Category Archives: Travel

Irish Travel Journal, Days 7-10

This post is part of a series detailing my trip to Ireland. You can view the whole series here.

We left Galway early in the morning and drove to the monastery at Clonmacnoise. Although it is now in ruins, Clonmacnoise was an active monastery and pilgrimage site from 600-1600.

After a quick tour in the freezing rain, we piled back into the warmth of the bus for the drive to Dublin. There, I finally got to see the play I have been desperately wanting to see ever since I first read it 6 years ago – Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman.

AT LONG LAST!

AT LONG LAST!

To make the evening even better, I met up with my friend Kat at the theatre, since she had flown over from Scotland to spend a few days in Dublin with me.

She brought her Polaroid.

Kat brought her Polaroid.

The Pillowman was everything I had hoped it would be and more (which is saying something, since my expectations were very, very high). The actors were phenomenal, the set was well designed, and the costumes were on point. I loved it.

The set of The Pillowman at The Gaiety

The set of The Pillowman at The Gaiety

And did I mention that we had front-row seats?

After the play, we took the freshmen to the historic Shelburne Hotel (the 1922 Irish Constitution was drafted in room 112) for a discussion of the play.

The Shelburne Hotel by day.

The Shelburne Hotel by day.

The next morning we visited the Book of Kells at Trinity College and took a tour of Kilmainham Gaol, where 14 men were executed for their roles in the Easter Rising in 1916. These executions – and the stories around them – turned the tide of public opinion toward the Republican cause, and led to the election of 73 Sinn Féin party members to Parliament in 1918 and their subsequent formation of the Dáil (an independent Irish Parliament).

The rest of the afternoon was free, so Kat and I wandered around Dublin to catch up and enjoy the weather.

That night was another play, Death of a Comedian by contemporary playwright Owen McCafferty. The play was shown at the Peacock stage, which is the blackbox theatre associated with the historic Abbey Theatre.

From a production standpoint, the show was excellent. The sets were minimal, creative, and well-executed, the lighting and sound effects were spot on, and all 3 actors were talented and well-cast. The script, however, left something to be desired. The play started strong, but felt unfinished. As Dean Killen put it, there was thesis, antithesis…but no synthesis.

The next morning, on my last full day in Ireland, I met Kat for breakfast. As always, the time went by too quickly.


Selfie on the Trinity campus.

At noon, I met up with the rest of the group for a quick trip to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and a drive out to Dalkey, a suburb of Dublin, to visit Joyce’s Martello tower, where the first chapter of Ulysses is set and where we read out loud the first chapter of Ulysses.

We spent the afternoon and evening in Dalkey, before returning to Dublin for our last night.

It was hard to feel good about waking up on my last day in Ireland, but wake up I had to. After one last Irish breakfast of fried eggs, baked beans, and grilled tomato, it was time to load the baggage onto the bus for the trip to the airport.

Once we arrived, it was a long series of lines – To check in. To get through security. To get through USA pre-check. To get through customs. To board the plane.

To fly home.

My tour of Ireland was complete.

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(for now)

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Irish Travel Journal, Day 6

This post is part of a series detailing my trip to Ireland. You can view the whole series here.

The next morning was another early start, since we had to catch the ferry out to Inis Mór (Inishmore), the largest of the Aran Islands.

It was a bumpy (and sleepy) crossing on the way there, but by the time we arrived the rain had stopped and the sun was shining. On the island we met up with Bertie, our tour guide for the day, and climbed onto his little bus for the ride up to the top of the island.

After depositing us at the end of the road, Bertie left us to continue on foot on the path up to Dún Aonghasa (Dun Aengus), an old fort built right up to the edge of the cliff at the island’s highest point.

After spending some time up at Dún Aonghasa taking pictures, enjoying the view, and staying away from the edge, we walked back down to the tea shop for lunch. Just like I had 6 years ago, I ordered the soup and brown bread.

On the bus ride back down to the water’s edge, we briefly stopped at the Seven Churches, which is a site containing the ruins of just two churches.

The ferry ride back to Galway was much calmer, and Cigi and I spent most of it sitting in the open air on the top deck.

