A Weekend in DC

Since City Year gives us $200 for the metro every month, I figured I might as well blow through as much money as possible before August. What better way to do that besides meeting up with friends in a conveniently flat and walkable city?

Yesterday’s adventures:

  • Met up with an R-MC friend on a whim
  • Explored Chinatown and bought groceries (Okay, well, he did; I bought some haw flakes for 60 cents because I need my occasional dose of Asian snacks)
  • Looked confusedly through the National Portrait Gallery because we don’t understand art
  • Felt like snobs commenting on how ugly all the concrete buildings in DC are (he studied abroad in Japan, and we all know how much I love the architecture in France)
  • Discovered that a map lied to us and made the walk to the National Mall look much farther than it really was
  • Got distracted by food trucks (and got so much food from one purchase that we’re both still eating it)
  • Lost our sanity because an ice cream truck would not stop playing the same tune over and over again

Today’s adventures:

  • Went to a Paul boulangerie to meet up with A, my fellow Nice and TAPIF alumna–and TAPIF travel buddy–and some Francophile ladies in their 20s to practice our French skills
    • Almost cried at the sight of sandwiches and macarons and tartes and croissants and pains au chocolat
    • Was absurdly happy to eat a sandwich that consisted of real French bread
    • Horrified that a pain au chocolat cost $3.95–like, I could get one of those in Laon for 50 centimes
  • Learned that one of the girls quit TAPIF halfway through because she was the only Anglophone and the only Asian in her tiny town. Oh, the joys of racism.
  • A and I happily caught each other up with our lives since leaving France, and we walked around DC speaking French because we missed using it so much. We probably confused so many people, but I regret nothing.
  • Bizarrely enough, this is the first time we’ve met up in the US–before, we’d only met up in France
  • Explored the Smithsonian and the National Gallery, where I picked up everything related to France in the enormous gift shop and remarked, “Oh, this is cute!” and then promptly set it back down because “This price tag is not cute”
  • Passed a family in the Smithsonian speaking French, and then later in the metro, my head automatically swiveled towards another French family and a random guy telling his friend how he was going to take French in school
  • Nearly died on the metro because the lights kept flickering and then we stalled in total darkness for three minutes in an undetermined tunnel

Au revoir, Rouen (et à plus tard, la France)

Following the French mindset of Labor Day even though I’m now officially unemployed, I mostly spent my final day of frolicking through France inside, wrapped in my jacket. (Everything was closed, anyways, something I learned the hard way when I was studying in Nice three years ago.)

At one point, I ventured outside, went NOPE, and promptly returned indoors. (In my defense, it’s still so cold in northern France that I had to unpack my winter jacket…I’m going to burn alive in Richmond.) Eventually, though, the sun showed its face, and enticed by the promise of warmth, I moseyed on down to the Côte Sainte-Catherine.

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Though the hike up the hill was nothing compared to Howth, an easy 30 minutes up a verdant slope, I swear I’m going to have legs of steel by the time I leave France. Anyways, my Airbnb host didn’t exaggerate a bit: the panoramic view of Rouen and La Seine was utterly captivating. With the sun pouring down on the river, turning its waters a gleaming emerald-teal, the scenery looked like something out of a storybook–or one of those overpriced city guides full of photographs.

There at the top of the hill, as I attempted to keep my hair from flying all over my face, I experienced the fickleness of Norman weather: as the sun shone down over the city, rain began to pelt everyone, and the wind picked up to the point that my nose froze and I was afraid of climbing down for fear of being blown away like a dandelion seed.

Five minutes later, everything returned to normal. Normandy. Anyways, fun fact: in 1892, Monet himself sat upon the côte to paint the city–for all you Monet nerds like Madeline, look up his piece Vue générale de Rouen!

The day ended with me trying not to laugh when Pepito the cat rubbed his back along a set of wooden frames, causing them to topple over and scaring both himself and me. If there’s anything I’ve learned about Europe, it’s that it’s full of wonderful surprises, and despite all the racist men (we’ll get into that later, that’s a whole other post), I’m going to miss being able to hop onto a train and zip off to explore any city I want…and being able to drink in the sight of a city through a window from my bed. (Seriously, look at the view from my Airbnb.)

