At Iowa State, the week before finals is known as dead week, but it really means very little. Technically, Wednesday of this past week was the first day of finals, but other than a very short part 1 of my French final, I had the whole week off–so I really did get a “dead week.”

For the last month or so, I have been mentally compiling a list of things that I miss in the United States (family, friends, 24-hour stores, etc.), and things that I will miss when I get home (fresh baguettes for less than 1€, being able to just casually go into Paris, traveling, etc.), but naturally I was also making sure that I had actually done everything I wanted to do in Paris itself because my time here is running out. The only thing I came up with was visiting the Palais Garnier (the Paris Opera House). Originally Ariel and I were planning to go and visit on the same day that we went to see “Le Fantôme de l’Opera” (The Phantom of the Opera) which was coming to Paris for the first time ever. This didn’t happen, however, because the theater where the play was actually going to be performed had a fire mere weeks before the play was scheduled to open.

The Phantom’s box at the Palais Garnier

Monday morning, bright and early, I went to campus so that I could take the first part of my French final. This first part was entirely listening; just 5 multiple-choice questions about a short video. It was over in around half an hour. The plan afterwards was for me to head back to my apartment so that I could drop off my backpack, then Ariel and I would stop by the ATM so that we had cash for our next trip, and then we would head into the city and tour the Palais Gernier.

The problem was the lovely RER A. After the final, I stopped for some hot chocolate before heading to the train station. When I got there– at least 10 minutes later than everyone else– all of my classmates were still there. The train was “delayed” due to “suspicious baggage” left at the La Defense station. Whenever this happens, the whole line is stopped, and the trains take literally hours to get back on track. You might think that it wouldn’t be that bad, except that it seems to happen at least every other day. Long story short, I waited at the train station for over 2 full hours before a train actually arrive to take us the whole two stops to get home. I really wish it wouldn’t take an hour to get home, or I would’ve just walked.

After the delay, I didn’t even actually go back to my room before heading into Paris. The Palais Garnier is gorgeous! And (fun fact) Monsieur Garnier designed the whole place, but especially the Grand Staircase, to “make women look their best.”wp-image-1789697491jpg.jpegwp-image-393791896jpg.jpeg

At first, we were disappointed because the actual theater area itself was completely dark except for a few lights on the stage where employees were setting up for a show, so we couldn’t even see the famous chandelier, and the Phantom’s Box was locked so we couldn’t see that either. Fortunately, we kept coming back to check whether or not they had turned the lights on, because eventually they did. Personally, I don’t like the painting around the chandelier. I know that it’s famous, but I just don’t think it fits with the grandeur of the rest of the Opera House. {These 2 are pictures my friend Ariel took because my phone battery died and I hadn’t had a chance to go back to my apartment and grab my camera}

We have discovered (through much experience) that European airport security doesn’t take even half as long as American airport security, so we have been slowly cutting the amount of time we leave for security, but we ALWAYS leave at least half an hour for the inevitable RER A problems. In our experience, the RER B (the one that goes to Charles De Gaulle and Orly airports) never has any problems, it is just the RER A. But the French public transportation system just loves proving us wrong.

Tuesday morning, Ariel and I left bright and early for the airport, but evidently we didn’t leave early enough. We knew something was wrong when the train’s driver came on the announcements and said that we were going to stop at Houilles Carrières-sur-Seine, a stop that we were not supposed to make. After sitting there for 10 minutes, we moved on, only to stop in the middle of a tunnel because the train in front of us was stopped at the station. We waited there for almost an hour before we actually got to the stop. Then, we had to wait at the stop for another 10 or 15 minutes. By this point, Ariel and I are getting very worried that we are going to miss our flight, but the train moved on and we were just reminding ourselves that the RER B never has issues. How very wrong we were. We got on the RER B, and the schedule said that it was going all the way to the airport, but then they made an announcement that due to electrical problems on the track, we would be stopping at Gare du Nord. In fact, when we got there, the screen said that ZERO trains would be going further north than Gare du Nord until 3pm. This meant that we were just one of literally hundreds of panicked people, attempting to a) get a hold of their various airlines, and b) figure out how to actually get to the airport because Gare du Nord is nowhere near the actual airport. We were told that there would be a bus going straight to the airport, but, as far as I could tell, that bus was not running any more often than it normally would, meaning once every hour. Well, the bus came, but it when it was stuffed as full as possible, there were still quite a few people between me and Ariel and the doors. Instead, we ended up taking a taxi with 2 random strangers. The flight had just started boarding when we got there, but we thought we had made it. Then, we ran into another problem. Ariel had checked us in online the night before, and she thought that they had emailed her our boarding passes, but they didn’t. Now we were really panicking. We tried to go to the information desk, but told us that we had not checked in, and they kept trying to send us to the Aer Lingus check-in desk. No one was at the Aer Lingus check-in desk.

