Saturday, June 11, 2011

Last couple of weeks went by so fast!

At Guinness Storehouse

Ireland. Wow, I don't even know where to start besides saying Ireland is amazing! It's so beautiful there and their social life revolves around the pub. In my last blog, I told you that we got stuck in Holyhead for the night. When we finally made it to Dublin, we got to our hostel and slept. We tried sleeping on the ferry but all the good sleeping spots were taken so we were dead tired at 7 in the morning. When we woke up, we grabed some food and then headed to the Guinness Storehouse. That place is huge! If you go to Dublin, you have to go there. We ordered our tickets online so we could skip the lines (need to do that). There were seven floors and the building was shaped like a pint. it was great. We got to see every step they have to go through to make Guinness. We rode the elevator to floor seven where they had a wonderful view of the entire city and of course their bar. We each got one free pint. I could only drink a couple sips because it's to bitter for me so Matt got to enjoy two pints. Lucky him. After the Guinness Storehouse we had to hurry to our hostel and grab our tickets for the Rogers Water concert. That concert was amazing!! We were in the standing section which was pretty sweet because we were close to the stage. All I can say is make sure to see him if he comes to or near your town. Matt can't stop talking about it. :D

So that was our first night in Dublin. The next day we went and picked up our car. It was really frightening at first because for one, they drive on the other side of the road and two, we didn't know what any of the street signs were oh and three, the roads are wicked tiny and curvy. At least some of the signs had English underneath the Irish. Our first day in the car we drove to Galway, Salt Hill, and Ennis. It was pretty cold and rainy and I for sure did not pack for cold and rainy (I thought it was hot just like Morocco and boy I was wrong) so I tried to stay in the car as much as possible. We then went down to the Cliffs of Moher and Ennis by taking the scenic route on the map. It was so much fun because we stopped the car every so often to take pictures. We finally got to the Cliffs of Moher one hour before they closed. And to our surprise we had to pay to get in because it is a park (didn't know). We went up and enjoyed the view and watched the storm come in. We then went to Ennis. Our plan was to stay another day on the road but it seriously doesn't take that long to drive from one side of the country to the other so we went to the hostel and asked if we could move our dates forward. They didn't have any problem with that. Ennis was so much fun because they were having a traditional Irish music festival. Our first night we went and got dinner and then went to bed because we were so tired from traveling. The next day and the one after we walked around Ennis, went to listen to music at the museum and went to the pub to listen to music and drink. It was wonderful. We liked it so much that that night we extended our stay by one night. The next day we did the same thing plus some dancing lessons :). We liked it so much that again, that night we extended our stay by one more night. This next day we did the same thing and also watched a movie about a famous Irish singer, took a class on Irish (Gaelic) and went to an Irish Traditional music concert. So our initial plan was to stay only two nights but we extended to staying four nights in Ennis. We had so much fun and met so many wonderful people.
After our extended stay we drove down to the Dingle peninsula. This peninsula was amazingly beautiful. We seriously stopped every five to ten minutes because of the amazing view. We stopped in Dingle to buy some gifts and on our adventure we came across Guinness and Bailey's ice cream. Of course we had to have it! Driving around the coast, we saw sheep, cows, beautiful Irish houses, farms, museums, rivers, oceans, and mountains. It was so beautiful!
Dingle Peninsula
After exploring the peninsula we drove back to Dublin but since we didn't book our hostel for that night, we slept in the car. It was so cold that we woke up every couple hours to turn on the car to get the heat running enough to make us fall back asleep. The next day we dropped off our car, went to the hostel, took a nap and then went into town.  We went and saw The Book Of Kells! It was so awesome!! After The Book of Kells we went to the Jameson Storehouse. We did the beer tour, now we have to do the whiskey tour. The tour guide selected eight people to be whiskey tasters at the end of the tour, and Matt was chosen! There were about 40 or so people in the tour, so Matt was super excited to be one of the lucky ones. The tour was awesome, and the tour guide was hilarious! He said he had a three strike policy for cell phones going off during the tour: if your cell phone goes off, he'll strike you three times. After the tour we were led to the bar and were given our choice of a Jameson drink. Our options were Jameson with cranberry, sprite, ginger ale, or neat (no ice, no mixer, in a snifter). I chose it with cranberry, Matt took it neat. Then, the tasters sat around a table and were given a shot of Johnny Walker Black scotch, Jack Daniel's, and Jameson; they were taught about the differences in distilling each whiskey, and about the flavors and tones to be aware of in each one. Matt was so thrilled that he made me record the whole thing. After the tour we went out for dinner and drinks with two American couples we met on the tour. They were really awesome, and we had a great time with them. We pub hopped a bit, and even had drinks at the oldest pub in Ireland: The Brazen Head. Then, it was time to say goodbye, go back to the hostel, and pack up. Matt was a bit worse for wear, so I got us to the 4:00 a.m. bus to the airport and onto the plane at 6:30. Next stop: Italy.