Back at the hotel we were joined by a seanachaí, or Irish storyteller. He travels all around Ireland, collecting traditional stories and legends from old people before they are lost. He shared some of those stories with our group – stories about fields that would trap people inside if they strayed into them at night, about being cursed by having the rats set on you, and about confounding the rats before they could work their ill will. He also told us stories about collecting these stories, and about the people he has met during his travels.

The stories were all spellbindingly told, and the seanachaí himself was a fascinating character, with thick glasses, long wild hair, and an even longer beard that was split right down the middle. Unfortunately, the room we were in at the hotel was brightly lit, huge, and freezing cold, which made it difficult to properly appreciate both the stories and their teller.

After storytime, we rushed off to the warmth and grease of McDonagh’s for fish & chips (with mushy peas, of course!).

Once we had eaten all we could, Cigi and I headed across the street to Taaffes for a pint and some traditional music.

Continue on to Days 7-10

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Irish Travel Journal, Day 5

This post is part of a series detailing my trip to Ireland. You can view the whole series here.

Cigi and I woke up early the next morning so we would have time to explore the castle grounds. After trying out our fancy shower and eating some more whiskey porridge for breakfast, we set out to explore.

We made our way down to the formal gardens, and looked out over the lake from a small balcony set into the wall.

On our way back, we discovered the ruins of the original Mac Raignall clan castle from the 12th century, but unfortunately didn’t have time to linger – as it was, we barely made it back to the main castle in time to get back on the bus.

The ruins of the original castle.

The ruins of the original castle.

We drove from the castle to Galway, and stopped in the suburb of Salthill for lunch at a local brewpub and a walk along the water.

Salthill

Salthill

After checking into our hotel in Galway proper, we wandered up and down Shop Street and, appropriately, did a little souvenir shopping before dinner and a quiet night in.

Continue on to Day 6

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Irish Travel Journal, Day 4

This post is part of a series detailing my trip to Ireland. You can view the whole series here.

The group convened early for a walking tour of Derry. Our tour guide, Garvin, was fabulous.

The one and only Garvin.

The one and only Garvin.

Not only was he incredibly knowledgeable, funny, and gifted with impressions, but he had also lived through much of the history he was telling us about. As we stood at the Bloody Sunday memorial in the Bogside, he told us about his cousin who had been killed that day, and about the reactions of his family when they heard the news. Garvin was 14 when it happened, and his cousin who was killed was only 17. If Garvin himself had been only a few years older, who knows if he still would have been here to tell us the story.

The Bloody Sunday memorial in Derry.

The Bloody Sunday memorial.

Garvin began the tour by walking us through the events depicted on the many murals around Free Derry corner (the Bogside was also known as “Free Derry” because during The Troubles, the police wouldn’t go there).

While all of the murals have fraught histories, one story stood out as more tragic than the others.

"The Death of Innocence"

“The Death of Innocence”

The mural depicts 14-year-old Annette McGavigan, the first child casualty of The Troubles in Derry. In 1971, she was walking home from school when she bent down to pick up a rubber bullet in the street. Caught in the crossfire between the British Army and the IRA, she never stood back up. Her death was never investigated and no one was ever charged with her murder. The mural commemorating her was painted in 1999, although it looked different then than it does now. The rifle to her left was originally black and unbroken, and the butterfly over her right shoulder was black and white. In 2006, the mural was re-painted with a colored butterfly and a broken rifle, representing progress in the peace process. Garvin told us that after the mural was painted, Annette’s father would come every day and sit on the low wall across the road to talk to his little girl. He continued to do this until he died.

In addition to walking us through the heartbreaking history of The Troubles in the Bogside, Garvin took us up to walk to the old city walls of Derry.

His love for his city – despite its troubles – was both evident and infectious, and he truly brought all of the stories he told to life. His was one of the best tours I have ever been on.

The tour ended in a little tea shop, where we stayed for a pot of tea and a scone. Then it was time to get back on the bus and leave Derry for Drumcliff.

At Drumcliff, we stopped under the shadow of Ben Bulben (a table mountain in Sligo) to visit W.B. Yeats’ grave.

