The End of Ireland… for now

The end of our trip was very sad for me – and probably a little for my parents as well. My biggest fear as an 18 year old was that I would never go back. Though we had traveled a good loop through Ireland (Dublin to Glendalough to Waterford to Cork to Blarney to Kenmare to Kilarney to the Cliffs of Moher to Sligo to Donegal to Carrick on Shannon and back to Dublin), I knew there was so much more to see– and so much more to see in the places we hadn’t stayed long… like Glendalough and St. John’s Point.

But our trip wasn’t over yet.

Leaving Carrick on Shannon we finally cut inland for the first time and headed back to Bellcamp Hutchinson. Though our trip around the coast of Ireland had held unimaginable joys for us, returning to Bellcamp was in many ways like returning home — to people we knew, beds we knew, and a few days of rest before the inevitable trip back to the airport.

We spent some time in Dublin again, but I have very little memory of those last few days. My mother reminded me that we went to a bookstore- a rather large one… two stories, I think. She wanted to find a book that was IRISH! So she asked a bookseller what she should get – if they had anything by an Irish author that would be good to get while in Ireland.

Coincidentally enough, they had just had an author signing there the week before and still had several copies of this man’s book, the first book he’d published. We’d never heard of the book or the author, but my mom bought it off the bookseller’s recommendation while I bought a book of Irish mythology.

On the flight home, my mom started to read the book, but she didn’t like the way it started and put it down. We didn’t think of it for months (or maybe even a year) until I heard the author’s name and title of the book again. I gasped and called my mom to see if she still had that signed copy of the book, and she did. And now on my bookshelf at school sits a signed copy of Frank McCourt’s book Angela’s Ashes with a unique cover that we didn’t get here in the States.

AngelasAshes

Unfortunately I will have to use this picture as a place holder until I can go back to school again and get a picture of the actual book with Frank McCourt’s signature in it.

At this point, I feel that I have to admit an error in my memory from of the earlier posts — I mentioned going to Malahide Castle on one of our first days in Dublin, but my parents corrected me tonight (they’re good about doing that). We went to Malahide on our return trip to the Dublin area and enjoyed the grounds. The weather took a rainy turn, and we found a pub close by to get something to eat. None of us could remember what time of day it was, but we were nearly the only people in the pub, so perhaps it was a bit early for the lunch or dinner hour, but it was cold and rainy and they served us the most amazing potato leek soup that I have ever had in my entire life! Years later when I had a home of my own, I tried to duplicate this soup but fell miserably short.  Though my (then) husband said it tasted divine and asked me to make it again, it just wasn’t right. Maybe you need the Irish air, or Irish produce, or maybe it is just my mind romanticizing the memory, but I long to someday have soup that magnificent again!

My father also reminded me of something that I hadn’t put together. On our last day we went to a “small little village north of Dublin to see a regatta.” When my father mentioned this to me today in our weekly talk about Ireland, my heart jumped a little bit. I asked him if he would recognize the name of the town if I said it, and he said he probably would.

regatta

“Howth?”

“Yeah! That’s it.”

On my My Take-Back Year (and a half) I traveled to Ireland on my own.  It was my first time back since I’d been in 1997. On the advice of a student, I traveled to the town that I thought I’d never heard of before.  Howth was the name of that town.  I spent the my birthday doing the cliff walk to the lighthouse and exploring the town. I loved Howth, and when (in my weaker moments) I start planning another trip, Howth is always on the list!

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Me on the cliff walk in 2016

The next day, we left for the United States, but I knew that I was leaving a part of me in Ireland that I didn’t quite understand. Ireland fed my soul. It spoke to parts of me that I didn’t know existed. I’d felt something tangible while in Ireland, a pull to go back, to find more.

