One of the joys of studying abroad is spending those first couple of days acclimating to your new home, taking in all the new sites and customs, then taking the first available cheap plane, train or automobile to the next destination. As a study abroad student in Europe, let’s just say that it was amazing that I spent any consecutive days in Edinburgh. It’s not that I didn’t adore Scotland (see here, here and here), but for the first time, I could afford—even on a student’s budget with an unfavorable 2£ to $1 exchange rate—to travel in clean, well-maintained vehicles to destinations that you’d actually like to visit. For the four months that I lived in Scotland, I spent every other weekend in a new city, wandering around with my two favorite roommates. All it took was some patience, love of budget travel, and a genuine wanderlust.
Edinburgh | Dublin, 2007
In the weeks leading up to our first trip out of Scotland, an impressive six weeks into the semester, there was a lot of debate on where exactly who should go. The obvious nearby cities, like London and Paris, had their appeal, but we were young, cosmopolitan travelers seeking the ‘road less traveled.’ Read: the road less expensive to travel to. We labored for weeks on Expedia and “cheapest places to travel to” google searches, finally landing on Dublin. Land of Joyce, Guinness and of course, the another amazing accent.
Now I need to underscore our almost maniacal determination to take the cheapest trip possible. This was the first, of many, trips abroad and there was an unspoken agreement to not be that American tourist who wants the five star accommodations, sanitized travel itineraries, or god-forbid the guided tour. Our first step was booking a £37.13 round trip ticket between Glasgow and Dublin on Ryan Air- an airline so famous for its thriftiness that my father asked me to check that the plane had two wings before embarking. Our second step was to book a hostel. We searched, we compared, and finally we landed on the perfect hostel—dream location, passable reviews online—all for the low, low, low price of £14 a night.
While we had spent many hours researching for the trip, we spent little, okay almost no time, planning the little details. Around dusk, we hoped on our “usual” bus to Glasgow City Centre, assuming that we’d be able to take a direct bus from the city centre to the airport. This would be one of many assumptions that would prove very, very, wrong. Upon arriving at Glasgow’s Buchanan Station, we headed straight to the information desk to find the best way to get to the Airport.
Now when we booking our Ryan Air flight, we were prompted to select the nearest Airport- Glasgow Prestwick Airport. We assumed that that Glasgow in Glasgow-Prestwick referred to the city of Glasgow. What we came to realize about five hours before our flight was to take off, that Glasgow-Prestwick is not in Glasgow, but actually is Glasgow-adjacent. If adjacent means a solid hour away from Glasgow.
The kind information lady explained to us the difference between Glasgow International Airport and Glasgow-Prestwick—to her credit with absolutely zero judgment— and told us that we could either take a taxi or the one bus (X77) to Prestwick. We should be aware, she explained, that bus leaves every hour on the half hour and the journey takes about 50 minutes. Obviously we would never waste the money on a taxi even if it meant getting to the airport on time. So we looked at our watches, realized we had a full hour in Glasgow and opted for a warm, filling Italian dinner, before taking the bus.
While Glasgow is a big bustling Metropolitan city, Prestwick has a population that fluctuates between 20* and 120. One hundred being the number of passengers that can fit on a Ryan Air flight. It is located that awkward location where it’s not quite on the beautiful Scottish coastline and not quite close enough to be in the Glasgow suburbs. It is the ideal airport for passengers who don’t want to pay more than £40 for a flight and don’t mind traveling an additional two and quarter hours to get there.
Prestwick Airport has two claims to fame. The first is, supposedly, the only place in the United Kingdom which Elvis Presley set foot. I can only imagine that Elvis never returned to the United Kingdom upon seeing Prestwick’s second claim to fame: the world’s most inappropriate airport slogan: Pure, Dead, Brilliant.** Clearly he took one look at an airport who proudly brands themselves with the word “DEAD,”—decided they were all nutters and opted never to return. It’s a shame, because I think Elvis would have really enjoyed the awkward Kilt dancing that breaks out at Ceilidhs.