The final resting place of W.B. Yeats.

The final resting place of W.B. Yeats.

The location and epitaph of the grave are drawn from Yeats’ own poem, “Under Ben Bulben”, in which he considered his own mortality. Here is the final verse of the long poem:

Under bare Ben Bulben’s head
In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid.
An ancestor was rector there
Long years ago, a church stands near,
By the road an ancient cross.
No marble, no conventional phrase;
On limestone quarried near the spot
By his command these words are cut:
Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!

After paying our respects to Yeats (and eating a spot of lunch), we continued on to Mohill, in County Leitrim, where we would be spending the night in Lough Rynn Castle.

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The castle was, predictably, amazing. It looked more like a manor house than a bona fide medieval castle, which makes sense since it was built in the early 19th century. While there were no ghosts haunting the castle itself, its history was a haunted one. The 3rd Earl of Leitrim, William Sydney Clements, was a ruthless landlord and pitiless evictor who had a reputation for abusing the wives and daughters of his tenants. After several assassination attempts, he was ultimately ambushed at killed by 3 of his tenants in County Donegal in 1878. Hatred of the man was so intense that his funeral in Dublin was marked by riots, and none of the 3 murderers were ever convicted of his death. His murder was widely publicized in Ireland and beyond, with proponents of land reform using it to argue that tenants needed to be better protected from the abuses of tyrannical landlords.

Now, however, Lough Rynn Castle is better known as one of the best wedding venues in Ireland, topping the Castle division. That, I could certainly believe. Cigi’s and my room was spacious and beautiful, with a jacuzzi we never got a chance to use and towels folded into the shape of swans on each of our beds.

Swans!

Swans!

As beautiful as our room was though, Cigi and I quickly abandoned it to explore the rest of the castle. Our explorations quickly brought us to the bar, where the bartender offered to give us a tour. After walking through the blue sitting room, the reading room, and the library, and walking down to see the formal ballroom, we saw the honeymoon suite and the secret private balcony outside it.

Eventually we returned to the bar, where Dean Killen made good on his offer to buy me a wonderful whiskey (Midleton!) as a thank you for rescuing us all from a passport disaster.

We stayed in the bar chatting until right before dinner – Cigi and I practically had to run to change and round up the freshmen.

After dinner, it was finally time for me to lead a discussion of Claire Keegan’s novella, Foster (you can read the original short story, which was published in The New Yorker in 2010, here). All of the freshmen crowded into a corner of the main room, tucked away behind the piano, and we began. Everything went smoothly, everyone participated, and the time flew by. Finishing up the discussion left me giddy and triumphant, and after hearing from the students how much they enjoyed it, I was practically jumping up and down.

After the discussion, it was time for a little Ragtime.

After the discussion, it was time for a little ragtime.

Continue on to Day 5

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Irish Travel Journal, Day 3

This post is part of a series detailing my trip to Ireland. You can view the whole series here.

Breakfast at the hotel was wonderful. Fried eggs with runny yolks, sautéed mushrooms, tomatoes, and baked beans. Plus porridge with a little whiskey in it! I obeyed the signs direction to “Try some Bushmills Irish Whiskey with your porridge.” With cream, a little honey, and a generous splash of whiskey, porridge was delicious! Something to try at home.

Don't mind if I do!

Don’t mind if I do!

The day began with a bus tour of Belfast.

Along the way, we saw Divis Tower, the only remaining building of a block of flats that was occupied by the British army during The Troubles due to it’s siteline over the city (for more information about what Belfast was like during The Troubles – and the way that history continues to be felt today – check out this incredible long read in The New Yorker).

During The Troubles, fighting was so bad around the Divis Flats that the British Army could often only reach their outpost at the top of Divis Tower by helicopter.

During The Troubles, fighting was so bad around the Divis Flats that the British Army could often only reach their outpost at the top of Divis Tower by helicopter.

We also saw the peace wall on Divis Road (so named because its obstructing presence kept the peace between neighborhoods), which was full of murals, and reminded me a bit of the East Side Gallery in Berlin.

The driving tour eventually brought us out to the Titanic Museum (the Titanic was built in Belfast).