I talked to my parents about their big take-aways from the trip, and my father talked about the magic of that night out on St. John’s Point. It was a place we just “happened upon” and had some of the most unique experiences there, like seeing the whales go out to sea. My mother talked about how much she enjoyed seeing the adventure through my eyes. It had been my graduation gift to go anywhere in the world, and she said it was fun to watch me experience Ireland. As an 18 year old, I wouldn’t have understood that, but now as a mom, I get it.

In fact, that has inspired me for my next blog series! I am going to talk about the trips that my son and I have gone on over the years and the joy of seeing things through his eyes. So, next week, we will start with our first big adventure as mom and son — St. Louis, Missouri! Stay tuned!

And if you missed any of the other posts from my 1997 journey around Ireland, you can click the links below.


The Gift that Launched A Thousand Trips

Dublin: love at first sight

Powerscourt: Surprised by Beauty

Glendalough: My First Love

Waterford: More than Crystal

Blarney: Everything but Kissing the Stone

Kenmare and the Ring of Beara

From the Disappointing to the Magnificent

In Shadows and Sunshine

Surprised by Kylemore Abbey

Happy Little Accidents – St. John’s Point

From the Highest Cliffs to the Famous River

Dublin: love at first sight

In June of 1997 I graduated from high school, and in July of 1997 I was on a plane bound for Dublin, Ireland.  While my friends back home were listening to Hansen, Verve, Oasis, and Chumbawamba, I was on the trip that would shoot my life on a distinct trajectory of wanderlust – specifically to Ireland. Last week I wrote briefly about the gift, and you can read about that here.

As a side note, please forgive the lack of decent photographs. It was 1997 after all, and all I have are the printed photographs that have faded and yellowed with age. Many of them are in a scrapbook that I started years ago, and you’ll see the edges of the things I wrote in the scrapbook along with my very terrible attempt at being crafty.

The first few days of our two week trip had us stationed just north of Dublin in a lovely bed and breakfast called Belcamp-Hutchinson. To the best of my knowledge, the B&B no longer operates. There weren’t any websites about it with updates since 2006 – so I think it’s safe to say that it is no longer operational. And that is truly unfortunate! The owner, Dorene, was a very kind woman who truly seemed to love her job as hostess, guide, and cook! While we were there (two nights) we had lovely breakfasts of fresh fruit, granola, and yogurt. She also served hot items, but my 18 year-old self was not particularly adventurous when it came to eating things I couldn’t easily identify.

Our first place to visit was Malahide Castle, and it was a lovely day, in the mid-sixties, and for the Irish, that was apparently a heatwave because people were out in droves. While back home we would have considered that a little on the chilly side, there where people on the beach and even swimming in the Irish Sea. The castle was quite beautiful, though I don’t remember much about it now. I don’t think we went inside, but the grounds were full of people walking around and lounging in the grass.

Next we took the bus into Dublin city where I got my first glimpse of the city I would come to love above all others. And there were probably two places that sealed the deal in my mind.

Trinity College

Situated right in the middle of Dublin is Trinity College, and it was postively the coolest thing I had ever seen before. Dublin was loud and crowded, but once we walked through the gate, the city vanished behind the great stone walls of the college. It was so beautiful and peaceful, I couldn’t believe we were still in the city.

I didn’t remember this, but when I looked back on the journal that I wrote while we were there, I learned that we were there during their graduation ceremonies. Because of this, we weren’t allowed everywhere, but because the college is such a tourist attraction for the city, they don’t close it down completely, even for commencement. We walked around the grounds for a while and saw some of the wonderfully iconic buildings.

And of course we went and saw the Book of Kells. As an adult I can appreciate the historical and religious significance, but I was surprised that when I read back through my journal that I was even impressed with its history back then. No photography is allowed, so I didn’t have any pictures to look back on, but I wrote extensively in my journal about the intricacies of the book.

For those who don’t know, the Book of Kells was compiled in the 9th century by Catholic monks, and is a hand penned copy of the four Gospels of the New Testament. However, they are so much more. Each book was copied down letter by letter (to avoid accidental alteration of the text), and it was also intricately illustrated by the monks as well.

