I always intend to write about a place in the moment. Or at least that day or right when I return home. It seems it takes some time for certain places to soak into my cells before I can articulate my experience of them.
Such is Ireland. India, on the other hand, being so totally different from my American existence, was bursting out of my fingers before I even got to my room each night. This place feels like home so I had to allow the subtleties to reveal themselves to me before sharing.
I must first tell you that I think about the green island DAILY. As I write this I am trying to locate the sensation of it in my body, give it a name, write you a picture. It’s kind of a warm lava lamp living somewhere around my solar plexus. It’s this comforting movement of thoughts and feelings roaming around the region of my heart that makes me smile.
I could tell you of all the specific places I saw and all the magical landscapes that had me gasping every other moment, but you can get that from anyone, anywhere. I think I’ll try, instead to convey the magic of the everyday while I was there.
Ireland is part of my genetic code. Literally. I am more than a third imported from the British Isles, most of that from Ireland. I’ve located one great-great grandfather from Belfast. However, the pull to go there was not strong. It was on “the list” as a “someday” kind of destination. But then my friend Wendy shoved her iPhone in my face with a Groupon for Ireland and somehow we were magically all paid up and set to go within 24 hours.
The best decisions – in my experience – often happen that way. Overthinking is such a drag.
When I think of Ireland the first things that pop into my head are the enchanted green rolling hills and the shiny people. Oh, and, sheep. I became a little obsessed with sheep.
When we first arrived after 11 hours of overnight travel (with a layover) we picked up our rental car and drove almost 2 hours. Was this wise? In retrospect, not at all, but we were so excited to be there that the driving on the other side of the car on the opposite side of the road without shoulders in traffic and sleep deprived seemed totally the right way to go. And we safely made it to our first town. Kilkenney.
Let me tell you about Kilkenney. I love this town and want to go back, like tomorrow or next weekend. We only had one night here and part of the next day, but we maximized as much of our time as we could. Wendy and I travel similarly: walk everywhere we can, stop when something looks interesting, spend time in fancy places, sketchy alleys and nature, so our walkabouts were easy, drama-free and interesting.
That first evening after dumping our bags at our super cute boutique hotel smack dab in the middle of town, after choosing beds – as it happens I always choose closest to the window and she always closest to the door, already a system has been established – and freshening up, we hit the streets. We were hungry so our first investigative task was to find a place to eat. There were lots of choices but we chose a vegan-friendly restaurant with a group of people sitting outside drinking beer and having fun. Looked like a locals kinda joint.
[Tip one: eat where locals eat.]
In the vegan-friendly café we made our selections and decided to eat inside. They were about to close, it was 5:30 after all, but served us cordially anyway. The woman who came in after us was not extended the same courtesy. She was turned away. But the patron after her was greeted warmly by name and walked out with an armload of food in exchange for her Euros. I like this selective customer plucking. Especially since we were amongst the chosen.
After we finished our food we decided to walk around the town some more to avoid jet lag.
[Tip two: If you are traveling in the direction of earlier, stay awake until at least 8:30 PM their time and set your alarm for no later than 8 AM the next day, your body will regulate more easily. Also, drink lots of water while in the air and maybe do a little yoga when you get to your resting place before climbing into bed.]
As we were walking back in the direction of our hotel we noticed with great interest the bar on the corner we had passed on our way out without a single glance. But now it was dark. Now the glowing red windows in a corner facing building that looked like it used to be a bank with beefy columns and all, was calling us to it. We were powerless to resist. Red windows. Glowing. Like forbidden fruit. Scandalous. Sensual.
Left Bank is was called. As in the area of Paris, but perhaps this is where the seed of looking like a bank was planted. It was a warren of enticing spaces. To the right just inside was a room with low upholstered club chairs set for conversation, a table with a few chairs and a working wood-burning fireplace. Straight ahead was the bar with its lighted mirror backing the bottles of medicine or poison depending on the patient. To the left were a few booths and a sprinkling of high top tables framed by old melting glass windows. Beyond the bar were more tables and what appeared to be a dining area. We had no need of that space. The floors were made of uneven skinny planks of wood that had to have been original. To Ireland. And the lighting, as I’ve mentioned, was red.
We chose to sit first at a high top. It gave a clear view and perspective of where we may like to perch. This wasn’t it. We moved to the bar, there was more opportunity to make new friends that way. There was just one problem: we were the only ones there. To be fair it was maybe 6 pm on a week night. I played it safe and ordered red wine, Wendy decided that “When in Ireland…” and requested a whiskey. And winced with every single sip. But extra points for localling.
Right as we were about to leave, a couple came in and sat across from us. We struck up a conversation and learned they too were here from the U.S. on a Groupon. The same one. This particular Groupon covered the flight, the rental car and accommodations. It was up to us to get from bed to bed so there was no group travel or caravan thing. It was a great way to go and I would do it again. We discovered we would be staying in all the same places, but made no promise to meet up. They had been to Ireland before and loved it. We already understood.
We said our goodbyes after one more drink – I mean it had to be nearly midnight and we’d been mostly up for close to 30 hours – and walked the two blocks back to our little hotel. It was not quite 9. This worked in our favor, however. Early to bed, lots of sleep to catch up and still up with the sun to continue our exploration of this magically delicious country.