It was one of the best-designed museums I have seen in a very long time. It was similar to the Guggenheim in New York in that the architecture of the museum propelled you through the exhibits in order. The exhibits themselves were very hands-on, and designed to appeal to learners of all types – there were text panels, images, dioramas, video, objects, interactive touchscreens, quizzes, audio recordings – and even a Disney-style ride that took you through the experience of working in a Belfast shipyard (complete with heat from the furnaces).

The museum began with the greater context of the history of Belfast and the shipping industry, and then moved through the construction and furnishing of the Titanic, the lives of the passengers, their daily routines, and then finally to the sinking of the ship and its aftermath – the collection of the bodies, the experiences of the survivors, and finally depictions of the tragedy in popular culture and the search for the wreck itself.

After the Titanic Experience, we left Belfast for our next destination – the rope bridge at Carrick-a-Rede. The views (and the wind!) were incredible.

From there, we hopped back on the bus and drove out to Giant’s Causeway, which was fascinating from both a geological and mythological perspective. The unusual hexagonal flat stones of the Causeway were formed when hot lava shot up from the bottom of the sea and cooled incredibly quickly, before the hexagonal columns had a chance to melt and lose their shape.

Possibly the only time I will ever be excited about basalt.

The only time I will ever be excited about basalt.

More interesting to me was the story that rose up to account for the geological oddity. The area is called Giant’s Causeway because, according to legend, it was once a bridge all the way from Ireland to Scotland. A Scottish giant, Benandonner, once used this bridge to walk over to Ireland, with the intention to fight the Irish giant, Fionn mac Cumhail (Finn McCool). Knowing that he would not be able to defeat Benandonner in physical combat, Fionn asks his wife Oona for help. She advised him to dress as a baby and sit in a cradle. Then, when Benandonner arrives, Oona tells him that Fionn is out but will be back shortly. Eyeing the “baby” of considerable size before him, Benandonner reconsiders his ambition to fight the father, so he high-tailed it back across the causeway, breaking it up behind him so that Fionn couldn’t follow.

After spending some time exploring the beautiful, fascinating basalt formations and enjoying the sunny, breezy weather, we reluctantly headed back to the bus for the ride to our next stop, Derry.

A landscape with grandeur.

A landscape with grandeur.

On the way, we passed through the village of Bushmills, where Bushmills whiskey is distilled. Apparently, the word “whiskey” comes from the Irish words uisce beatha (“iska-bah”) meaning “water of life” – just like eau de vie or aqua vitae. In fact, it’s where the concept originally came from! Once Christianity – and with it, Latin – reached Ireland, the term was translated into the Latin, which then evolved into Italian, French, and so on.

Once in Derry, we checked into the hotel, ate dinner, and headed out into the town for our first evening out. Cigi and I spent the evening pub-hopping and talking to everyone we could. One of the most interesting conversations of the evening was with a bouncer outside of one of the pubs. When he asked where I was from and I said the US, he seemed surprised. “But you sound English!” he said. “No offense meant.” I was far from being offended by not being immediately perceived as American, but it was a fascinating cultural moment to understand that merely calling someone English on the Catholic (and therefore Republican) side of Derry could be an insult.

After that, Cigi and I wandered further afield to see what else was out there. Eventually, our wanderings took us deep into the Bogside (the neighborhood in Derry where Bloody Sunday occurred), and murals depicting scenes from The Troubles stared down at us.

The Bogside by night.

The Bogside by night.

It was a very different experience coming across them without context, in the middle of the night, than it was seeing them during the day as part of a tour group, as we would the next morning.

Continue on to Day 4

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Irish Travel Journal, Days 1-2

This post is the first installment of my Irish travel journal. You can view the whole series here.

I’m starting this journal on the plane from St. Louis to Newark, about to embark (or perhaps already having embarked) on my second FOCUS Ireland trip.

The morning began when I met up with the professors and students at Wash U. I was in charge of checking passports before letting people on the bus, and fortunately I took the role seriously – Dean Killen nearly left his behind in the copy machine! To thank me for saving the whole trip a lot of bother by realizing that before we got to the airport, he promised to buy me a really nice glass of whiskey once we got to Ireland.