Close by the Book of Kells is the Long Room Library, and of course I was in heaven there. The book nerd in me was fascinated by the floor to (very high) ceiling book cases that contained books that I was forbidden to touch. What is it about the forbidden that is so enticing?

St. Stephen’s Green

Cities are known for their parks, and though some cities may have grander parks that St. Stephen’s Green, I had not seen anything I loved quite so much as that beautiful bit of green and colorful flowers in the middle of Dublin. It truly isn’t much to speak of, but sometimes simplicity is all you need to enjoy something. Much like Trinity College, once you got within the walls of the park, the city seemed to fade away.

There were short trails over rocky terrain, creeks, ponds, ducks, and swans. There were fountains, sun, and shade. My heart felt full as we walked around enjoying the day along with native Dubliner’s, and I even caught a glimpse of the statue of the famous Oscar Wilde. Though I was surprisingly ignorant of who he was for someone who a few short months later would declare herself an English teaching major, I enjoyed his cocky smile and semi-recumbent statue that lounged on the outer edge of the park.

After leaving the oasis of St. Stephens, we did what most tourists do (and I advocate it for people in a new city), we got on a hop-on-hop-off bus that tours the city. We saw a huge section of the city that would have been impossible to traverse on foot in one day, and we had the expert knowledge of the bus’ tour guide to tell us all about the history of the city.

We passed through Phoenix Park and saw some of their legendary deer.

We also went by Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.

And we even passed by the statue of Molly Malone, “the tart with the cart” as our guide called her. Constructed as a tribute to the famous Irish ballad that goes, in part:

In Dublin’s fair city
Where the girls are so pretty
I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone
As she wheeled her wheelbarrow
Through the streets broad and narrow
Crying “cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh”

My dad got quite a kick out of that, as did several people on the bus trip.

We finished out our day touring the area around Grafton Street, which is shopping area where the streets are closed off to cars.  As a result, pedestrians, street performers, and flower girls all converge around some very high-end stores to make up a strange montage of elegance and commonplace.

 

Next week I will take you on the journey of the next few days of our trip: Powerscourt and Glendalough!


To read up on my trip to Italy and Greece, read these posts:

Packing Light

True confession: I have not always been a light packer. I remember my first trip to Ireland with my family, and I took a giant suitcase, and I’m pretty sure I had a backpack too. The monstrosity was jammed full of every possible clothing need I dreamed feasible back home. I had multiple pairs of shoes, and (since it was 1997) full bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and probably lotion as well.

Since then I have learned the error of my ways. Though I didn’t travel out of the country again for nearly 19 years, I learned quite a bit.

Since I was going to Ireland on my own (2016), and I was staying in a hostile that I couldn’t check into for several hours after my arrival, I decided to pack light. I was able to carry everything I brought with me quite comfortably for most of the day on my first day in Dublin.

This was everything I took for a six day venture (two days of which were travel days) to Ireland in November of 2016:

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Inside these two bags were: travel sized shampoo/conditioner/deodorant/contact solution, disposable one-use mini-toothbrushes (with toothpaste inside the bristles), hair brush, hair straightener (priority for the frizzy haired girl going to a rainy locale), extra set of contacts, quick-dry towel, luggage lock, headache medicine, 4 pairs of underpants, 2 sweaters, 2 shirts, 1 pair of pants, pjs (shirt and pants), 4 pairs of socks, 1 bra, chargers for my phone, laptop, Fitbit, 4 battery packs, an outlet converter, watercolor paper and paints, a journal, one book, three pens, and my laptop.

On my person I carried hiking boots, a pair of socks, bra, underpants, a t-shirt, a hoodie, a North Face waterproof jacket, a scarf, a pair of gloves (in the jacket pocket), two hand-made hats (one from my best friend, and one from my sister-in-love), a hair tie, my passport, debit card, credit card, and my phone.