 

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Gazing at Giverny

Still half-asleep, I boarded the 7:12 train to Giverny, arriving 41 minutes later at the small town of Vernon. Then, with nothing but the occasional cow, horse, car, and bike for company, I began my 1 hour 9 minute, 3.3 mile trek across the Seine, through the peaceful countryside, to Monet’s gardens. I admit I screamed a little–albeit very quietly–at the sight of the sun gleaming over looming, rolling hills lining the horizon beyond the river.

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The reason I forced myself out of bed at 6:10am was in the hopes of avoiding the tourists–and while I can say I was one of the first people in line for tickets, I was sadly not one of the first people to enter the gardens.

Squeezing past an unnecessary amount of tourist groups, I made the fortunate choice of entering Monet’s house first. Inside, every room was a vivid combination of functional and brightly photogenic, and security guards notwithstanding, part of me was tempted to become a squatter there.

Outside, as a horde of tourist groups queued to enter the house, I drank in a rainbow of flowers set up against a backdrop of green. At some point, while strolling past a series of pastel tulips, I may or may not have cried over the gardens/the reality of taking my final trip in France. Move along now, nothing to see here except an emotional French major crying over flowers for her wives Iszi and Madeline.

Trying to take the paths less traveled by tourists, I finally reached the famed water lily pond with the green bridges, and the sight took my breath away. The entire garden–house, lake, and flowers–is actually a lot larger than you’d expect it to be, and I spent a good three hours marveling over the beautiful riot of colors, various hues that should have clashed but somehow managed to blend seamlessly together.

Mercifully, the rain stayed away until I finished lunch and boarded the Navette bus back to Vernon, which I suppose I could have explored, but instead I returned to Rouen, where I’m going to sleep for 10 million years. Why do I choose 7am trains to save money, again?

 

Rambling through Rouen

One delayed train, one cancelled bus, one re-delayed train, one 4-hour bus ride, one short nap, and one train later, I finally arrived in Rouen, the capital of Normandy. Although my legs nearly gave out during the steep climb to my Airbnb, the descent was much easier, and getting to see the typical Rouen-style architecture–the maisons à colombage (timbering)–was well worth it.

Before I fangirled over the ridiculously picturesque houses, I popped into the Abbatiale Saint-Ouen, fawned over the Église Saint-Maclou (but couldn’t go in because of a wedding), and gazed at the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen.

Since SNCF had doomed me to arrive 2 hours late, I then wandered aimlessly through the city, drinking in all the colorful, timbered houses. (Am I the only one who thinks Beauty and the Beast modeled its houses after this city?)

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On Rue du Gros Horloge, I climbed the bell tower for a history lesson on clocks and a panoramic view of the city, nearly having a heart attack when the bells rung in the room above my head.

Back on one of Rouen’s most famous pedestrian streets, a colorful display of macarons lured me into a pâtisserie, and I ended up purchasing two tiny ones, lemon and lychee-raspberry. The second one, though. Oh my god. I’ve been ruined.

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I savored my macarons outside the Église Sainte-Jeanne-d’Arc, at what I thought was a peaceful little park, but as it turns out, some dad explained to his kid that it was where they burned Joan of Arc. Whoops?

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After I wandered along the banks of the Seine and consumed the most delicious Pad Thai for dinner, Pepito, the cat who rules over my Airbnb, started complaining because he was hungry, but I couldn’t for the life of me find his food. I felt so awful, I texted M, who came back and then immediately left to buy him croquettes…and he started screaming the instant the door closed behind her. Poor guy. Hopefully M comes back soon with his food.

 

Hiking through Howth

Going full nerd, I walked down the street to visit the James Joyce Centre–how was I supposed to pass it up when it was practically right next to our hostel? As I relived my ENGL 381 final, I also flashbacked to the good old weeks when we read and discussed A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man spring semester of senior year.