At the airport, we herded the crew inside, wrote out baggage labels, and checked in. Despite the best efforts of the gate agents, we managed to get (at least) one set of boarding passes for everyone.

From there, it was off to Ireland.

The flights were mostly uneventful, although there was some excitement toward the end when my seatmate accidentally spilled all of the sticky syrup from a breakfast fruit cup right onto my pants. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long before I got my bag (and the rest of my clothes), at baggage claim. Unfortunately, I had only packed one pair of pants. This meant I got to make my victorious re-entry into Ireland in my pajamas.

Ireland in Pajamas

At least I brought cool pajamas?

This was somewhat fitting, since we arrived at approximately 6am Dublin time. By the time we made it through customs, recovered our bags, and drove up to Newgrange (a Stone Age tomb famous for the illumination of its interior chamber by the sun on the winter solstice), the Visitor’s Centre hadn’t even opened yet.

After watching the informational video, meandering through the exhibit and having a spot of breakfast (lunch? dinner?), we caught the bus out to Newgrange itself.

I call this one "Sunrise Over the Isle of Man."

I call this one “Sunrise Over the Isle of Man.”

IMG_3719Our tour guide at Newgrange looked and sounded exactly like a supervillain, from his black hood and monotone voice to his walking stick and dead-eyed stare. He was also incredibly knowledgeable about the site and its history, and gave an excellent tour. In fact, his supervillain ethos merely contributed to the aura of magic and mystery about the the area (especially once we entered the chamber within the mound).


After Newgrange, we got back on the bus for the long (by Irish standards) drive up to Belfast.

When we arrived, my roommate Cigi and I explored the city for a bit before stopping back by the hotel for a pint at an historic pub, The Crown. We even managed to snag a snug (small private room)!

The Crown Bar

The perfect place for a pint.

While there, our bus driver and tour guide Rory told us all about the sexist history of snugs. Apparently they were first created to keep women from drinking in the open bars with men, and that that system wasn’t entirely abolished until the 1960s. Yikes! But however they started out, snugs are a wonderfully cozy place to have a drink with a few friends.

Dinner at the hotel that night was delicious, but since we had all been awake for almost 48 hours, the conversation at the table was a little slow, and the time between the courses seemed very long indeed.

Continue on to Day 3

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How to Pack for a Week in Ireland

SuitcasesAnyone who knows me well can tell you that I’m an obsessive packer.

When I went to camp in middle and high school, I would gather all of my gear and stuff it into my duffel bag as soon as I got the recommended packing list – often months ahead of time. I would then unpack and repack every week or so to make sure I still had everything I needed (and nothing more!).

Not much has changed since then.

Assembling a packing list and packing well – in as small a bag as possible – still gives me (almost) as much joy as the trip itself.

As I am preparing to go to Ireland for 10 days, I thought I would share my packing routine with you.

START WITH A LIST

If you write out your packing list in advance, it’s much easier to avoid overpacking (or forgetting something crucial). Here are some list-building tips:

  1. There’s an app for that. I like to build my packing list in Trello, which is the free organizational app I use to keep track of everything from my daily To Do list to the books I want to read, but you could write it out anywhere you like.
  2. Do the math. When putting together a packing list, my favorite bit of advice comes from Connie Wang in Refinery29. It’s a simple formula:

    Days / 5 = Dresses x 3 = Tops & Bottoms

    • Divide the number of days you will be traveling by 5, then round up to the nearest whole number. That’s how many dresses you should bring.
    • Multiply that number by 3. That’s how many tops and bottoms you should bring.
    • If you don’t want to bring dresses, adjust accordingly.
  3. Stick to a color scheme. Packing items according to a color scheme makes it easier to mix and match once you’re on the road, so you’ll get more wear out of each item you bring. While many travel sites tell you to stick to neutrals, there’s no reason your look has to be boring. I’m bringing mostly black, but a variety of textures will keep my outfits interesting.
  4. Leave that extra pair of shoes behind. As nice as it would be to have the perfect pair of shoes for every outfit, they take up a lot of space and are awkward to fit in a suitcase. Unless you know for sure you will be going to a fancy dress occasion, leave the heels at home. The same goes for athletic shoes (“I think I might want to hit the hotel gym” isn’t good enough). I like to bring a pair of nice, comfortable shoes or boots for everyday wear, plus a pair of flats that can double as going-out shoes and quasi-slippers to wear around the hotel.