Honestly, now I would even pack less. Some of these things were really unnecessary. For example, despite my good intentions, I didn’t break out the water colors once. I was too busying experiencing to stop and make art work. That would have saved quite a bit of room. I also would have skipped the book – I really only read in the airport, and I could have done something else instead. Also, three pairs of socks total (including the pair I was wearing) would have been plenty. When you’re staying in one place, like I was, you can sink wash and dry to save the space and weight.

The heaviest thing I brought was my laptop, but seeing as how it was November and that’s National Novel Writing Month, I didn’t want to skip six days of writing. I only wrote in the airports and one night in the hostel, but I also FaceTimed my family on Thanksgiving, and uploaded pictures from my phone to safe on memory space (remember it was 2016).

My biggest advice is to only pack what you NEED. If the situation changes, you can always buy something there, but don’t pack something on the off-chance you’re going to need it on your trip. My general policy is that I don’t check anything. I’ve heard too many stories and experienced lost luggage to know that it is often more trouble than it’s worth.

On my solo Ireland trip I also condensed. I took sweaters and shirts that I didn’t particularly like (since I wasn’t trying to impress anyone) and donated them to the hostel “free bin” or threw things out. There were almost no clothes left to pack for my flight home. I came home with my messenger bag rolled up inside of the backpack, and I even bought a few souvenirs! 

In full disclosure, my 2016 trip to Ireland was relatively short. When I went to Italy and Greece for 9 days in 2017 and Ireland in 2018 with a group of students, I had the backpack and a carry-on suitcase. On those trips we were rarely in the same place multiple nights in a row, so there is no time for the wash/dry scenario. But I did the same thing with some clothes like pjs and undershirts and tossed them when I was done with them to save room for souvenirs.

Here’s a simple pack list:

  • ID/credit/debit cards/insurance cards
  • phone/camera/chargers
  • personals (underpants, etc)
  • hygiene (compact sizes – just enough)
  • weather appropriate clothing (layer your clothing on airport days)
  • ONE pair of shoes (unless you will experience different climates)
  • outlet converters (check travel websites for the country you are going to)
  • bedtime attire (if not recycling shirt from that day)
  • quick-dry towel and lock (if staying in a hostel

Trust me, you will be MUCH less stressed by not checking luggage! Try to avoid it if you can. If you are traveling with someone, plan ahead and share items so you don’t need to bring multiples.

Feel free to comment below any questions you have about how to pack light OR if you have other great ideas on how to save space and avoid checking luggage.

 

“You stayed WHERE?” And Other Things People Say to Solo Travelers.

TheTimesKitchen

Photo taken from The Times’ website

“You stayed WHERE?”

I’ve heard that question nearly every time I recounted my “take back” trip to Ireland.  When I chose to go to Ireland on my own, I had to make some choices. One of those choices was where to stay. The biggest obstacle I encountered was that if I wanted to stay in Dublin, and I did for multiple reasons, the cost of just sleeping was going to be astronomical. This was going to make my trip either more complicated or impossible. I could stay outside of Dublin for a less expensive cost, but then either have to rent a car and drive into the city each day (huge cost and stress) or spend as much as an hour and a half on public transportation each way – costing me precious time on my whirlwind trip. However, I simply could not afford to stay in Dublin because the cost of the hotel would more than double the cost of my trip.

Consequently I looked into other options and landed on staying in a hostel.

And this is where the American readers’ eyes bulge nearly out of their skulls.

To Americans, hostels are the scenes for horror movies, at the worst, or, at the very least,  a place for a likely sexual assault. Because of this, I chose not to tell many people until I returned to the US.

In my (not so) humble opinion, staying in a hostel is absolutely the way to go for a single traveler. Not only did it make my trip financially easier, it also provided me with so much more!