Pro tip: there are only people manning the check-in desks at airports in Europe from around 2-3 hours before the flight, until check in closes (usually 30 minutes or 1 hour before the flight is scheduled to leave). 

Eventually, we found an Aer Lingus person that we could talk to, but they told us that we had not checked in, and that now it was much too late. At this point, our flight was leaving in less than 10 minutes, and we couldn’t even get to security (let alone through it), so we accepted that we were going to miss our flight. So, naturally, we got tickets for the next flight, which, thankfully was in only 3 hours. Unfortunately, changing our tickets cost us around $85 each. That meant that EACH OF US had to pay TWICE as much as BOTH of our original tickets cost TOGETHER! Naturally, we were both thrilled about this new development. Ariel even said that if we weren’t going from Dublin to Amsterdam, and from Amsterdam home, she probably would have just gone home instead of paying for the new ticket. We also had to call our hostel and let them know that we would be arriving much later than expected.

Pro tip: if you are going to be staying at a hostel and your flight is delayed, you miss your flight, or are going to be significantly later than you originally told them for some other reason (most hostel make you give them an approximate arrival time when you book), you need to call or email them and let them know, or they may assume that you are just a no-show, charge you for at least the first night, and give up your reservation.

Dublin was the first time since arriving nearly four months ago that I had to go through customs and got a passport stamp! (Darn you, Schengen Area!)

As per usual, to get from the airport to the city itself required public transportation, in this case, a bus. Unfortunately the buses only come about every 7-10 minutes, and the first one didn’t show up at all. Then we couldn’t get on the second one because, despite being the first ones there, we had apparently been waiting in slightly the wrong place, so we had to go to the back of a huge crowd of people. But third time’s the charm as they say, and we finally made it to our hostel. Of course because we had been stuck at the airport, and once we had gone through security, there was almost no food, we hadn’t had lunch, so once we checked into our room and dropped off our bags, we went out in search of food.

Pro tip: During the winter, in Europe, the sun rises later and sets earlier than in the US. Sunset is between 4 and 5 o’clock, depending upon how far north or south you are.

By the time that we had eaten, it was already fully dark. But, naturally, this did not prevent us from going exploring. We didn’t really have a destination in mind, but we ended up in the Temple Bar area, and found Christ Church Cathedral by accident. Exploring during Christmas season is the best because you can always find the touristy areas, shopping areas, and other good spots by following the lights! We also learned that a store called “Carrolls” practically has a monopoly on souvenir shops in Dublin– their stores are everywhere and the merchandise varies slightly from store to store.

We kept exploring until we decided to get dinner (naturally we went to a pub). After dinner we planned out all of the places we wanted to visit the next day, and talked with a man we met who was from the South (Ariel was very excited) who gave us some very good advice…

Pro tip: Never go into somewhere that calls itself an “Irish pub” in Ireland. It’s a tourist trap. Any pub in Ireland is an Irish pub.

The next day our first stop was the National Leprechaun Museum (yes, it’s a real thing). It was super corny, but everyone got really into it, so it was super fun. We also learned a lot about Irish folk lore. They had a room with giant furniture, so you can feel like you’re small like a leprechaun, which was my favorite.

Me on top of a table. Photo courtesy of Ariel.

Afterward we had lunch, and then headed to Guinness for our tour and tasting. You cannot go to Dublin without doing the Guinness tour, it’s pretty much a requirement. It was actually very cool, even if you don’t like beer.20161207_134522.jpg

Afterwards, we went to Christ Church Cathedral and St. Patrick’s. We couldn’t go inside them though, because by the time we got there, they we closed to tourists. Our last official (i.e. planned) stop was at the records office. Ariel, unlike me, is very Irish and wanted to find her great grandmother in the records. Unfortunately, the entire place was closed from Dec. 5-9 because of an even, so there was no way we could have gone. At least the guy at the desk seemed genuinely sorry. People in Dublin are so nice– when we took out our map there were always people who stopped and asked if we were lost or needed directions! I highly recommend going to Ireland and I wish that we had more time there, but the next day we left for Amsterdam.

We got to the airport very early because we were not going to repeat our experience getting to Dublin. When we got to our hostel, we very quickly discovered exactly what they meant when they said steep staircases and no elevator. Naturally we were on the top floor, so we had to climb up 5 levels of steep, spiral staircases with our bags before getting to the room. Unfortunately, we had not had dinner yet, so we had to climb back down (and eventually back up) so that we could eat.