By: Hamish Clinton and Jozsef
As we begin this new semester in exchange on the French Riviera, we are reminded that we are lucky not to be enduring a Canadian winter this year. Since we returned from our holidays in the UK and Ireland over Christmas and New Year’s, we’ve been enjoying mild temperatures and sunny skies as we work off the less-than-traditional feasts we ate over the holidays, sticking to a regimen of daily runs and swims in the Mediterranean. Other unorthodox winter activities include many gorgeous hikes (honestly, follow @akajoska on Instagram for the pics), random spelunking on the coast, and pleasant walks to Italy with other SFU friends. Life is grand.
Since the last time we updated all of you on our exchange adventures, we have only one major trip to report on: winter break.
We began our trip in London, staying in a flat that Hamish’s cousin so graciously lent to us while she returned to Canada. We of course had tea and biscuits and visited the British Parliament (which was quite special, considering that the two of us had worked together at the Canadian Parliament this past summer). Watching a performance of The Book of Mormon (10/10, would recommend) in the West End and touring the British Museum before meeting up with some exchange friends were two more treats we got to enjoy.
On Christmas Day, we made our way to a traditional mass at St. Paul’s Cathedral, one of the largest Anglican cathedrals in the world — although getting to it was very hard. We began with the romantic idea of actually going to church on Christmas (something neither of us actually do), and naturally chose the biggest Anglican Church we could find. However, nobody told us the tube doesn’t run on Christmas Day!
So despite waking up at an ungodly hour to go to church, we walked down the street to the station and found out it was closed . . . We ended up biking to central London, before finding a pub where we sat around, drank some pints, and played Head’s Up before finally making it to the evening service (which was beautiful!).
The next leg of our tour of the UK was Northern Ireland. We got off the plane in Dublin and bussed to Belfast, where our friend Alisha (who works at SFU) and her Northern Irish boyfriend James picked us up from the station to whisk us off to the Giant’s Causeway. The Giant’s Causeway is located on the coast, at the base of an imposing cliff, where beautiful hexagonal basalt columns, formed millions of years ago by volcanic eruptions, jut out of the waters and form stepping stones descending underwater.
Being in Northern Ireland, there are of course legends that surround these columns. The legend goes that the Irish giant Finn MacCool built this causeway to connect Ireland and Scotland. On the Scottish side lived another giant, named Benandonner. Benandonner challenged Finn to a battle after Finn stole his organ… the giant musical instrument (which can be spotted in the rock formation to this day).
When Benandonner crossed the causeway to find and fight Finn, Finn dressed himself like a giant baby. When Benandonner saw him, he thought to himself “Wow, if the baby is this large, Finn must be even larger,” and as he fled back to Scotland, he destroyed the causeway behind him so that Finn would be unable to chase him back to Scotland.
But enough about giants. After a few nights spent in Northern Ireland, during which we’d been to a house party, seen the Titanic museum, and visited Dippy the Diplodocus, we made our way to Dublin. Just in time for New Year’s! We spent the night partying with a couple of American friends we made at the hostel, along with a Latvian who was travelling with them. We watched the New Year’s countdown along the river banks, near the cleverly nicknamed Stiffy-by-the-Liffey (a large Spire near the Liffey river), and then made our way to a pub we do not remember, in a part of Dublin we’re not sure we ever saw again.
The night was epic, and following our travels we are convinced there has never been a people as nice as the Irish. At this point we are admittedly having trouble remembering what else we did in Dublin (due to a phenomenon known as Guinness-brain)… But wait! That’s right, we went to the Guinness Experience!
Besides an excuse to drink more, the experience is essentially a large museum that doubles as an advertisement for Guinness. After walking through many life-size ads, it eventually teaches you to perfectly pour your own pint of Guinness beer, with just the right amount of head (we are now certified: ask us anything).
Finally, still slightly hungover (and of course with daypacks full of beer), we took a day-trip out to the Cliffs of Moher. Corroborating the earlier claim that Irish people are amazing, our bus driver from Dublin to the West coast of the island was the most hilarious person we’ve ever listened to during a four hour bus ride. The Cliffs were breathtaking, with just the right added amount of exhilaration due to being on a cliffside with nothing between you and the 214-metre (702-ft) drop down to the sea. Along our bus ride, we also stopped at several of the small Irish castles that adorn the rolling green countryside.
Finally, the last stop on our trip was in Edinburgh, although we tragically only had a day to see the whole city. We stayed in a hostel right next to the Castle; it was super fun and hilariously decorated with all sorts of medieval, kitschy decor. In our desire to experience as much of Scotland as possible, the one day we were there, we tried (and failed) to play a scavenger hunt that the hostel organizes. While we didn’t get to all of the attractions, we did try haggis, have some scotch, drink a pint… oh, and we saw some other cool things. We visited the University of Edinburgh, we saw the statue of Greyfriars Bobby (the adorably loyal dog who, following the death of his owner, spent every day of the rest of his life standing by the grave), and we even went on a walking Harry Potter tour that explained all of J.K. Rowling’s connections to Edinburgh (including inspirations such as the graves of Tom Riddell and McGonagall! Though she got creative with some spellings.)
Over the following two days, we flew back to London, and then back to home sweet home in Nice, where we immediately crashed. Between then and now, we’ve done relatively little due to our drained bank accounts, courtesy of the British Pound.
As previously mentioned, however, we have been using our spare time for lots of runs and to swim every day! We’ve also spent some time exploring and hiking the surrounding area. Explorations have included trips to Italy almost every day, which is where we found some beautiful seaside caves and rock formations, including a naturally formed blowhole that sends an impressive column of mist and seawater soaring meters into the sky when the waves get large. In that same area, there is a beach called Little Africa where, on a sunny day, the sun warms up water that sits on a shallow shelf of rock, allowing for a kind of natural hot tub in comparison to the surrounding sea.
Apart from our exploratory activities, we’ve also been lucky enough to have our other SFU friends that are on exchange here in France come visit us. Our friends Cyan, Sophie, and Vanessa joined us for a few days here on the coast to celebrate Vanessa’s birthday. We spent time exploring Monaco, including visiting the beautiful exotic gardens (not for the first time), and soaking in the view of the sun setting over the city. We ended our time together by going to Italy (saying that never gets old) for a wonderful feast at a restaurant Il Bucaniere, whose owners were so kind to us that they rivaled the Irish.
Unfortunately, the day after they left, we had our first class of the semester. Which naturally had to be at 8 a.m. Due to the way that Sciences Po sets up its classes, this semester, in order to receive the same amount of credits as we received last semester, we had to take more than double the course hours. This, along with our empty bank accounts, probably means we won’t be going on as many far-flung adventures as last semester, although you can certainly expect that our adventures will remain just as crazy and unexpected!
Read more about Hamish and Jo’s adventures, tomfoolery, shenanigans, and antics using this tag.