Ah, Half Term break had come at last. The extra one week holiday which sneaks into the UK schooling calendar and brings happiness to students and teachers alike. Ideally, it should be used for some r & r time, to refresh you for the next half of the term but in true gappy style I think I have returned to the busy school more tired than when I left. But, no ragrets (not even one letter), this last week has been one of the best of my life.
Beware: a longer than usual post awaits.
It began with a school excursion to Bath on the Friday night to go to a big netball game (the ANZ championship equivalent) which was insane! It made me miss netty all the more, after going from 7-10 sessions a week last year now to nothing I was jumping out of my seat ready to steal a patch and get on the court, jeans and all.
The Saturday was travel day. I thought it would be a top idea to substitute one of my 3 train rides with a walk, this would save me from tackling the confusing London underground and give me a chance to walk around The Big Smoke. Sounds fantastic, but when some strong rain, a big suitcase, a broken bag, a wet map and a dead phone comes into the equation, this 45 minute scenic stroll turned into a 3 hour nightmare in the most confusing city ever. But then again, at least I was getting lost and drenched in London rather than the backstreets of Penrith. I’ll save my evaluation of London for another post.
When I met Chafyn Grove’s gappy number 2 at Stansted Airport he was greeted with a 70 pound fine for being 2 minutes late to check in (had tried to check in online for the 15 minutes before this but had poor internet). A 70 pound loss hits a poor gappy hard.
The rest of the journey was improved with the help of Harry Potter books and we were greeted at Dublin Airport by my brother’s Irish fiance’s sister (it sounds like a much further connection then it is) who kindly picked us up at midnight to drive us to her mam and dad’s house where we stayed for the next two nights. It was so great to see familiar faces, be welcomed so warmly and to see Louise’s home town. The next day was for exploring Dublin, finding cheap souvenir shops and the cutest bars. It is an awesome and vibrant city and I could have easily walked around all day. After a filling Sunday Roast at Paddy’s, we head out to meet up with some friends for a pub crawl which was a killer night. Having Live music playing every night in little bars was one of the highlights of my Ireland experience. 90s classics go down well with a few pints of cider, unfortunately so does loud singing and embarrassing dance moves.
The next day was waaaaaay too early after a night out (6am wake up what) and after getting lost around Dublin the only way to cheer us up was a bright green paddywagon bus accompanied by hundreds of Aussie, Kiwi and Safa gappies waiting to begin this week of fun.
We were allocated a bus containing some familiar faces from Oz and was warmly welcomed to the paddywagon by our Bus driver Gavin who only knows two things: how to drive a bus and have a good time. It was clear by the introductory speech that we were in for a hell of a good week.
In no time at all the whole bus had clicked and the aussie banter began. I was lucky enough to sit next to the loveliest of girls whom introduced me to her fellow gappies who I ended up becoming really good friends with. I don’t think I’ve ever met a group of people who are more similar to myself in every way. What a treat!
The first day was travelling from Dublin up to Belfast, we travelled through some historical graveyard type things (obviously I was super interested haha) and through very green and beautiful countryside (which continued every day of the tour and was still breathtaking even by the last day). I had never learnt about the wars and conflict that carried on between South and North Ireland and didn’t realise that the separation and dispute still carries on today. We took a black cab ride through the city, following the peace wall, the murals and the outskirts of the city which for someone who usually sticks her nose up to the word history, was incredibly interesting. Especially because its still so evident now, in 2015!
With a quick stop at the titanic museum (who knew the titanic was built in belfast?) we arrived at our hostel for the night where the celebrations began. After a few games of spoons, beer pong and some singing we made our way into the party centre of Belfast. The expensive entry fees were worth the while after we boogied the night away at the opening night of a local night club. It. Was. Sick.
Next day we bypassed some Game of Thrones settings and sceneries which were purely picturesque as we travelled towards the coastline and did a walk along cliffs overlooking a sea which in the visible distance joins with Scotland. There was a scary rocky bridge walk which joined the mainland to a little island which left the heart pumping and the ‘Shrek I’m looking down’ reenactments in full swing. The next adventure of the day was exploring the Giant’s causeway which was insane! It was the most interesting and spectacular of places, there are pillars upon pillars of basalt along the coast, making steps which lead into the sea. It is crazy to think that it is all naturally made because each pillar fits so perfectly to the next and the pillars are generally hexagonal. In short these are the result of an ancient volcano eruption leaving a plateau of lava on the land which once cooled, fractured horizontally, forming these pillars. Geography eyes were well and truly on.
