer and sangria from 8am-10pm.

We didn’t exactly know what we were getting ourselves into, and this feeling grew tenfold when we arrived at the campsite in the dead of night. We were greeted with beers and pretzels by the very Australian Stoke employees, who then directed us to the considerable check-in line. It seemed like everyone had the same idea as us; arrive Friday night, leave Sunday night. As we waited on line, the staff continued to keep the drinks and pretzels coming to placate the masses, and after a few minutes, I felt like I was standing inside a pub rather than on a winding line to a check-in desk. We made conversation with those around us, learning about how they got here, why they were in Europe, and what brought them to Oktoberfest. The time seemed to be going by quickly, but it was pretty late by the time we got in our tent, so we promptly rested up in anticipation for the next day’s shenanigans.

Saturday was the very first day of Oktoberfest, so the beer halls in town didn’t open until noon, when the parade of kegs finished and the mayor of Munich poured the very first beer. We wanted to be in town before the festivities began to get a look around, and I’m really glad I did. One thing I definitely didn’t know going in was that Oktoberfest isn’t just beer halls and gardens, it’s also a huge carnival and fair, with an entire amusement park and tons of food booths and mini shops. Traditional Bavarian food was served alongside fair classics like french fries and ice cream. After surveying the fair grounds, we looked around for a place to settle in for the day. We didn’t have reservations at a beer hall, which would’ve had to have been made months and months in advance, so our only options were to wait on a massive line for a table or drink elsewhere. We wandered into the Hofbräu Festzelt, one of the biggest tents, where the line was already astronomical an hour before drinks began flowing, so we walked outside where there were tons of empty tables. After asking a waitress, we found out that the tables actually weren’t reserved, so we found ourselves a table in the garden and ordered waters in anticipation of the beers coming within the hour. We sat down at the perfect time, because after twenty minutes, the entire garden area was essentially full.

When noon rolled around, dozens of waitresses poured out of one door, each fisting about a dozen steins. For the next few hours, the beers just kept coming out of that door as the thousands of people kept ordering. When inside a beer tent, you cannot consume outside food, but one of the nice things about being in the beer garden outside is that you can get your beers from the tent’s waitresses but bring in whatever outside food you want, so when we started to get hungry, Gabby ran out to the booths along the street to grab us some pretzels. After a few hours, we decided to put the beers down and check out the fairgrounds some more. We headed back to the campsite for dinner and continued the party there, as everyone slowly arrived back from their day in the city. This was one of our favorite parts of the trip, since Stoke had hired a bunch of bands from Australia to come and play little sets while everyone hung out and partied in their sweats, exhausted from the day.

The next morning, we packed up our things, checked out of the campground, and headed into Munich to sightsee. This was a little difficult, since Munich adheres very strongly to the concept of using Sunday as a day of rest. Very few shops are open, and many attractions have limited hours. We lucked out though, because the first Sunday of Oktoberfest is always the costume parade, where the people of Munich dress up in their traditional dirndls and lederhosen and watch the parade of floats, horses, and marching bands in the city center. It was so cool to watch and definitely something that not a lot of people get to see, which made me really grateful to be there. After watching the parade for a bit, we traveled into the heart of the city to check out sights like the Rathaus Glockenspiel, Munich Cathedral, and the Court Garden before heading back to the Munich airport on the U-Bahn. I wish we could’ve done more museums or walking tours, but due to time and our huge backpacks it was a bit impossible.

I left Munich feeling exhausted, but really excited for the trips to come, as our first weekend voyage came to an end. I got to watch the sun set over Germany as we flew away, and was actually able to see the lights of Oktoberfest from the plane window. I probably know the least about the 25% of me that is German, so it was really special to be able to visit not only the country, but the region that a big chunk of my lineage is from and engage in a culture and tradition that is really happy and beautiful.