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Following a professor’s recommendation, I then hopped aboard the DART to Howth, a little coastal village where I may or may not have taken way too many pictures. (Un?)Wisely, I followed the longest hiking path, Bog of the Frogs, along the peninsula. But those 12 km/7.5 miles along the coast and through the mountains were absolutely worth it: the scenery was strikingly beautiful, and practically every five minutes, it changed and became even more stunning.

Though my photos will never do the blues or greens of the water justice, at times it felt like I was walking through a fairy tale–I kid you not, at one point, I even crossed a babbling brook and walked past a wall embedded with purple seashells.

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The Internet claims the hike should have taken three hours, but I was so distracted by absorbing the view and attempting to capture it on camera that I took five hours to complete it. Okay, the fact that I stole unhealthy amounts of sea glass from the beach probably didn’t help. (Look, they were so easy to find and I couldn’t resist the different colors. I’m basically a kid attracted to shiny things.)

It began to rain as I cut through the mountainside, and I grumbled at the humidity until, at long last, I came full circle and reached the train station. Once tired, sweaty, and starving, and now clean and fed and ready to curl up in bed for our 6am flight, I write this apologetic note to France: sorry, I promise I still love you, but Howth has officially stolen my heart.

The City, the Country, and the Sea

I fed my inner literary nerd at the National Library, where there was a nifty exhibition on Yeats. As the soothing sound of poetry echoed throughout the room, I peered at various poem drafts, though sadly couldn’t decipher any of the cursive. I also gazed in awe at the reading room, which I’d happily turn into my new home. (I wasn’t brave enough to disobey the “no photography” signs due to all the warnings of CCTVs, so I stole a pic from Google.)

I then trekked over to the Irish Museum of Modern Art, (ab)using my R-MC student ID to see an exhibition for free before meeting up with A in the café.

We braved the Irish bus system over to Bray, a little coastal town, where J, one of the teachers that A works with, and her son picked us up from the bus stop. At her mother-in-law’s house, we talked a bit with J and her husband, who’s Irish and has an entire collection of beer pint glasses he’s stolen from bars, before climbing into J’s car. She took us on an incredibly scenic drive, all rolling hills and pops of yellow flowers, to Glendalough.

The main attraction there, a Monastic City built in the 6th century, is a now set of ruins, thanks to the Normans. (Really? Did they have to ruin everything?) Nestled among the mountains and a nearby lake, the entire site radiates a lovely calm, disturbed only by a little dog named Rosie who wanted a duck so badly, she waded straight into the water.

Back in the car, we drove along a winding road so narrow, two cars could barely fit side-by-side. Pausing briefly at a stunning, rocky waterfall, we proceeded to drive deep into the countryside, so far from civilization that at points there was no cell service.

J explained that landscape resembled Scotland’s, and that during the summer, it turns pink and purple because it becomes awash with heather. Though the moors were currently gold and brown, they remained nonetheless stunning. There in the middle of Irish nowheresville, nature stretching as far as the eye could see, I got to experience the kind of beauty that makes you want to shake your fist at humanity for accelerating global warming.

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Eventually, we made it out of Glendalough and back into Bray, where J drove us to the seafront. She handed A and me half a bagel to feed some disturbingly fearless swans and ducks, and then brought us to the beach, full of pebbles reminiscent of Nice’s beaches, even if the water wasn’t quite as blue.

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I may or may not have pocketed a few pebbles before J dropped us off at the station to take the DART, a sort of aboveground metro, back to Dublin.

Experiencing Irish Culture

Now jaywalking with the best of the locals, we fell prey to The Rolling Donut again before dropping by the National Photographic Archive. (Hey, how are we supposed to resist flavors like pistachio salted caramel?)

Anyways, the National Archive houses a fascinating exhibition on the history of the magazine Hot Press, along with some exceedingly salty commentary such as “to keep them (ho, ho) straight” and “Built them up like the wall that Donald Trump has been promising.”

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The rest of the national (free) museums are closed on Mondays, but luckily we had a backup plan: the Cruinniú na Cásca, or the Creative Ireland initiative. A free festival to celebrate contemporary Irish culture and creativity, in Dublin, the event was split into four parts and scattered throughout the city center.