Here’s a look at my lists (organized by category) for a 10-day trip to Ireland in March:

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It may look like I’m bringing a lot of toiletries, but they’re all sample size so everything will still fit in my TSA-mandated quart-size zip-top bag.

ASSEMBLE EVERYTHING & SORT IT OUT

I like to start packing by throwing everything on my list into a giant pile on my bed, and then I divide my pile into suitcase items, carry-on items, and wear-on-the-plane items.

Plan to wear your bulkiest items on the plane. Not only will you be extra cosy, but it will free up extra space in your bag. My plane outfit always includes a coat, my biggest sweater, and my heaviest pair of shoes or boots. Just make sure it’s not a pair that requires lots of lacing! You don’t want to hold up the security line trying to take your shoes off.

BAG IT UP

The quickest way to make everything in your suitcase and carry-on seem infinitely more organized is to further sort your items by category and put them into bags and pouches.

Bags and Pouches

  • Most of my clothes get neatly folded and wrapped up in a compression bag.
  • I put my underwear in cute little wash & wear bags, but you could also use shoe bags, gift bags, or even plastic grocery bags.
  • My chargers and outlet converters go into a little bag so they don’t get tangled.
  • Of course, as per the TSA’s instructions, all of my liquids, gels, and aerosols go in a quart-sized zip-top bag.
  • The remainder of my toiletries go into my Poe bag.
  • Jewelry goes into another pouch, as do my tea bags and snacks.

PACK IT AWAY

Put items you will need easy access to (like your baggie of liquids & gels) near the top of the bag, and stow items you won’t need until later (like jewelry) underneath.

All Packed

Voilà! Plenty of room left to bring things back.

See something you like in this post?

Here’s where to get it:

Also, it should be relatively obvious if you look around the rest of the blog, but no one paid me to link to their stuff. I just like it!

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A Return to Ireland

A few days ago, I got an email out of the blue. Eire again?! *

My freshman year of college, I took a year-long Irish literature course that culminated in a trip to Ireland over spring break. The class ended up having a profound impact on my life long after freshman year, as that is where I met many of the people who are to this day my closest friends.

A few days ago, I got a chance to go back.

The email was from my former professor, letting me and a few other alumnae of the course she’s still in touch with know that the chaperones for this year’s visit to Ireland had backed out at the last minute and “WE’D LOVE TO HAVE YOU ON THE TRIP!!!” The only catch was, we had to make a final decision within 24 hours so they could book the tickets.

After some quick calculations, I decided to go for it. Spontaneous adventure!

It has been 6 years since I went to Ireland with my own freshman class.

100_0911

(Can you even tell which one is me?)

We were required to keep a trip journal while we were there, and I’d like to share a few excerpts from mine with you.

From the first night:

“I got food poisoning from the cod…so I spent the whole night throwing up and consequently got no sleep.”

Nearly every entry after that first one begins “still sick…”, and details which chair I sat curled up in while the rest of the class was exploring museums or touring historic sites.

Fortunately my wonderful roommate took very good care of me.

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Despite all the sickness, I managed to have a great time, as evidenced by my “Things Amy loves about Ireland” list:

  1. hot water makers instead of coffee makers in hotels
  2. interesting crisp flavors (and the fact that they’re called crisps) → Prawn Cocktail, Cajun Squirrel, Crispy Duck & Hoisin
  3. tea EVERYWHERE (in pots, with saucers)
  4. the fact that it is green and beautiful. Obviously.
  5. brown sugar packets
  6. energy efficiency in hotels
  7. third-wheel beds
  8. the trouser press in our room in Galway
  9. the vegetable soup (and brown bread)
  10. drinking Bulmer’s out of pints in pubs instead of Natty out of cans in basements
  11. the oddly tacky framed fake sunflowers at the otherwise very classy Academy Plaza Hotel in Dublin

It’s quite a list. As you can see, some things haven’t changed (my love of tea!), but others most certainly have (drinking Natty in basements instead of craft beer in bars). I have no idea why I included a few of the items on there (the trouser press? the sunflowers?).

