I get grossed out really easily. I think it’s because I’m a highly sensitive person (google it), but I’m super sensitive to smells and tastes. If a smell doesn’t fit into my standard of pleasant or clean, I quickly become uncomfortable and grossed out.
On the other hand, I’m not typically a germaphobe. I can walk barefoot pretty much anywhere, and I don’t mind not showering for days on end. I’m currently going on day 3 ;). But my mom is a different story. From very early on, she’s instilled in me that anywhere I sleep besides my bed is probably dirty and that I must wear long sleeves and long pants tucked into my socks. She taught me that top sheets in hotels are probably not clean so don’t use them, carpets are not vacuumed so don’t walk barefoot, and everything needs to be wiped down, so wipe it down.
My sensitive senses mixed with my moms aggressive opinions on hotels mean I get a weird sense of uncomfortableness when staying in new places. Why does this matter you ask? Well, I stayed in my first hostel this weekend.
Hostels are a cheaper version of a hotel mixed with a summer camp. There are bedrooms with bunk beds that you share with strangers and communal bathrooms, kitchens, and living rooms where you can hangout with more strangers. Before even getting to Ireland, I knew that I wanted to stay in a hostel when I travel. It fit into this image of what traveling on a budget should look like, and I want to be that image. So when it came time for my friends and me to book our lodging, I demanded we stay in a hostel.
I forgot that I get icked out a lot easier than I realize. It’s weird to put into words, but as I’m writing this on my third night in my hostel, I still feel slightly uncomfortable and itchy in this bed that has been shared by probably hundreds of people. I’m afraid to wash my teeth because the water tasted weird yesterday, and I felt slightly on edge when I got home tonight and the house smelled a little off. My little problems make staying at places that aren’t my own home kind of hard. But here I am, third night in in my first hostel, and despite my previous descriptions, I kind of love the hostel life.
As soon as we walked in, I was sort of shocked. There were murals on the walls, a grand staircase, a cute kitchen with collages and picnic tables, and a living room with a cozy, family room style vibe. The owner Steph instantly welcomed us, and I think we startled her with our intense awe of the place. She told us that there was free tea, rice, and pasta as well as beer pong Saturday night. Needless to say, we felt right at home.
I went on this trip with four of my new friends!!!: Florence, Jason, Annie, and Ally. Study abroad is sort of weird because you meet new people and then two weeks later you’re sharing a room with them in a new country and trusting them to have your back shit hits the fan. Thankfully, shit did not hit the fan this weekend. I think it says a lot about people my age and how well we can bond with people and create real friendships in such a short period of time. Have these people become my best friends yet? Well kind of because I get attached easily. But the point is, study abroad really forces you to trust your gut and just go with things.
We arrived in Belfast Friday night and ended the evening with subway sandwiches. I have a vivid memory of eating a subway flat bread sandwich on my aunt Dina and uncle Patrick’s porch of their first house when I was very little. This was a very similar experience. We ended the night early, but I kind of love sharing a room with friends on trips. It feels like a middle school sleepover because no one can sleep because everyone is laughing at the same joke for ten minutes.
Saturday morning we woke up early to take a cab tour through Belfast. Jackie taught us about Belfast’s history. Belfast is Northern Ireland, but technically a part of the UK. It is split strictly between the British and the Irish which also splits into Protestants and Catholics. There is deep history in this division. It’s so deep that there are still walls up in the country that splits up the Catholic and Protestant side. It’s pretty crazy.
After the tour, we spent time walking through Belfast and stopped at a pub where I ordered and finished my second beer of the whole trip (!!!!). We finished the afternoon off with a tour of the Titanic museum. The Titanic was built in Belfast, and the museum gave us interesting insight into the history of Belfast before the Titanic, why they chose to build it there (because Belfast was a large linen producer), the building of the Titanic, the crash, and the aftermath. I highly recommend the museum if you ever find yourself in Belfast. It was interactive, interesting, and very big.
Belfast is supposedly known for its night life so we put it to the test and went to a club with our knew friends from the hostel called Filthy Mcnastys. It was the first clubish place I’ve ever been to and they had three different music set ups. The bar had an amazing band that played modern songs with their own jazz twist, a acoustic guitarist who knew no Niall Horan songs, and a dj upstairs that I never made it to. Sadly, I did not have enough to drink so I spent most of the night sober, but thankfully, I am always a good time – sober or drunk.
Having new friends from the hostel was something I really enjoyed because it made going out to a new city quite exciting. Instead of knowing no one, our small group had more people to dance and talk to. The best part of the night was that I was the hottest attraction for the gay girls of Belfast. More than one Irish lady came up to me to tell me how beautiful I am, and as many of my readers know, I’m quite self-obsessed so I ate those compliments right up. Something about this American gay really appealed to them.
We ended the night by walking home a very drunk hostel friend because we are kind and caring people. But I did not stay up late enough to help her to bed. I need my beauty sleep.
Sunday, our last day in Belfast, had us on an 8 hour bus tour to the coast of Belfast. I was extremely hesitant about the tour because I am notorious for my problem with motion sickness. Sometimes, I can’t even make it to the mall without getting a headache. Despite my problems, I made it through the whole day with only a slight headache. And I’m extremely happy because this tour was pretty amazing.
It was actually a Game of Thrones tour because a lot of it was filmed in Belfast apparently. That meant literally nothing to me but the spots were very green and beautiful. We drove down the coast with the ocean on one side and the country side on the other. The highlight place of the tour was called the Giant’s Causeway which was a beach side with high mountains on one side and a rocky beach on the other side. The rocks were stacked and thrown all over the beach and created a little bit of a cliff. I will obviously attach some pictures. It was an incredibly picturesque place. We climbed the rocks and got some great pictures. I wish we had more time to hike the entire thing, but we made do with the hour and a half we had.
There were large rocks on the beach that made a great place to climb. I took some time to scale as many rocks as I could while everyone had to sit and watch and wait for me. The entire tour was 8 hours, and I think I slept for about 5 hours of it. By the time we got home I wasn’t ready to sleep until 2 am.
One of the highlights of the tour was that we had our first meal of only Irish food! For lunch, I had potato and leak soup (it was not that exciting) and a piece of Guinness bread (which was very exciting). Ally and Annie had traditional Irish stew, and I helped them finish their potatoes. Jason had seafood chowder fresh from the sea, and I also helped him finish his potatoes. Flo had vegetarian stew, but I didn’t help her finish her potatoes because I don’t like sweet potatoes. I was finally able to tell my mom that I ate Irish food.
I want to end this blog with an explanation of the dynamics of a hostel. One common theme that most people living in a hostel share is that they want to meet people. Because of this, people are extremely friendly and tend to spend free time in the shared spaces like the kitchen or living room. And as someone who is extremely comfortable around strangers, I settled in quickly. We watched a movie with some of the people staying at the hostel, and the dynamic was interesting to say the least. We watched Easy A with four other people who weren’t from America. Hearing their commentary was the best part because they’d ask questions like “do you really have that at school? Does that really happen?” And we’d be like, “yeah we have pep rallies once a year or yeah we have security guards and lock down drills” because America is the only place where schools are a safety hazard. But sitting on a couch with basically strangers is an interesting experience. It feels like you’ve been friends with them for years when you actually meant them at the beginning of the movie. The hostel life is kind of something you never experience until you’re actually staying at one.
Julia DiGeronimo graduated Verona High School with the Class of 2019 and is now majoring in writing and environmental studies at Ithaca College. She is studying in Dublin, Ireland this semester. This piece is reprinted, with permission, from her blog, “Julia Is Traveling.”