We arrived with an hour and a half to take off, breezing through check-in, pausing only to take a double glance at the airport attendants who were dressed in full Halloween costumes…three weeks before Halloween. We head to security, only to be stopped by a guard dressed as Cher, who I kid not took one look at the three of us and told us one of us had to take off our shoes. Now Sarah and I were decked out sneakers and ballet slippers, while Steph was in her standard flip flops. “Only one of us?” we asked, as Steph removed her flips flops and we sashayed through security. All things considered—missed bus connections, extended stays in Glasgow, late departures from Edinburgh—we made it with enough time to grab a Strongbow (an amazing Irish Cider).
Night 1 in Dublin
Considering our departure out of Edinburgh, our arrival into Dublin was comparatively seamless. Without check luggage, which would have cost an unreasonable extra £40, we headed straight through Customs, got our much coveted Ireland immigration stamp—proof for the experienced tourist that said tourist has visited said country, ran into some of Steph’s college friends, and managed to catch the right Airlink bus from Dublin Airport to the Dublin City Centre. A brisk five minutes walk, around 2AM Dublin time, and we had arrived at our residence for the next three days.
On the outside, it looked like every hostel should. Lit lampposts outside, proper signage, a humming electric “Vacancy” sign guiding you into the foray. We checked in, received our sheets (the typical hostel procedure to ensure cleanliness for all residents), and headed to our rooms. We walked through underground corridors, stairs, passing the kitchen cum cellar cum potential hostage-panic room, towards our room.
Euphoric at the thought of bed, we dutifully ignored the person leaping from top of the staircase to escape. In hindsight, this really should have been our first, or second, or really third clue that we were about to enter some sort of hostel-horror film.
Five minutes later, the hostel “manager” dropped us off in front of our room, and quickly scurried away. Sarah, the brave, stuck our fancy key cards into the door and cautiously pushed the door open. It is important that I interject here, and note that in our urgency to book the cheapest possible accommodation, we glazed over the private room, the four-person shared room, and opted instead for the very inexpensive £14, twenty person room. Opening the door (on which someone had actually written “abandon all hope”), we were met by stale air and a stench that felt like getting punched in the face and simultaneously told that your favorite pet has run away to the farm. Not-so hygienic sweat, old smelly shoes, and all the bodily odors you can imagine).
The room/prison camp/dungeon is made of was a solid thirty by ten feet room, filled with ten bunk beds, and a shouldered shut window. I later realized this is why the earlier gentlemen choose the stair jumping as a form of escape. We shuffled into the pitch dark room, squinting to find our assigned beds.
“201, 202, here’s two –oh- wait a minute, there is someone in my bed” I whispered. “Mine too” said Sarah.
Apparently the assigned beds were a mere formality in this Hobbesian dystopian of a room. We looked around and found three semi-close beds, dunked our jackets on them, and then scurried off to find the nearest outside bathroom. I will spare you the details of the bathroom, considering the state of bedrooms, you might be able to forge the picture. The three of us did the quickest change of clothes, brushed our teeth and headed back to our beds. Stuffing all my valuables under my body, I slept until dawn.
The next day, we woke up without an alarm, and quickly ran out the door to enjoy the city. I do have to say this blog post will not give Dublin the credit that it is due. It is an exceptionally beautiful city, with its compact city centre, cut through by the winding River Liffey, and it has those quaint cobblestoned streets lined with 18th century town houses. However, I’m not writing about our amazing fresh scones and clotted cream at the Queen of Tarts or how we stumbled on a rare book exhibition above the Book of Kells exhibit at Trinity. Okay, well I mentioned them a bit later… There are plenty of other bloggers who have had normal, relaxed trips to Dublin, and will definitely do it justice. Let’s just leave it at the fact that Steph, Sarah and I made sure that we spent every waking moment from 8AM to 12AM each day, exploring the best parts of the city.
