Life Lessons in Ireland

How do I begin a post about a week that changed my life? It may have only been a week, but a lot can happen and a lot did. I was in Ireland from Monday through Saturday by myself. One might ask why I would take a trip alone. The answer is simple: Because I can. Traveling alone is certainly not for everybody and this post could easily be a advice column for what to expect when flying solo. I will do some of that, as I usually try to do, but it’s also a story of the crazy, happy, sad and altogether incredible experiences I had while in the land of the leprechauns. (No, I didn’t see any leprechauns.)

I arrived in Dublin on Monday evening. Being the money conscious traveler that I am, I figured out how to get a public bus into the city. It was NBD. By the time I was standing on O’Connell Street (one of the main drags of the city), it was 10pm. Probably not the best time for a small girl with a huge bag to be standing on the street. Especially because I also had a map in my hands. If that doesn’t scream TARGET TOURIST IDIOT, I don’t know what does. #amateur Anyway, I start heading in the direction of my hostel. Along the way, I was surprised and relieved that several people stopped to ask if I needed help finding where to go. Two men were standing outside of a pub and asked first if I needed help and then if I wanted to join them for a pint inside before I continued. I thought: Is this a test? Should I just chill out and accept? Or should paranoid Julie keep walking? I kept walking as I was exhausted and carrying all my belongings on my back, but not before a few moments of hesitation. Finally, I found my hostel. As this was my first experience staying in one, my first thought was the following: It’s an unpleasant mix between a dorm room and prison. I knew it would be “no-frills” and since I was alone, I thought that wouldn’t matter. It did. I was depressed as soon as I walked into it. And felt very alone. Squeezed my eyes shut, wondered if this was really a good idea, and prayed sleep would come quickly despite all the strange/loud noises outside my door.

Opened them 7 hours later and casually sauntered pretty much sprinted out of there. I passed the door where those two men were standing the night before. …It was a gentleman’s club. How classy. I can’t even IMAGINE what I would have done if I had walked in there for a drink. Anyway – Time to tour Dublin! Dublin is a thriving, pulsing city where Guinness beer calls home. Once I dropped off my bag at a left-luggage center, I headed to Trinity College, the oldest university in Ireland. Traveler Tip: I paid the 10 E for a guided tour, which was definitely worth it. It was led by a cute, young student, included a pass to see the library’s famous Long Room and Book of Kells (the oldest book known to man). Other than that, it’s not that exciting or even that pretty. So I checked the box and moved on.

After walking around the college, I decided to take a bus tour and see if there was anything else that I would want to check out. Guinness Storehouse… Jameson Factory… St. Patrick’s Cathedral… all of these and more were pleasantly witnessed from the bus and I ended up doing the whole route without getting off. Something about touring an alcohol attraction alone just didn’t seem entertaining to me. This led me to board an earlier bus than planned to my next destination – Galway.

Three hours later, I was on the west coast! Galway is a beautiful bohemian town filled with art galleries and cafes. I wandered around for a bit, found a restaurant where my “mixed vegetable” side was mashed potatoes, boiled potatoes, and fried potatoes. No complaints here. Just pass the salt, please. The food is generally very plain. I, again, was in a hostel that night, this time filled with young travelers, so I went to my room and read Wuthering Heights until I passed out. #oldmaid #creepyhostelmatethatdoesnttalktoanyoneelse

The next day, after a hearty Irish Breakfast (eggs, potatoes, toast, tomatoes, coffee), I joined a group tour to go to one of Ireland’s most popular sights – The Cliffs of Moher. First, we stopped at a beautiful farm in the Burren, and learned all about the climate and geography. #nerdalert Whatever, it was cool and interesting. Then, we went to the Cliffs. As we headed there, our driver told us to ‘mind the wind’ because it can literally sweep you off your feet and many people have plunged (a 200 meter plunge) into the water below. And that there are occasionally suicides. We all winced and made sure we would stay away from the edge (which is heavily walled off making a slip rather difficult impossible). Once I got out there, words can’t describe what I saw. The cliffs were magnificent. Reminded me of the Na Pali coast in Kauai: When you see them in person there is no way you could ever capture what you saw in a photograph. It’s almost not real. Even better, it was unusually sunny and calm. That sort of luck never happens to me. Several times, I stopped and thought: Am I really here right now!?