As we drove along, the division between the British and the Irish was clear. Road signs displaying “Londonderry” the town where we were headed had been altered. The ‘London’ part of each sign had been crossed out or vandalised, as if to erase that British connection with the town. So the British called it Londonderry, the Irish called it Derry and we called it a good time. Derry didn’t disappoint, we had a walking tour which let us see some of the beauty and history of this town which is divided down the middle by a river. The Catholics on one side and protestants on the other. Tonight we met another paddywagon tour bus group which meant double the fun as we took over a local bar and had live music playing us some Aussie belters. You know it is going to be a good night when a leprachaun hat becomes part of your outfit, lucky this bar was on the Irish side of town. That night I ran into 2 people from Sydney that I’d met on a camp and formal that I didn’t even realise were going on a gap year! It was so strange to feel a part of a group of Aussies again and not be the outsider who says “water” funny.
The following day was just a long, long drive to Galway. We saw a pretty waterfall and some incredible mountains and fields but that was only in-between sleeping and the occasional sing-a-long. As a result we reached Galway super early which gave us a chance to explore the town and have a nap before the biggest night of all. Galway’s nightly activity was a pub crawl with all the other paddywagon buses who were doing the 6-day tour. I think they said there was 440 of us crazy, southern-hemispherians taking over Galway in the middle of their national party week (equivalent to O week). Here I met up with many gappies who I’d met along the way so far and it felt like we were all going out in Sydney’s Kings Cross, not in Ireland-ville. The night started badly with Guinness but ended brilliantly dancing in an uber cool club where they have a ‘stock exchange’ system. So that means there is a giant board with drink prices which changes as the night goes on. The more one drink has been bought, the less it will cost and vice versa. This was probably the best night of the tour and is one for the history books.
Getting up early the next morning was difficult for all but we were in for an incredible day. We visited the Cliffs of Moher which were beautiful and overwhelmingly large and then moved onto the Blarney Castle. I felt like a little kid walking around the gardens and exploring the different parts of a castle. Of course, I kissed the Blarney Stone which gave me the gift of the gab (lucky me) but was also a bit of a thrill ride having to be held backwards over a ledge in order to lock lips with the rocks of rocks. It rocked.
We stayed in some tiny hostel in some tiny town in the middle of nowhere that night and had the pub underneath the hostel all to ourselves. Karaoke was on and the worst voices and dance moves were out. We had heard legends of past gappies putting sheep onto the paddywagon bus for the driver to find when he walked on. So, when the pub shut down at 12 we went for a cool walk around the village (all 20 of us) searching, of course, for a sheep to borrow. In this search the aussie anthem was definitely sung and a paddock was definitely found but needless to say, all sheep were left safe that night.
The next day was my favourite. We road tripped it to Dingle to pick up some snacks and then took a 2 hour bus trip along the beautiful Dingle peninsula. I was so taken aback by the cliffy coastline, where sheep would be found on hills steeper than the giant drop at wet n’ wild. I would like to know what percentage of sheep deaths are from falling over the cliffs into the water and compare their thigh muscle size with the sheep on flat, liveable, reasonable land. My camera was overused that day just trying to capture the peculiarity and beauty of the scenery. It was calendar worthy.
2 hours of free time in Dingle, the town home to ‘P.S I love you’ meant small boutiques, salt-flavoured ice cream (which was the best thing ever) and a lot of colourful buildings.
On arrival to Killarney, we changed transport style and time periods as we took a horse and cart ride along the national park and onto the busy roads. It was an experience and a half trying to turn into a main road in between cars who have a horsepower definitely higher than 1. After a last supper of pringles with cup of soup, we spent the night in a bar/club again with live music, making friends with the locals and pleading for some Australian songs (it became routine to do this each night). It was a killer last night and topped off a just as great day and tour.
The bus trip back to Dublin should have been a quiet, tired and sad one but somehow, the trip was transformed when some of the guys were way too keen to continue the party. Lets just say that a lot of straight vodka, whiskey and jagermeister was skulled too early in the morning and that this unique group of people would not have the healthiest set of livers after that bus ride towards… THE GUINNESS FACTORY. Not really my scene as I’m not interested in guinness, history or beer making but if those are right up your alleyway then it would be an awesome place! What is cool was learning about Arthur Guinness (the maker of the black drink of death) who is actually the great-great-great grandfather of students who go to the school I work at – also with the last name Guinness.
It was an hour of sad goodbyes and facebook adding, planning when we can next reunite but it was time for all to return to another stingy hostel… except me and my other gappy. We were so grateful to have a comfy bed and a home cooked meal at Patty and Eamon’s place and it felt like absolute heaven in comparison to our conditions in the last week. We had made ludicrous plans to go out in Dublin that night with other gaps but by 8pm we had hit a wall and it was time to hit the sack and say goodbye and thank you to Patty and Eamon.
The journey back was filled with sleep at any chance possible and it felt longer than my journey from Sydney to London. Chafyn is starting to feel like home now and I was yearning to be back and have my own bed and bathroom, but Paddywagon was one of the best weeks of my life. I have definitely been infected by the travel bug, I now can’t wait to just plan the next adventure, and the next, and the next!