The movie version of my trip to Ireland would be most similar to one of my all-time favs, Thelma & Louise minus the [SPOILER] tragic end where our heroines dive off the cliff and sadly no shirtless appearance by Brad Pitt. I met my friend Amy in Dublin on a Sunday night and like our counterparts, Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis, we were ready to have a fun girl’s night out without any of the bad parts. We had a fabulous meal at the Winding Stair (thanks Katie for the awesome recommendation!) – it was my first sort-of fancy meal (“fancy” meaning it was a $20 entree) and I had the best smoked haddock with cream sauce (you’re not dieting in Ireland), mashed potatoes (obvs) and Duvel, one of my favorite but dangerous Belgian beers at 8.5% alcohol, causing the waiter to warn, “you’ll only need one of these” (he obviously doesn’t know how I roll.) Actually, he was right, I felt pretty drunk after one, but that didn’t stop us from having half pints of Guinness — my new obsession — at Temple Bar and listening to Irish tunes (which amazingly Amy knows all of the words). And in just two hours of being here, Ireland you’ve already lived up to your fun-loving and friendly reputation.
Amy’s one of my closest friends from that crazy time in my life when I was a Peace Corps volunteer and lived in Ukraine; shot vodka like it was water (no chaser); spoke Russian with a dark and brooding accent; I had a dozen jobs volunteering with tourism, teens, seniors, and women because even under the oppression of a former Soviet state whose people patiently wait out 9 months of the most unforgiving and darkest winters, I still wanted to be an American optimist and overachiever. Amy’s the Louise of our duo. She’s logistics and logic, sometimes unexpectedly angry but always has a huge heart and is often the smartest person in the room and the most well traveled (she’s been to EVERY country in Europe except for a couple that I didn’t even know were actual countries). Amy’s been to Dublin a couple of times before so she had a great plan (augmented by my favorite American Irish lass Adrienne) of what we should see in the 3 days we had together so she rented a car and we were off!
So we had a 3 day road trip around the south and west of Ireland and in typical Amy style, it was incredibly efficient without losing the best sights and we made time for a bit of tourism but more for fun. Our first overnight was in the Dingle Peninsula, near the south coast and from what Amy and her pal and travel writer Rick Steves says, is a mini version of the Ring of Kerry with far fewer tour buses and people. The actual town of Dingle is just as its name suggests, cute, quaint and makes you giggle just saying the word. And the peninsula and surrounding landscape are quite beautiful. There’s something about all of that rain that makes everything in Ireland look so many variations of green. We stayed about 10km just outside of Dingle and had the most ridiculous exchange with my Airbnb host Padraig, who despite multiple attempts to get the actual address of the home would only give me gems like COORDINATES to put into my GPS or Sat Nav that we didn’t have in our sweet VW rental. And when I plugged those coordinates into Google Maps, it said I needed to go to Manilla, Philippines. This was funny for the first few hours this was happening, Amy and I could giggle it off with things like “remember those crazy times in Ukraine like when you got in trouble for the way you danced? ‘Your hips moved too much’ [this was according to Vadim our PC language and culture teacher who later became a great pal]. Note, this is one of the reasons that I am the Thelma of this movie. And thanks to Amy’s incredible sense of direction and ability to covert metric numbers on the fly and my ability to curse and crack jokes, we found it in the dark.
The next stop was Galway a smaller city on the west coast where we had a fun night of dinner, pubs with live music and stayed in an adorable B&B called Rusheen Bay just outside the city by the Galway Bay and its beach.
One of the things about being on the road that hasn’t been the most awesome is sleep, or more precisely the lack thereof. I’ve battled insomnia for years on and off and it’s most often due to stress, it’s another cool thing I’ve inherited from my mom. And you’d think all of this travel and incredible experiences would mean I get the best sleep of my life, right? Sadly, no, I’m averaging about 3-4 hours a night. What do I have to be stressed about? It could be happy anxiety when I know I’m going to a new place, or just arrived in one and trying to convince myself the “world is my bed” and “this mattress is as comfortable as my mattress” or “don’t be tied to worldly possessions such as high thread count sheets”. But I think the real anxiety is about the fact that although I am on a trip of a lifetime, the rest of the world and everyone I care about who is in it are dealing with their own stuff that includes the good and also the not so good. It’s so hard to hear sad news from home and be far away, but I also feel guilty because I feel relieved to be away from it and then I add more guilt on top of that because that makes me feel selfish. So I woke up after a not restful 3 hours of sleep and decided to go on an early morning walk on the beach before we got back in the car. During my walk, I saw some people swimming in the freezing water including some seriously jacked older ladies who were probably in their 60s but looked like Olympic swimmers and I listened to Katy Perry’s “Rise” and I cried. At first I cried because I thought how unfair it is that I am having the time of my life and feeling so grateful for this, but then there are people I love who are struggling and feeling rundown by life. We are at polar ends of the emotional spectrum and I just wished that I could share the joy that I’ve been feeling since I’ve started this whole thing with them, that I would do it in a heartbeat and that I wished this feeling could be felt by everyone I love because don’t we all deserve to feel this kind of joy and hope? The walk didn’t answer my questions, but it did make me feel a little better and for those of us who believe in signs, some dolphins were swimming and jumping in the same direction as my walk and lead me all the way to the end of my walk (yup, that made me cry too).
Before we headed back to Dublin, Amy took us through Connemara, which turned out to be my favorite part of the trip. We were lucky to see Connemara in both its dark and haunted phase and then all green and blue magnificent in the sun. And thanks to Louise’s ability to navigate without the internet and her aggressive American driving through the tiny, winding roads, we got to see the whole glorious pass and she’s a BEAUTY. There were sheep everywhere, on the expansive fields, on the sides of mountains, a sight I never get sick of seeing especially when these sheep are like Spider-Man climbing perpendicular to the ground and looking fucking adorable doing it! There are lakes, wild flowers, mountains, rocks and green and yellow fields galore. We stopped for a quick bite and I got to chat with an Irish gentleman I’m pretty sure was flirting with me and was at least 80 years old. He wanted to know where I was from and told me that you need “good rain shoes up here. I was stuck in my house for 3 days once because of the rain” as he stared with concern at my loafers.We spent one last night in Dublin before Amy was to leave for Scotland and I would be off to Amsterdam the following day. So we ended the way we started, with good Irish food, music, Guinness and more laughs about PC Ukraine. I stayed one more day and was lucky enough to meet up with my pal Rob from XM to SXM days who was there with his gal Amy and her brother and sister-in-law. I went to the Teeling Whiskey Tour with them and pretended I was paying attention to the tour but our guide with his mind blowing hotness (plus hot Irish accent) was just too much and when this movie is made, he will be cast as Brad Pitt’s character. After the whiskey, we decided to stop by the “oldest pub in Dublin” for a beer and I had an exciting run in with Santa, who must’ve been taking a much-needed break of his own.
Thanks Ireland for a great time and for Connemara one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen. And special shout out to Amy/Louise for taking us on a wild, fun and unforgettable ride.