Recently, I visited Ireland, Wales and England on an educational study tour given through Bevill State Community College, and the phrase “trip of a lifetime” is an understatement.
There were 35 of us who made the trip, including people from Jasper and Fayette, a lady from Cullman and two others who flew in from Florida and Texas. Once we arrived in Ireland, we were also paired with another college, Clark University from Iowa. Then, we met our fearless leader — our tour director for the entire journey — Albie, a quirky Irishman originally from Dublin.
We flew from Birmingham to Charlotte, North Carolina, then to London and finally landed in Shannon, Ireland, after having been awake for more than 24 hours. I also noticed how larger flights seem to create less turbulence than the smaller, more rickety flights. (Side note: This girl is afraid of flying in any type of aircraft that isn’t connected to a metal arm extending from a ride in Disney World.)
After arriving at the Emerald Isle, we stayed a couple of nights in Killarney at the Glena House, a quaint inn which is an approximate 10- to 15-minute walk to the more frequented downtown area. The next day, we traversed the Ring of Kerry, a coastal and countryside route of the large, green island which captures the essence of Ireland’s beautiful lakes, mountains and beaches. We also toured the Bog Village, which is the re-creation of a rural 19th Century Irish village, and learned about bog bodies — bodies that are thousands of years old which have been preserved in a type of wetland, also called a bog, that create low-oxygen, highly acidic environments perfect for body preservation.
On our way to Dublin, where we stayed the next few nights, we stopped by the Blarney Castle for about two hours so individuals could dine, buy souvenirs and “chance their arm” by kissing the popular Blarney Stone. Before arriving in Dublin for the evening, we had also toured the Rock of Cashel — the former seat of the Kings of Munster and home to a wide variety of medieval architecture.
Dublin is the largest city in Ireland, and it is no stranger to seeing celebrity guests — such as Bono of U2 or actor Sean Connery — visiting a local pub from time to time. Not only did we view St. Patrick’s Cathedral, but we also toured Trinity College where individuals visited the Book of Kells. Later that evening, we were treated to dinner at Brazen Head (Ireland’s oldest pub), which featured Irish music and folk tales about fairies and leprechauns.
The following day, we ventured to Holyhead by way of a three-hour ferry ride aboard the Stena Adventurer. We hopped on a bus and then headed for a tour of an authentic Welsh castle. For the rest of the evening we traveled through Snowdonia into Mold, Wales, where we stayed for the night.
On Day 7 of our journey, we took in the sights of Stratford-upon-Avon, where William Shakespeare, his wife Anne Hathaway and their families lived during the late 1500s. After touring those cottages, we were bussed into Oxford, where the city is known worldwide for its university that celebrates centuries of well-known graduates. Finally, we headed to our last stop for the day and for the rest of our fun, yet educational, vacation — London.
It would take me hours to explain in detail the numerous historical, intellectual and eye-catching places we visited, so I will have to skim the surface of places we were graciously allowed to tour. If you were lucky enough to catch a ride on the London Eye — an iconic observation wheel that stands 135 meters high, basically a giant, enclosed ferris wheel — you could see Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, the River Thames, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge, the Tower of London and Buckingham Palace, just to name a few.
A large majority of us chose to tour Windsor Castle, which is one place the Queen likes to call home; however, neither she nor her son or grandsons were home to ask me for a privately guided tour. We did, fortunately, view many lovely paintings, swords, jewels and even caught a glance at the guards with their red jackets and fuzzy, black hats.
Those of us who stayed for the 11-day trip also visited Stonehenge and the town of Bath. Stonehenge “rocked,” literally, but it was cold and windy that particular day so we kind of quickly circled around the huge configuration of boulders. Bath was not only the place Geoffrey Chaucer spoke of in “The Canterbury Tales,” nor was it only the town where one of my favorite authors, Jane Austen, lived for a time, but it was also the dwelling place that houses the Roman baths, built centuries ago for Romans to relax in the hot springs.
The second-to-last day was spent leisurely exploring the big city in smaller groups and pairs. I enjoyed trying to navigate the Underground public metro system, known as the “Tube” to locals. A few of us dined at the J. D. Wetherspoon pub, visited the museums and joined in a Catholic Mass as we sat in awe under the magnificent architecure of St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Our last day home, I had to snap myself back into reality. It almost felt like a dream because it was here and gone in a minute. Sure, there were loads of laundry to do and hours upon hours of sleep I had to regain, but I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.
Briana Webster is a staff reporter at the Daily Mountain Eagle.