I found The Times Hostel in Dublin while looking for places to stay near the center of Dublin. As I mentioned in my post about Dublin, The Times was literally across the street from Trinity College (one of my favorite places in Dublin) and that was the main selling point. But I was also able to get a bed in a small room for only women. So I booked the bed – 20€ (approximately $23) a night instead of the cheapest, non-sleazy looking hotel that was 125€ (approximately $140) a night.

In full disclosure, I was a little nervous. However, all the things I read online about this hostel reinforced that this was a very safe option. So I embarked to Ireland. And The Times was even better than I could have imagined.

My room included a bathroom and three racks of bunk beds (pictured below). It was clean and neat. The only thing that was a slight inconvenience is that it was on the third floor (in Europe that means the equivalent of the 4th floor) and there was no elevator, which is pretty par for the course in buildings in Europe (unless they’ve undergone major renovations, which is not something hostels are known for).

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Photo taken from The Times’ website

What hostels offer for the single traveler is community. On my first night, my dorm room  housed six ladies – of which I was the oldest by about eight years. Four of us were Americans, one was from Germany, one from France.

Each night the hostel offers one community event. My first night was wine and cheese night. For no fee, the hostel provides (cheap) wine, cheese, and crackers. As a room we all decided to go down together, and we talked until late in the evening. Of the Americans we were from Indianapolis, Chicago, Texas, and Arizona and were 38, 30, 28, and 21 (respectively) and all there for very different reasons, and we were all traveling alone.

Texas and I decided to see the city together the next day on the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus since the two of us would still be in the city. We spent the entire day together the next day and had a wonderful time exploring the city, laughing, and discussing our various reasons for our solo trips. We got pretty deep… and I do not even know her last name. Despite our closeness that day, we knew we were both unlikely to ever see the other ever again, so we didn’t bother exchanging information. Nonetheless, it was a wonderful day, and she left the next morning to fly back to Texas.

On the other nights the guests continued to change, and we exchanged casual conversation. One woman (35) was Irish and came to stay at The Times every week from Thursday to Saturday so that she could work. The small village where she lived did not have a enough jobs to go around, and so she came to the city and stayed in order to have enough money to stay in her family home.

On Wednesday night I went to the common room (pictured below) and met a young man from India who was living at the hostel because it was cheaper than renting a flat. I helped him type up a resume for his interview the next day, smoothing out the edges of his relatively extensive knowledge of English.

This One

Photo taken from The Times’ website

Overall the people who stayed at the hostel were friendly and eager to make new friends. It was an experience that I cannot do justice to in a single blog post, but it will have to suffice. I highly advise solo travelers to stay at a hostel instead of a hotel where social interaction is much more difficult and awkward. In a hostel, those who stay to themselves are few and far between; it is truly a community experience.

There are several things a hostel “newbie” would need to know before staying at a hostel– fuel for a future blog post, I’m sure. But in general, I highly suggest it, especially for the solo traveler who doesn’t necessarily want seclusion.

Check out The Times Hostel here — I stayed at the College Street location. They do not know about my post, and I am not being paid for any kind of endorsement. They are just awesome, and I want to promote them (though I doubt they need it).

Dublin, my City

IMG_1382I’ve never been much of a city girl when it comes to travel. I loath tourist traps and the teaming hordes that seem to congregate around the same ol’ places.  I am much more at home in the mountains, on a trail, or cuddled up with a book on the deck overlooking the water.  There are have been two (so far) exceptions to this general enmity to crowded streets and abundant air pollution. And only one of those two that truly holds a firm place in my heart as one of my favorite places in the world.

Dublin.

I suppose I remember Dublin the first time I went there in 1997, but it was our first three days in the country, and honestly the only thing I remembered was Trinity College (for good reason), but it was more our second stop in Glendalough that burned itself into my memory as the place my soul resides (blog post here about that).