In St. Stephen’s Green, the tents were mostly geared towards children, as we should have guessed by the massive playground, but we did get to see a tinsmith at work. Strolling through the park, pink flower petals strewn across the grass like spring snow, we also stumbled across a giant community drum where children were having the time of their lives.

On our way to Smithfield Square, we happened upon the Georges Street Arcade, a gorgeous indoor street market.

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A weirdly fancy Spar grocery store allowed me to do some people-watching as we consumed lunch, and then our journey  to our next destination helped us realize that Dublin is pleasantly walkable because all the main points are so close to each other. At Smithfield, we listened to the music for a bit before poking around the tents, which featured hands-on science, slap poetry, and graffiti.

Confusion greeted us at Dublin Castle, where we wondered why three separate lines were gathered outside one tent. It turns out that you could printmake one of three designs onto a free tote bag, so A and I promptly joined a line for a free Irish souvenir, waiting about half an hour to discover the struggle of making art. Printmaking session complete, we joined the new fashion trend of the draping the tote bags around our necks to dry like sad aprons.

Finally, we watched some incredibly enthusiastic people dancing to Irish music at Custom House Quay, including a girl casually Irish dancing her way down the street. Inside the dance tent, others attempted the tango, though the highlight occurred outside the tent, where a security guard happily danced away with an imaginary partner. Guess they have to do something to relieve the boredom?

Old Books and New Chips

Since Easter had emptied half the streets and closed half the shops, the native Dubliners off doing whatever they do to celebrate the holiday, A and I happily slept in and had a late start to our day.

It was about time to cross off #1 on our things to do list, so we returned to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells and the library. Except we took one look at the line of dedicated tourists, went NOPE, and shelled out an extra 2.5€ to purchase our tickets online and skip the queue.

To pass the time, we dropped by the Chester Beatty Library, a museum with a misleading misnomer. I delighted in the Arts of the Book exhibition, because books are always lovely, and got to see some of the most incredible illuminated books and intricate Qu’rans. (For once, like a good tourist, I obeyed the “no photography” sign, so you all will just have to make do with creating your own books in your imagination. To make up for it, have a picture of the Dubh Linn Gardens as viewed from the museum terrace.)

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We returned to Trinity College, bypassing a line that had shrunken considerably due to the rain, and joined the flood of tourists  in the museum exhibition. Trying to get to the glass case housing the Book of Kells was like being a salmon swimming upstream against the current, so I only glanced at the book briefly; I was more interested in the library, anyways. (Again, I behaved myself, so unfortunately you don’t get any illegal photos of the manuscript.)

Ah, the Long Room of the Old Library. I’ve found my new home. Welcome to a book lover’s paradise, where you inhale the scent of old books with every breath and gaze at more books than you could ever read.

Reluctantly, I kicked myself out of the library, and then we took advantage of the National Gallery’s free admission. Most of the place was being renovated, but we did get to see student imaginings of future Ireland that ranged from adorable to impressive, and numerous European paintings influenced by French artists.

Grumbling at the winds that stopped us in our tracks, we popped into a restaurant to grab dinner, where I had an introvert moment that ultimately turned out to be successful: I wanted chips but didn’t want to stand there reading the flavors, so I grabbed a bag at random. “Mature Irish cheese and red onion flavor” sounds odd, but it actually ended up being surprisingly tasty.

PS. Madeline agrees that we should move to the library. I’m a terrible influence.

(Me: Let’s move there illegally. Our new home.”

Madeline: oh fuck yes.)

Dear Dirty Dublin

Dodging a multitude of people attempting to hand hapless tourists bus tour flyers, we began our day with a proper power breakfast: donuts.

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We then joined a free 3-hour walking tour, which covered the highlights of the northern Dublin: the Spire, O’Connell Bridge, Trinity College, College Green, the Bank of Ireland, Temple Bar, Dublin Castle, Dubb Linn Gardens, Christ Church Cathedral, and Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.

