Thursday, April 16, 2015

Sequoia and Cassie in Northern Ireland and Beyond!

“Holi”Days Around the World!

As I’m sitting here thinking about the last three months, I am just amazed at some of the things I have done and seen. I don’t have any crazy ridiculous study abroad stories but my experiences have been more observatory. There have been a handful of times that I have to stop what I’m doing and remind myself how blessed and thankful I am to be studying abroad. All of my family members ask me what I have done and I hesitate because I have no idea where to start! I did not know what to expect before arriving to Northern Ireland except for cold weather and Guinness (which tastes like dirt to me, sorry). The culture in the United Kingdom (UK) is not drastically different from the US but the lifestyle is much more relaxed which I admire. In the US, time is everything and we are such a fast-paced country that sometimes we forget to take a minute to appreciate the beauty around us. The University of Ulster (or “Uni” as students here call it) is situated in the city Coleraine and it is basically miles of green rolling hills and sheep….lots of sheep!! This environment is such a change for me because I have only gone to schools in the city. I appreciate being at Ulster because it forces me to go out and find my own fun since there is very little on campus to do. It put me out of comfort zone a little but once I left campus, that’s when the adventure began. 

I decided to focus on the holidays I have celebrated and where I celebrated them. I’ll begin with my travels to Glasgow, Scotland for Valentine’s Day. I was so excited to go to my second country! I immediately noticed how busy it was in Glasgow compared to Coleraine and it felt nice to get out of the country (even though I had only been there for a few weeks). To me Glasgow is similar to Belfast in that the city has a lot of things to entertain you but also at the same time, you do not have to go far to get out of the city. I took a day tour (roughly 8 hours) of the Coast of Ayr and it was only about an hours drive from the city but we were taken to see the beautiful waters on the coast and a small town that wasn’t far. I’ve been to Coleraine, Derry/LondonDerry, Belfast, and London but I can say Glasgow has been my favorite UK city. 
Cassie on the Coast of Ayr

Next up is Saint Patrick’s Day in Dublin. I’ll start off with the nice things about Dublin first. I really enjoyed the Saint Patrick’s Day parade and the floats that were displayed were very interesting. It was nice to be in the Dublin on that day and to celebrate with everyone else, even though some people had more of an appreciation than I did. I never imagined myself in Dublin for Saint Patrick’s Day and I just enjoyed being in the moment and taking lots of pictures. Now for the bad…which isn’t terrible but it made the visit less enjoyable. Dublin did not offer me much more than the Saint Patrick’s Day events! Maybe I should have looked around for more things to do but I was only there for a few days but it was overrated to me! I apologize (not really) to anyone who likes Dublin but it wasn’t very enjoyable for me. Fortunately, my adventures after Dublin get much better!

Wearing my green on St. Patrick's Day
I had the amazing opportunity to go to Europe, specifically Paris and Barcelona but I’ll start with Paris. I took the bus from London to Paris (which was like 8 hours or so) and although I did not get much sleep on the bus, I cannot describe how I felt when I first learned that we arrived in France on Easter Sunday. Paris was everything that I imagined it to be from the food to the romance to the museums. There was nothing overrated about carelessly strolling along La Seine, looking at the amazing art in Le Louvre, visiting the chocolate shops on Saint-Germain street, putting an endearing lock on the famous lock bridge, and standing under the Eiffel Tower. I stayed in Paris at my first bed and breakfast (B&B) for about two days and it was the perfect time to discover everything Paris had to offer. 

Love lock on a Paris bridge

"Holding" the Eiffel Tower
Now (drum roll)… it’s time for Barcelona! Barcelona has my heart and I’ve declared it my favorite city. My first day in Barcelona I was exhausted from traveling for almost 14 hours via bus and I pretty much slept the entire day. The days following were full of adventure and eye-opening experiences. I had the pleasure of taking two amazing bicycle tours around the city of Barcelona and I learned so much about the history of the city as well as Gaudi, the architect of the city who created beloved structures such as La Sagrada de Familia (probably the most authentic, detailed building I have ever seen in my life). It was nice to travel through the city on a bicycle and to feel the wind (the weather was beautiful and sunny by the way…I got all my vitamin D back that I had been lacking). The food, the drinks and the people of Barcelona were incredible and I have already given myself a rough timeline of when I want to visit again. Being in Barcelona made me rethink my definition of “luxury”; to have luxury there is to have beautiful weather the majority of the year, to be close to the beach, having non-expensive delicious food (chorizo and cava are my new favorites), being able to bike everywhere, and knowing the importance and value of friendship.  

Rooftop dinner with friends in Barcelona

 My final day in Barcelona I went to Holi which is an Indian festival celebrating the arrival of spring and involves music and powder paint. I was not prepared at all to be covered in powder but I never regret going. The vibe I had during Holi was a mixture of amazement that I was blessed to have the memory of being a crowd of a couple thousand people, everyone is happy, everyone is cheerful and friendly. Studying abroad is supposed to change your view on certain things and I know God allowed me to study abroad for a reason. I have met some great people, tried new foods, traveled to different countries and I am continuously humbled. I came, I conquered, I learned and I have loved *insert cliché heart right here*.

Holi Barcelona

Sequoia Hill
University of Ulster, Coleraine
Northern Ireland
United Kingdom