However, my second trip to Ireland, in 2016, was a solo trip and only four days (the length of time I had over my school’s Thanksgiving break). Consequently, I stayed in Dublin and did day trips out a couple of days. But two full days – one of which I stayed up for the entire 24 hours – were spent just in Dublin, and truly that was no where close to enough time for that city.

Before I went, I studied the map of the city in great detail. I memorized which streets ran north/south and east/west, the location and routes to my desired locations, and multiple major landmarks (like the River Liffey) so that I would not need to break open a map on the city street and look like a tourist. For the most part I did well (until I tried to walk to the Guinness factory… totally got lost). By the end of my four days there, I felt a part of the city. I walked with confidence to the places I wanted to go (mainly Saint Stephen’s Green and Trinity College – pictured below). For once, the city seemed to be the place for me.

 

I stayed directly across from Trinity College in a hostel (another blog post I intend to do) called The Times, and it was the perfect hub for me because everything I wanted to see was within easy walking distance. Trinity College (one of my favorite places in the world) was actually across the street!

My first day in Dublin I walked around the walls of Trinity College (mainly because I went the wrong direction from the hostel to get to the main gate, but it worked) and saw the surrounding city and the famous colorful doors of Dublin. And once I got inside the university walls, I sat and watched their football (soccer) team play a match. I don’t really care about sportsball, but I was in Ireland, people!

It as fall, so the leaves were bright and the air was crisp. It was nearly perfection, really!

From there I walked up Grafton Street (a shopping area with a massive pedestrian walkway) and listened to street performers and watched as a man painted in gold scared a bunch of teenagers who thought he was a statue. The world was much louder on Grafton Street — people talking, music coming out of stores as people opened the doors to come and go, flower ladies calling out for people to buy roses for their sweethearts, people decorating for Christmas, and the bustle of cars on the side streets.

As I made my way up Grafton Street, I got closer to my actual goal – Saint Stephen’s Green. Those familiar with Dublin know Saint Stephen’s Green. It is one of the Central Park-esque oases in Dublin (and there are many). There are little “secret” paths through trees and shrubs, there is a fountain, a scattering of benches, and flowers all year round that are so bright and glorious that they barely seem real (they are – I checked). Even in the cold (it was close to 40 degrees Fahrenheit) people were milling around everywhere.

Children who just got out of school, still in their uniforms.

Families pushing strollers.

Business folk out for a stroll.

Tourists taking pictures.

It seems like all of Dublin goes through Saint Stephen’s at some point during the day. But what gets me is how peaceful and green it is — even on the edge of winter. Yes, there is noise of course, but it’s peaceful noise if that makes sense. Serene. I remember going there in 1997– we went in the summer time — and people were out laying on blankets and listening to music. It was glorious then, but it was no less glorious in the cold temperatures of November.

There is so much beauty in Dublin. Yes – it is a city and the traffic is horrendous- and it’s Dublin, so the street signs are impossible to find and the roads curve off in incredibly strange ways- but that’s why you don’t drive. Traveling by public transit or walking is the best way to retain your chill travel vibe, in my (not so) humble opinion. When you walk around you find so many amazing places you probably wouldn’t have seen if you were driving by it.

Take this pub.

IMG_5688 A glorious hole in the wall on a side street just off Grafton. It had positively the best beef stew I’ve ever had or possibly will ever have. I was the only person in the pub that the barman didn’t know their order as soon as they walked in the door. They were all old friends on their way home who stopped by for a pint (always Guinness) and some gab. However, they were welcoming of me despite the fact that I was an unknown face and of course American. Donald Trump had just been elected a few weeks prior, so there were lots of questions as to whether or not American had lost its collective mind. And of course Brexit was a large topic of discussion and what the “English bastards” were going to do next. And there was much laughter.

I would not have found this place in a rental car or an Uber or a taxi. Walking is the best way to find the best places in Dublin. You might even find the Irish flag reflected in the River Liffey if you’re lucky enough.

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