Fun facts from the guide:

  • Ireland is a neutral country, which sounds like a good thing, except for when the soldiers were clearing out the remains of a statue to make way for The Spire. They grossly overestimated the amount of munitions they’d need, and blew out every window along O’Connell Street
  • Ireland’s most famous feminist is Constance Markievicz
  • Trinity College’s first dean said that women would only study there over his dead body, and a year after he died, the first woman enrolled. Rumor has it that women then proceeded to fulfill the dean’s wishes by marching right over his grave whenever they entered or exited the college. You go, ladies!
  • Vikings introduced the Irish to toilets; Vikings did not actually have horns on their helmets–credit for that goes to Christianity, who attempted to portray them as devils; and Dublin was actually a Viking settlement
  • the Irish word for whiskey, uisce beatha, does not help stereotypes because it translates directly into “the water of life”
  • Tom and Jerry gave Christ Church Cathedral its fame, aka a guy found a  mummified cat and rat in an organ pipe
  • Though it was illegal to be gay in Ireland until 1990, at least the country was the first in the world to legalize gay marriage through popular vote

Previously, my knowledge of Ireland came from spring-semester English lit class, where we sadly only got to cover the Easter Uprising, Joyce, and Bowen. But, I ended up loving Irish literature so much that I turned in a 12-page final when the max page limit was 10…no, I don’t have a problem.

Our noses helped us retrace our steps to the Temple Bar food market, where we were tempted to consume everything in sight. I ended up getting chicken dumplings to revive the Asian in me, remembering my manners enough to tell the guy “thank you” in Chinese.

Since the sun was gracing us with its presence, we strolled along the River Liffey for a bit and poked around the Ha’penny Market and a bookstore, and I fed myself bubble tea.

I then spent a solid two hours exploring the city, getting to know “dear dirty Dublin,” as Joyce called it. The city’s architecture is honestly fascinating, a seemingly bizarre mixture of brightly brick and brightly colored facades that somehow manage to merge seamlessly together.

Finally, thanks to a recommendation from one of my professors, A and I met up again and enjoyed dinner at Cornucopia, a vegan restaurant with salads that I seriously need to learn how to make.

Dawdling in Dublin

After bussing over from Galway, A and I climbed four steep flights of stairs to our hostel room, deposited our belongings, and then headed for the Ambassador Cinema. We repeatedly looked the wrong way while crossing the streets (they drive on the right side here, like England) and jaywalked numerous times, but reached our destination unscathed and successfully met up with another assistant, Sy. (Also, shout-out to Dublin for having lovely, queer-friendly and feminist street art!)

The three of us sat down in a pub and ordered hefty lunches, and then Sy, who’d already been in Dublin a few days ago, led us to Merrion Square. There, my inner English nerd delighted in seeing the outside of Oscar Wilde’s house, along with  his most famous statue and several little structures bearing his quotes, including, “There is no sin except stupidity.” Hard to argue that one, given the current political climate.

Since we had no other plans, we strolled through the park for a while, noticing a fancy Cadbury Easter event for children and briefly wondering whether we were small enough to pass ourselves off as kids. The things we consider doing for chocolate.

Soon, the weather decided to give us a proper Irish welcome; seeking shelter from the rain, A and I followed Sy to the building that houses the Irish Emigration museum. We parted ways there, since she had to catch a bus to her Airbnb and A had to deal with French bureaucracy, but we shared several delightful literary conversations (and a moment where I nearly wept with jealousy because Sy gets to see David Tennant perform in theater).

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After the salty pub food, A and I gave in to our sweet teeth and, like true adults, decided to have crêpes for dinner. Shh, don’t tell our mothers. Besides, mine had strawberries. That’s healthy, right?

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At the entrance of a little pedestrian street, I had a brief fangirl moment over a James Joyce statue before we turned in for the night.

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We ended the day by braving the basement bathrooms, which were actually less frightening than they sounded. While we emerged unharmed from that adventure, we may not survive the night. For some unfathomable reason, the window in our room is purposely designed to stay open, with a gap large enough for a small creature to fit through. If I don’t update this blog again, then blame whatever bird or squirrel that invades our room in the dead of the night.