It will be very interesting to see how the experience is different this time around. I’m 6 years older, worlds more mature (at least I hope so!), and a much more experienced traveller. I also – *fingers crossed* – won’t have debilitating food poisoning this time around. No tartar sauce for me!

No matter what happens, I’m looking forward to sharing my brand new trip journal with all of you in just a few short weeks!



*Eire is the Irish Gaelic word for Ireland.

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Wherever you go, there you are

I have been hankering to travel lately.

This is not an infrequent phenomenon. I grew up a nomad, bouncing back and forth from coast to coast – California to Maine to New Mexico to Florida to Washington State to Virginia and back up to Maine – before ultimately landing somewhere in the middle.

Map of Moves

The constant exposure to new places and the need to constantly assimilate into new environments has influenced me in a number of ways.

  • I am closer to my family than I might have been otherwise. For most of my childhood, my brother was often the only friend close to my age that I had (and certainly the only one I could depend on to still be around the next year). Also, Robert and I spent probably 300 hours in the backseat together during all of our cross-country drives; while there were frequent spats, it was in our best interest to get along.
  • I am much more outgoing than I would have been otherwise. Funny how having to make a whole new set of friends every year from the time you’re 5 turns you from someone who hides behind your mother’s leg to someone who craves new social experiences.
  • I rely less on the approval of others than I might have otherwise. Now, my parents certainly did their best to cultivate my independent streak, and I have always been one to Know What I Want. However, I credit my perennial misfit status (I was never the cool new kid – just the new kid) for my ability to dress how I want and do what I want without fear of what people might think – even if that means knitting by myself in a bar. That said, I’m a human being, so I do still care what you think of me. LIKE ME! PLEASE LIKE ME!

Heck, all that moving has even affected the way that I speak!

Linguistic Map

I loved my nomad lifestyle (despite all of the last-picked-for-every-team pain it caused along the way), and embraced it even more in college. A new living space every year? Friends from big cities whose couches I could crash on? Opportunities to learn new languages and hone them during months abroad? I was in my element.

College was four years spent exploring new places and spaces, so perhaps it shouldn’t come as such a surprise that at the end of it, I opted for one more new experience – remaining in St. Louis while most of my friends moved away.

Instead of being the one who went, this time I was the one who stayed behind.

Now, this is all old news, and while the summer after graduation was a conflicted one, I am happy with the decision I made.

A year and a half later, however, my nomad instincts are rising again. Despite the fact that I love the city I have chosen and all it has to offer, despite the fact that my apartment is beautiful and my boyfriend more so, despite the fact that I am well employed and enjoy an active social life with people who challenge and support me, I am feeling a pull to…elsewhere. I can’t stop the sneaking fear from creeping up on me that I am becoming Stuck in One Place. (Did I mention that a house in the suburbs with a white picket fence is the last thing I have ever dreamed for?)

When this tide of vague discontent starts lapping at my toes and threatening to sweep me back to the East Coast, to Europe, to Anywhere But Here!, I try to think back to words happened upon in The Chronicle: Wherever I go, there I am.

It’s true. We’ve heard so many times – human beings are incredibly adaptable creatures, and the New rapidly (d)evolves into the Familiar:

“If we visited Mars or Venus while keeping the same senses, they would clothe everything we could see in the same aspect as the things of Earth.”

[Full disclosure: I have never read Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, which is where this is from – I also snagged this gem from The Chronicle]

If I moved to back to Boston or Bologna (or even to Bogotá!), they too would eventually begin to pale. The curse of the New is that it cannot remain so long.

So, for now at least, I’ll content myself to experiencing the New in novels and non-fiction, art exhibitions and friends of friends, restaurants and weekend trips.

But I’ll also keep sighing over the Italian Instagrams that clutter up my feed.

#keepthedreamalive

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A Trip Back East Means…

(mouse over to see)

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