Summer Break on the British Isles

Just days after penciling in final exam answers this past June, a group of CJ students were off collecting passport stamps in the countries comprising the British Isles. Their time spent in Eastern Europe June 11-21 was equal parts leisure and learning.

Traveler Courteney Muhl, ‘13, detailed the group’s daily experiences – and the lessons each presented – during the Eagles’ 10-day stay on the other side of the Atlantic.

On Day 1, students and chaperones met at CJ before heading to the Cincinnati Airport for a flight to Newark, N.J. After a six hour layover, we flew overnight to Shannon, Ireland. Despite a lengthy and uncomfortable flight, it was exhilarating to finally land in the United Kingdom after months of anticipation.

The morning of Day 2, we dove directly into exploring Ireland by getting oriented with the other branches of our tour group. It was an unexpected delight to travel and share the adventure with students from schools in Iowa, South Carolina, and New Jersey.

All of us were transported by charter bus from the Shannon International Airport to the small tourist town of Killarney. On our way, we stopped for lunch in a tiny village called Adare. From the outskirts of Killarney, we took what natives call a “jaunt” – a ride in a carriage pulled by horse – through the plains down by the Lower Lake. Making our way to town, we checked into our inn and ate dinner, then had free reign to explore Killarney with the other students. The four-block town was personable and friendly.

Traveling Takeaway 1: Euro vs. Pound – Learning to understand the currency exchange was one of the most interesting and educational components of the trip. We were forced to budget and be aware of the changing rates as we traveled through Ireland, Wales, Scottland and England.

We toured a scenic highway known as the Ring of Kerry on Day 3. The Ring, which circles the coast of Ireland, led us through the gorgeous landscape where we saw bog villages, sheep farms, and tiny oceanfront villages. We also witnessed a shepherd and his team of dogs flawlessly lead a flock of sheep across treacherously steep hills, and explored huts warmed exclusively by the earthy smell of a peat fire.

After what seemed like an endless day traversing the country’s postcard hills, it felt dreamlike to spend the rest of the night listening to live music and cheering on Ireland’s national soccer team at the village pub, where we celebrated Mr. Ricciuto’s birthday. The entire day was an Irish treat!

Exiting the small town that had been our home for two days, we began Day 4 by traveling toward Ireland’s capital, Dublin. Along the way, we were thrilled to stop and explore the village of Blarney and its famous castle. Each of us attempted to earn the Irish “gift of gab” by kissing the renowned Blarney Stone before we left.

Rain dampened midday explorations but not group spirits, as we pulled into Dublin. We were warmly welcomed for dinner, and checked into our hotel for the night. The next day, we stopped at Trinity College and admired its grand Library, home to the Book of Kells. The book is believed to be the first transcript of the Bible and was recorded using a technique known as insular illumination.

The rest of our day in Dublin was packed with fast-paced excitement. Samplings of the city’s food, music, and culture supplemented our visits to the Phoenix National Park and the elegant manor of the US Ambassador.

Traveling Takeaway 2: Faith Transcends Time and Space – The time we spent in the national cathedral learning about the Book of Kells was an experience close to home. It was incredible to make the connection between our faith and the faith of the people on the Isles despite being thousands of years and miles apart.

Early Day 6, we departed from the Dublin Port for Angsley, Wales – a three and a half hour trip by ferry. Castles dotted the Welsh countryside. These landmarks made the drive to Manchester, England – our third country of the day – a phenomenal lesson in European history.

From Manchester, we headed north for most of Day 7 en route to Edinburgh, the capital city of Scottland. The city was a favorite of many for its incredible beauty. We shopped downtown, explored lush parks and hiked the monstrous plateau known as Arthur’s Seat for a birds-eye view of the city and its shared coast with the Atlantic Ocean.

On Day 9 we departed for London, the last and most anticipated destination of the tour. In contrast to the peaceful, small-town warmth of our other Isle stops, London provided an intense and fast-paced atmosphere. We were lucky to be traveling in the capital during its preparation for the upcoming Olympic games. In addition, the celebration of the Queen’s Jubilee was also taking place, which meant monumental festivities for Westminster and the Royal Castle.

I was fascinated by the high regard people had for the British monarchy as well as the modern fashion district of London. We enjoyed our two days in the big city before departing by flight from Heathrow International Airport for the long return trip home.

Traveling Takeaway 3: Transit Tips in the Big City – We learned another huge lesson in responsible traveling while using the London Underground – the city’s subway system. Riders, especially tourists, must keep watch for the many pickpockets present. For reference, Londoners compare the atmosphere and pace in their city as being similar to the quick life of New York City.