This is when the day took a turn. After taking a million pictures, it was time to head back to the bus. Time was now 2:45. Ten of us were on the tour and only nine made it back to the bus on time. No one knew or really spoke with the man that was still missing. We gave a description to the driver, who relayed it to the guards on patrol, but he had disappeared. At 3:00 we had to get going. So we left. We all speculated that maybe he hitchhiked out of there, or was in the restaurant. Until our driver got a call at 4:30. The man’s body was found in the water below by the Coast Guard.

Something they don’t tell you when tourists are excitedly heading to the cliffs is the frequency of suicides that take place there. Sadly, it is one of the most popular (I know, how morbid) places to commit suicide in the world.

Enter sad phase of trip here. I didn’t know what to do or think. I was stunned, horrified, scared… and alone. Coping with tragic news like this, when you are in a foreign country and don’t know a soul, is incredibly overwhelming. I just sat there and felt my heart beating. Digesting this news came in stages: First, surprise. You never expect that someone you were in a group with to do something like this. Then, sadness. Did this person have a family? Anyone that cared for him and would miss him? Next, guilt. What if I had talked with him? I was also a solo-traveler too and maybe a gentle “hey, I’m traveling alone too, wanna look at this together?” would have been the hope he needed. And finally, (surprisingly) relief. If he was crazy enough to jump off a cliff, he could have been crazy enough to have a weapon on him. And possibly have used it on all these happy, ignorant strangers surrounding him on a bus. My mind spun out in a series of What If’s.

It was a long, silent ride home. I felt terrible for our driver, who had warned us about the very thing that one of us was planning to do. And then did. Our driver said that these events rarely make it into the news (major tourist deterrent) so it’s likely we’ll never know who he was or what happened to him. Two of the other girls on the tour were staying in the same hostel as I was, so we agreed to get some wine and have a funny movie night.

So much for Galway, I didn’t really get to see a lot of it. Instead, I hopped on the first bus outta there the next morning to my next destination – Dingle. Dingle is a tiny, harbor-side town in the southwest of Ireland. After a beautiful ride in through Irish countryside, I arrived to a completely deserted town. You see, Dingle is a summer holiday town, so the rest of the year, it is very quiet. This was fine with me and after walking around all afternoon, I found a nice wine bar to sit and have dinner. It turned out to be a great night – a few other people showed up and talked with me at the bar. I even went with a group to get drinks for one of the ladies’ birthday. It was nice. A good bounce-back from the day before.

The next morning, I went to the tourist office to see if ANY tours were running of the peninsula, given that it is out of season. There was one – so I joined a couple (from Kentucky, no less) on a tour around Dingle. It was awesome. Our guide, while chain-smoking and ‘fookin’-swearing, was great and we had a lot of laughs that day. It was so beautiful, but I’ll let the pictures do the talking. They will be posted on facebook later today. What was most interesting about the day was the headline on the paper that sat next to our driver: CLIFF PLUNGER TIED UP LOVER BEFORE JUMP. My heart stopped. This was the man that I had been on the tour with on Wednesday. I read the article and it appears that the man tied up his girlfriend on Sunday night, left her there to die (??), and then did who knows what for several days before leaping to his death on Wednesday. How CRAZY is that. I mean, how freaking messed up. The whole country was talking about it. And I was there. Chills.

I had to head back to Dublin that afternoon and arrived in the evening. I stayed in the most obnoxious hostel that night (think loud, swearing Spaniards, and annoying, teenaged Londonites). I knew my trip was over. After one more huge Irish breakfast on Saturday, I was never more happy to come home to Jaro and I would be lying if I said I didn’t burst into tears when he walked in the door.

Sorry for the emotional post, peeps! That’s just life though. Overall, I loved the country. And traveling alone isn’t so bad. I learned a lot about myself and what I can handle. What really interests me. How to deal with tragedy. …How to be patient with myself. It was good. I came back feeling different. Would I go again? Yes. Alone? Absolutely.

I think my favorite part of the trip was when I was parting with the couple that toured the Dingle Peninsula with me and as we were wishing each other well, the husband said, “Julie, we just think you are so brave and courageous for traveling on your own like this. Good luck with your future adventures.”

It brought a tear to me eye.



5 thoughts on “Life Lessons in Ireland

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