One of the first things that you learn when traveling abroad in our current times, is that the exchange rate of the American dollar is less than fantastic. Taking this fact into account, and realizing that we are all traveling on a budget, sometimes leads us to make interesting travel arrangements. Under these circumstances, this past weekend a group of six of my friends and I decided to travel to Dublin. Our mode of transportation … a 12-hour combination of trains and a ferry over to the Emerald Isle.

After leaving Oxford at 6 p.m., we arrived in Ireland the next day at 6 a.m. The city wasn’t awake yet, and walking along the streets of Dublin that early was amazing. We wandered along Temple Bar, Dublin’s hopping pub scene was only a street of storefronts by morning. After killing time by wandering around, taking photographs and waiting for the rest of the city to wake up, we decided to take a bus tour to the southern countryside.

The bus first took us along the coast of Dublin, and we were allowed to get off the bus and go down to the shore. The view was the epitome of what I imagined Ireland would be – the sea, with the greenest rolling hills behind it, stretching all the way to the horizon. The bus took us south to just outside Brey to Powerscourt House & Gardens. These gardens stretch over several acres and have been there since the 17th century. In exploring the gardens you find fountains, a tower that gives you a view of the whole area, the most beautiful Japanese gardens and thousands of flowers.

At the conclusion of our tour, we set off in search of our hotel. And this wasn’t just any hotel, it was a castle…no joke! We spent the night in Clontarf Castle. This amazing castle that was built in 1034, was home to the monastic order of the Knights Templar in the 1300s, sought after by Henry VII in the 1500s, passed through generations of an Irish family until the 1950s, and was finally opened as a four star hotel in 1998.

The next day we said goodbye to our castle and set out to see the really important sights in Dublin…the Guinness Factory and the Jameson Irish Whisky Distillery. Both tours where very informative, and I highly suggest them if you ever come to Dublin. They leave you with a true appreciation for both spirits when placing your order at the next pub.

We concluded our last night in Ireland by journeying to Temple Bar. It was an entirely different street at night than the peaceful stretch of shops we had seen early the previous morning. We found a pub with live traditional Irish music, and a nice Irish man taught me the art of Irish dance. I don’t think I actually got it down, but it was fun trying it out.

We ended our stay in Ireland the next day after more sightseeing, and began our long trip back to Oxford. As the ferry pulled away from the shore, I looked back over the sea at the beautiful green rolling hills of Ireland with a new appreciation for Ireland’s culture and history.