Hello from Ireland, Wales, and Italy, although by the time this is published, I’ll be back in England!

At Liverpool Hope University (LHU), terms are split into four weeks of class followed by a reflective week. Reflective weeks are weeks without classes intended for students to catch up on work, study, research, or rest. This is my first reflective week at LHU which marks the halfway point of my academic program! How have I already been here for six weeks? I’m planning a post about university here and some of the educational differences I’ve experienced (including the 18 days of strikes), but for now, I want to catch you up on some recent trips.

Ireland: 2/2-2/5


Where to even begin? My Thursday night flight from Liverpool to Dublin was seamless. I had planned a long weekend trip to visit two friends from Hope, Claire and Bridget, who are studying abroad in Dublin. I couldn’t stop smiling my plane took off, eyes glued to the window. The flight was quick; after 30 minutes the orange glow of Dublin’s city lights zoomed into view.

Dublin is the perfect blend of big city charm and quaint history. I love that the city is incredibly walkable! Claire and Bridget showed me around the city on Friday, taking me to their favorite coffee shop, bookstore, and a delicious lunch spot called Beanhive Coffee. We also visited the Trinity Library to marvel at the book of Kells and the Long Room. A stop at Dublin castle marked my first visit to a real castle!

We walked along the River Liffey to Phoenix park, a 1750 acre park north of the city. It’s actually Europe’s largest city park! We didn’t wander far into the park, but watched the sun set in layers of rose and gold over the mountains.

Of course, a visit to Dublin wouldn’t be complete without an evening at one of the numerous pubs for a Guinness and live Irish music!

Bray, Glendalough, Wicklow

On Saturday, we took the dart (train) to Bray, a coastal town 45 minutes south of Dublin. The walk along the beach was lovely. From Bray, we took a bus to Glendalough. We explored the ruins of the monastery before hiking in Wicklow National Park. If I had to pick one top moment of my time in Ireland, this would be a favorite. The hike climbed steeply, providing stunning views of the lake. Mist settled in over the rich pine woods, threading through the damp pine-scented air enveloping the accordion of green hills. Savoring the sweeping beauty of Ireland with some of my favorite people was a memory I’ll hold forever. 

Dublin 2.0

On Sunday morning, I walked to St. Patrick’s cathedral for a Eucharist service. Morning light filtered through the stain glass windows, illuminating the cold stone walls and impressive arches. Following the service, I explored the cathedral and listened to the choir rehearsal for Matins and Evensong. Late morning, I met up with Blaire at a charming outdoor market in St. Patrick’s park.

It was a beautiful afternoon and after lunch at Blaire’s favorite cafe. We strolled around Dublin, walking through the iconic Temple Bar District, stopping at the library for an exhibit on Yeats (shout out to Brit Lit II), and the National Museum of Ireland – Archeology. I had a late flight back to Liverpool, arriving back at my flat around midnight, where I unpacked my backpack and packed my luggage for my trip to Wales the next morning! 

Wales: 2/6-2/8

Plas Caerdeon

The international study office at LHU sponsored an international and exchange student trip to Plas Caerdeon Outdoor Retreat Centre near Barmouth, North Wales during the first few days of reflective week. On the way, we stopped in a cute town called Bala where I enjoyed a snack of bara brith, a traditional welsh tea bread.

When we arrived in Barmouth, we enjoyed a packed lunch before walking (and running and skipping and jumping) along the shores of the Irish Sea. We climbed above Barmouth to the first National Trust site in the UK. To the north, the shadowy outline of the mountains were purple against a bright blue sky while southwest, steep hills and cliffs swept away towards the brilliant gold sun. Rocky hills spattered with the yellow blossoms of common gorse rose behind us while Barmouth and the sea fell away in front of us.

There were many times throughout our visit to Wales that the other students and I turned to one another in disbelief, “Is this real?” The retreat center is tucked up in the mountains but overlooks an estuary that feeds into Barmouth Bay and the Irish Sea. We spent a restful evening at Plas Caerdeon watching the sunset, playing games, and settling in to prepare for the full day of activities on Tuesday. 

I choose rock climbing and canoeing as my two activities. Both provided stunning views of the mountains, the estuary, and the sea, although the canoeing was much more tranquil than the rock climbing.

On our way back to Liverpool on Wednesday, we drove through the valleys and cliffs of northern Wales. Wide-eyed, I watched as our bus driver navigated sharp turns and steps drop-offs. I fantasized what it would be like to live in one of the little towns tucked in the shadows of those impressive hills.


We stopped at Conwy in North Wales and spent three hours exploring the medieval castle, city walls, and the cute town. As Taryn remarked, “Before now, these places only existed in my imagination!” A fun moment was FaceTiming my family from the top of one of the tower turrets!

England: 2/8

I arrived back at my flat around 6:00 last night (Wednesday) and busied myself preparing for my 7:15 flight to Rome! I’m writing this blog post as I ride the bus to the airport where I’m taking a flight to Rome for the last half of the week! By the time this is actually published, I’ll have been Rome for a few days, meeting up with other Hope study abroad students, Megan and Andrew.

Pre-Rome Airport Reflections: 2/9

As I was unpacking and repacking last night, I reflected on how grateful I am for this opportunity to travel and explore. I’ve certainly caught the “travel bug”. Four countries in one week seems unreal, and it’s certainly been exhausting (although as of this writing, Italy has yet to come!) but also rewarding. Each new place I visit leaves me inspired by the beauty and majesty of creation. There’s something humbling and rewarding about recognizing my smallness next to the grandeur of the world. With every swirling tide, towering cliff, rolling hill, and picturesque village, I’m reminded of the creativity and power of the Creator.

But sometimes it’s not the impressive grandeur of Europe that makes me stop and catch my breath, sometimes it’s just the gentle trilling of the song birds in the morning, the way the sunset softens the world to shades of lavender, the twinkle of the stars at night, or how the cool breeze blows through the pine trees. Sometimes, the little moments are magical. 

That’s all for some early morning ramblings and reflections. If you made it this far, thank you! I appreciate those of you who have been following the blog or texting and calling; your love and support means so much to me! 

New Scouse Word:  “Boss,” meaning incredibly awesome.

Kodak Moment: Glendalough National Park, the mist over the valley leading into the lake.

Someone new I met this week: At St. Patricks Cathedral, I met a member of the congregation who said he’d been attending services at St. Patricks since he was a child in the 1930s!

Word of the week: Explore.

Published by Noel Vanderbilt

Class of 2025 English and Political Science Major Liverpool Hope University in England

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