To say that Rome was amazing would be like saying the sun is warm. Rome was unbelievable! It was breathtaking! We stayed in a cabin at a country club about an hour outside of Rome. The first night, we took the train into the city, had dinner and gelato, and walked around. We were awe struck when we walked out of the train station and found the Colloseum looming monsterously across the street. It was a great welcoming to Rome:). The first night, we also saw the Pantheon which was massive and beautiful as well. We knew we were going to love it there.

The next day we headed straight back to the city and got our combo tickets to see Palatine Hill, the Roman Forum, and the Colloseum. Words cannot even describe how incredible it all was. We walked around the ruins at the Forum and Palatine Hill for three or four hours, snapping pictures left and right. Then, we had lunch across the street from the Colloseum and readied ourselves to actually go inside. Let me tell you, the Colloseum does not disappoint. To really understand how breathtaking that place is, you have to be there (or at least look at all of the pictures we took). It was awesome beyond compare! We saw quite the sight while we were there; there was a group of American guys scheming as we walked past them. One of them told the other to cough if security was coming, so we knew something was up. We doubled back and watched from around the corner to see what they would do. One of the guys walked up to a small observation deck where there was no one else, took off his shirt, dropped his pants and underwear, and raised a hand in the air as if to cheer himself on. His buddies took pictures of him from behind, while others presumably took pictures from across the Colloseum. It was hilarious, really.
After walking around a bit more and watching the amazing spray painters in the streets, we had another Italian dinner, gelato, and headed back to the country club to get some rest before moving on to Pisa and Florence the following day.
The train to Pisa was ridiculously crowded and we were forced to huddle in a corner of a tiny car on the train since all of the seats were taken and there were still countless people standing everywhere. It was miserable at first, but once we reached a beach town, half of the train emptied out and we got seats. We quickly realized, upon our arrival in Pisa, that there isn't much to do there, unless you're visiting the Leaning Tower. Lucky for us, that was exactly what we had come for. Pictures cannot do justice to just how strange this tower is. It leans more than you can tell in pictures, and it is massive. It was hilarious to see people everywhere doing the famous holding-up-the-tower pose. Naturally, we did the same. It started raining just in time for us to head to the train station and hop a ride to Florence.
Hehe, I love this picture :)

Florence, like every other city in Italy, was beautiful. We spent two days walking around, eating Italian food and drinking wine. At night, we got gelato from Grom, the best place in town. They use all natural organic ingredients and their gelato is delicious! No matter what time of day, there was always a line of 20-30 people outside the shop waiting to get some. We went at 11:00 at night and there was a line around the building, and we went at 2:00 in the afternoon and the line was just as long. We'll never forget how amazing the gelato was.
Our last night in Florence, we enjoyed the sunset and a bottle of wine from a lookout point above the city; it was really romantic. Florence was definitely very good to us, but the next morning we had to go back to Rome.
The line for gelato

On our last day in Rome, we went to the Vatican City to see the Pope give his blessing. We waited and waited with thousands of people, only to be disappointed when we realized the Pope had gone somewhere else for the day, and that we weren't going to be able to see him  :(. It was quite a let down, but we were still just happy to be there. We got caught umbrella-less in a downpour, and after getting sopping wet, grabbed gelato at another incredible place, San Crispino's (they had whiskey gelato), and took the train back to our hostel. Matt pulled an all nighter to make sure we caught the taxi at 5:00 in the morning, and just barely caught our plane back to Morocco at 6:30.
And so, here we are - back in Morocco. We spent 5 days in Marrakech relaxing and enjoying the beautiful weather. We met back up with my friend, Khalil, from the exchange program. The first couple days in Marrakesh we relaxed at the wonderful Riad in the medina. Then, the Mediterranean Delight International Bellydance Festival began. The hotel that it was at was luxurious! It looked like paradise - a grand entrance for the reception area, two huge pools, flowers and plants everywhere, and a couple restaurants. I was freaking out the night before and morning of because I had to try to find this place. The night before I tried to get directions to the hotel but I fell upon many different websites locating the hotel all over town. I seriously circled four places on the map for possiblities of where it could be. Thank goodness on my first guess, we (Khalil and Matt helped me) actually found it. So I made it just in time for the workshop. There were twelve workshops in three days. The first day went wonderfully. I took all four workshops and was ready to learn more. So, the next day Matt walked me to the hotel (he got lost in the medina on the way back by himself but finally made it to the riad a couple hours later). I took all four workshops, a little tired this time. That night we said our goodbyes to Khalil which was really sad :(. I am so glad that we got to hang out with her before going back to the states. The third day, Matt came with me an hour early so we could learn how to play the Darbuka. Exciting!! The drums didn't come in time for us to play with them, so we had to wait until 5:30. Matt stayed around the pool underneath an umbrella and still got burnt. I only made it to three of the workshops that day because I was dead tired. After lunch, I took a nap by the pool with Matt and I'm so glad I did. I went to the last workshop of the day and then headed to another room to play with drums. It was so much fun and I seriously need to work on my rhythm. We went and grabbed dinner and went back to our riad for our last night in Marrakech. We packed everything up (it was a project because our luggage seriously exploded and everything was everywhere).

We are now in Essaouira for one night before heading back to Meknes and then to America. The trip is ending quickly. I'm sad and almost relieved at the same time. I don't want to go back to reality, but I think it's time.