When we returned to the hostel, we were dead tired. Fourteen hours of site-seeing and eating delicious fish and chips, meant that we were ready to sleep anywhere. We climbed up the winding stairs, and returned to our beds where we found, much like those three bears, someone sleeping in each other them. Apparently there had been a shift in roommates, and our beds and blankets had been claimed. We ran back to the front desk to replenish our stocks.
“Hi, we’re staying up in the big room, and we wanted to get some new sheets and pillows.”
“What happened to yours?”
“Um. Well funny story, someone stole our sheets and pillows.”
“Oh. Okay. What bed are you.”
“Um. Well. Someone stole those too.”
“Okay, here are your new sheets. Don’t let anyone take these”
And we scurried back to our new beds for some serious R&R.
Night 3- Last Night in Dublin
The next day we woke up even earlier, and headed back out into the city. It seemed that the worse our hostel appeared, the better the city of Dublin appeared. We started our morning off at a cheeky little restaurant called” Queen of Tarts” where we had the most amazing Irish scones with clotted cream, fresh berries, and a side of freshly baked muffins. We then headed back to the Trinity to see the Book of Kells. Thankfully we made it in (without bribing anyone).
The exhibit was fantastic. In the first room, they had blown up details from each manuscript and explained the iconographic meaning behind the majority of the symbols. My art history love went into overdrive as I recalled my notes from the last semester’s “Late Gothic Art” class. My favorite part though—if I can be honest—was the rare book exhibition above the Book of Kells. In the Long Library Room, which is as the name suggests, a long double decker library with running ladders and busts of the most famous western philosophers. It was incredibly to see the first editions of the most famous Irish books. After that, we tourist-ed it up with lunch at Wagamamas- the infamous ramen noodle place, and Christchurch, which was now open to the commoners.
We ended our last night in Dublin to the sounds of live fiddlers, over some amazing Irish stew, and around 1PM reluctantly headed back to our hostel. When we went to swipe our key cards to enter the room and were greeted by a very angry “beeeppp.” I tried again and nothing. Sarah and Steph took turns trying. Nothing. Our keys didn’t work! Confused, we took our typically nightly stroll back to the night manager’s desk.
“Hi. We’re in staying in the big room. Our keys aren’t working?”
“Okay. Let me take a look.” [tap, tap, tap on the key board] “Okay mam, it looks like you checked out this morning.”
“Um. I most certainly did not. We have been out all day.”
“Okay. Let me ask the day manager.”
Five minutes later. “Okay Mam, I talked to the day manager, and he says that you came back this morning and checked out.”
“Um. No. We did not return. We would never return here except to sleep.
“Okay, mam. Let me double check.” [Tap, Tap, Tap]
“Okay mam, it looks like you only booked for two nights.”
“Um. No. We booked for three nights. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.”
“Are you sure, mam?”
Confused, and double checking that we weren’t feeling the Guinness from two days ago, we looked at our little sheet of paper and realized that the night manager from the first night had only checked us in for two nights. There was no way we were going out without a fight. I marched over to the computers, paid the 1€ for the printing, and pulled up our confirmation.
“See, I told you. We paid for three nights here.”
“Okay, mam. Let me talk to the manager.”
Hushed Whispers: “They won’t leave. They have proof of three nights. What should I do? There are no beds?”
“Okay, mam. There are no more rooms here. But we have a deal. We have a hotel upstairs and we can get you three a room up there….”
“But you’ll have to us a favor.
A favor?!@?!?@ At this point, we were ready to sleep in the internet café.
“There is another girl who ‘lost’ her reservation. You’ll also have to share with her.”
We agreed, after some solid yelling about pain and suffering, negotiated a free breakfast, and headed up to the shared bedroom. There was a real shower, decently clean and mold free, for us to wash two days worth of hostel life off.
It was only after we were clean, about to get ready for bed, when we realized that we had just spent several hours fighting to stay in the sketchiest hostel alive. Next time, we would just spend the extra five pounds.