In 2011 I had the amazing opportunity to take a two-week trip to Dublin as part of my language studies program. I had already been to Ireland when I was about thirteen years old for what was basically a summer educational course; I remember visiting Dublin’s Castle and Trinity College but 2011 was when I really had the chance to discover Dublin and its surroundings.
My classmates and I were studying at the Centre of English Studies; while I am bilingual in English and Italian, it was nonetheless a very interesting course because we were taking part in discussions about different topics and the classes were designed to make us think and express opinions on various matters. I have the best memories of those days in the city and it was like having a glimpse into adulthood, as for many of us it was the first time we were away from our families for what seemed an incredibly long time. We were accompanied by a couple of teachers from our school, but most of the time we were walking the city on our own (except during school hours) and had a lot of free time in the evenings.
When we first arrived I remember opening the wrong car door because I had completely forgotten that in Ireland and the UK they drive on the left, so it was quite hilarious! My roommate Carla and I had been assigned to a lovely family in the neighborhood of Artane, which is a very calm and residential area on the outskirts of the city; the neighborhood is served by various Dublin Bus routes, so it was easy for us to reach the city center, where the school is located.
At first we were a bit intimidated by the city and decided we would never go out at night, but changed our minds on the second day because we managed to move around in groups. The lady at our house was very strict about curfew because I was still a minor, so the main rule was to get back by midnight, a rule we were breaking all the time because we always took the bus too late.
In my opinion, Dublin is one of the best European cities and there are so many places worth visiting; the city is home to many characteristic pubs even though they generally don’t allow minors to enter because of the drinking age law; the Temple Bar area is pretty amazing for taking pictures, as it is very Irish. Most of those pubs host soccer and rugby matches and Irish people like to get together to watch the games.
The city is crossed by the River Liffey, which creates a unique atmosphere at sunset; the famous Spire on O’ Connell Street, a large stainless steel monument which is about 120 meters high, is one of the main monuments in Dublin and it is perfect for taking forced perspective photos. Also known as Monument of Light, its construction was completed in 2003 and it is now a key element of Dublin’s cityscape photography.
Other attractions in the area include the City Hall, O’ Connell Bridge House (also known as the Heineken Building) and the iconic Eason bookstore which has now more than 60 outlets around the country (this is for all the avid readers out there!). I also got to see the Irish Houses of Parliament historical building (which now hosts a Bank of Ireland branch), St. Andrew’s Church, Christ Church Cathedral and statues dedicated to Thomas Moore, Oscar Wilde and the Irish historian William Edward Hartpole Lecky. My classmates and I also visited Kilmainham Gaol, a former prison where many Irish revolutionaries were imprisoned during the 1916 Easter Rising.
There are so many beautiful parks around Dublin, but my favorites are definitely St. Stephen’s Green (which is next to the Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre, where I bought souvenirs for friends and family) and Phoenix Park, probably the largest urban park in Europe. I love spending time in parks and whenever I am traveling in Europe I usually visit Les Tuileries in Paris and also London’s many parks, especially Hyde Park, so it was amazing to just be surrounded by nature and read in the shade of a tree. My friends and I were so relaxed at some point that one of us fell asleep lying on the grass!
We were lucky to be in the city just in time for Saint Patrick’s Day, Ireland’s main cultural and religious celebration, which falls on March 17th, so there was the annual parade in the streets. We bought Leprechaun hats and Irish gadgets, we painted our faces in the colors of the Irish flag and we gathered to see the parade, taking lots of pictures and having the best time.
The main thing I noticed on our trips away from the city to explore the countryside was how many shades of green the land could be; the natural parts of Ireland are just as beautiful as the urban ones and I was lucky to visit Dublin’s Bay because the coastal area is an enchanted place and it is home to diverse fauna, from gulls to wild seals. We were mainly in the County of Howth so we got to see the Howth Lighthouse, too; the Bay’s landscapes are magnificent even though I advise you to cover yourself well when you are visiting because it is a quite windy area and it is usually very cold, especially if you are not there in the summer.
Outside the city we also visited Glendalough, with St. Kevin’s Parish Church and the adjacent graveyard in the proximity of a lake; we visited on a grey day so the atmosphere was very Sleepy Hollow-esque! Glendalough is located at the bottom of the Wicklow Mountains and there are two lakes nearby, Upper Lake and Lower Lake, where we got to take atmospheric photos; the place has something weirdly magical about it and seeing it was a pretty unique experience.
One of Dublin’s most-popular attractions is the Guinness Storehouse, which is housed in an old fermentation plant at St. James’s Gate Brewery. It opened in 2000 and it covers seven floors so the tour is very informative and features various parts, from the introduction of the beer’s ingredients and the figure of the brewery’s founder Arthur Guinness to the history of Guinness advertising. There are various interactive exhibition areas that explain the history of beer, so I recommend this tour to beer lovers around the world and everyone interested in the subject because it is a fully immersive experience and a great learning opportunity. The Gravity Bar on the seventh floor has amazing views of Dublin and the price of admission includes a pint of Guinness for visitors (except for minors, so most of us had to settle for Diet Coke!).
I have so many wonderful memories of my time in Dublin; even though it’s been more than ten years, I still remember everything so vividly that sometimes it feels like the trip took place less than two years ago! Not only was it a time of learning, but also a great occasion to spend time with high school friends; I was always listening to Avril Lavigne’s “Goodbye Lullaby” album and those songs are still stuck in my head after all these years. I remember buying a pair of black Topshop Premium platform sandals which I was so excited about; they were almost identical to the Burberry ones that were all the rage back in the day and I went on to wear them for my 18th birthday party.
I also have fond memories of bowling and Laser Tag nights with friends (not forgetting our evenings at Eddie Rocket’s, where we enjoyed choosing songs from the jukebox before having dinner), breakfast time at the Conroys’, our hosting family, with Nat King Cole’s “Somewhere Along the Way” playing in the background and it is definitely impossible to forget that my roommate and I almost missed the 6.00 am flight back home because we spent the night watching Sex and the City reruns on the TV.
Eleven years later, I am still grateful for having attended language high school because it gave me the chance to live an amazing experience, one which is probably the best memory I have from my school years. I recommend anyone who is in their formative years to experience traveling abroad with your school if you have the possibility, because it is a great way to learn and experience a different environment and will contribute to shape you not only as a student, but also as a human being.
Thank you to my friends who travelled to Dublin with me in 2011; you know who you are and even though I lost contacts with some of you over the years, I hope you are well and enjoying life.
Thank you to the Conroy family for hosting us in their beautiful house and to Carla for being such a great friend and roommate.
Also, thank you to Mattia (MF) for gifting me some of the pictures he took. We were the only ones using a Canon Reflex at the time, so we exchanged some of the pictures taken. I won’t include the pictures he took at the Cliffs of Moher because it was an optional tour which I didn’t take part in; unlike today, I wasn’t a morning person so I regret not going and I plan to go back to Ireland in the future to see the cliffs.
All pictures are my own, except some which are courtesy of MF.
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