Over the past few weeks, my travel experience has undergone quite a change. The last time I sat down and truly reflected on my traveling experience, I was on the beach in Bali enjoying the sunset, which was consistently around 7 PM.
Fast forward through a number of taxis, trains, planes, and buses later, and I find myself zipping through the Belgian countryside on a comfortable high-speed train onto our third continental European city; my youngest sister, Jennifer, still in tow.
Our most recent stop was in our motherland of Ireland. Literally – our mother’s side of the family is 100% Irish and we were anxious to explore the Emerald Isle, and possibly a bit of our heritage, together.
After a trip with family in 2008, it would be my second time in Ireland, but Jennifer’s first; regardless, we were giddy with excitement to be there together.
Welcome Back West, Ginger: Arriving in Dublin
Like the human experience everywhere, one can become conditioned quite easily, and in travel I always find the results to be entertaining and interesting. The conditioning to deal with constant difficulty during travels throughout the previous months in South East Asia was something that I not only came to expect, but that I had strangely enough become incredibly attached to.For the past two weeks I have been in Ireland, and as I mentioned, underwent quite a transition, personally and emotionally, from the previous five months of my life.
I had charades prepared at the drop of a hat for any necessary action. My confused, lonely, language-isolated, puppy-dog looks had neared perfection. “I’m a student” rolled off my tongue when haggling to get lower prices. Nothing was simple, but with time it had all become second nature.
When I arrived in the Dublin airport after a grueling flight from Bali, I was ignored and allowed to exit customs with little more than a lovely green Ireland stamp in my passport and a curt nod from the agent. No translation problems, no ‘being the only ginger around’ stares, no visa fees, no bribes to pay – to say it was surreal would be an understatement. A part of me felt immediate loss and resentment at the convenience of everything.
After getting my backpack, my phone connected almost immediately to the complementary wifi provided at the airport. Before I knew it, I had received my friend Hailey’s iMessage on my phone and followed her instructions to the nearest AirCoach platform. I didn’t have to depending on the kindness of strangers, or even the clearly posted placards marking the way. I felt like I was on the other side of the world…
Exploring Dublin from a Friendly Flat
Hailey is a great friend from our high school days in our hometown of Atlanta. She has been studying medicine in Dublin for two years, and graciously opened her flat to Jennifer and I for as long as we wanted to stay. This allowed us much more freedom for exploration both in and around Dublin during our stay in the Emerald Isle.
As we adjusted to the time zone change, Jennifer and I leisurely explored Dublin and spoiled ourselves with the Western items we had been missing – salad bars, fresh authentic Italian food, burritos, cold beer on tap – we were in heaven.
Between our snacks and meals, Jennifer and I found ourselves falling in love with the beautiful city gardens, outdoor restaurants, and endless shopping that Dublin had to offer. We also found ourselves considering the reality of a move to Dublin.
With many of the EU headquarters of international companies in the Irish capital city, maybe one day we can make that happen…!
Rare Luck of the Irish: Great Weather!
During my previous trip to Ireland in 2008, my mother, Aunt Patti and cousin Patrick were not able to spend time in Dublin due to inclement weather – surprised to hear it was raining in Ireland? Probably not…
Fortunately for Jennifer and I, this time was the exact opposite weather-wise. Each day the weather was fantastic, which allowed for comfortable city exploration by foot. The sun does not set until after 9 PM, which also made our days there longer than usual and more enjoyable and leisurely.
Around Dublin with a Local
Because Hailey is doing research this summer she was not able to join during some of our weekday excursions around the city, but she introduced us to and joined us for the fantastic brunch for which Dublin is gaining popularity.
After months away from home and (most of) my family, I was thrilled to be able to catch up with my middle sister, Lisa. She and her best friend, Kathleen, had come over to Ireland to explore for a week and they met up with us for an afternoon.
After a delicious brunch at Herbstreet, Hailey drove us on a very entertaining, and informative tour from Dublin to County Wicklow where we stopped for a pint in the (now very) famous town of Enniskerry.
This quaint, adorable village has gained attention over the past few years after portions of the movie P.S. I Love You were filmed here. Regardless of it’s fame, the village remains sleepy and very traditionally Irish, and we enjoyed our time exploring and goofing around together.
New Places with Familiar Faces
In addition to Lisa and Kathleen, we had a few more surprise guests appeared on the scene in Dublin.
We met up with was one of my best friends, Jenny, and her boyfriend, Tim, and younger sister, Sarah. Sarah was studying in London for the summer and Jenny and Tim had made plans to do a European holiday together. Luckily, our schedules coincided in Dublin, and it was great fun to spend time with them. Though we hadn’t seen each other in months, we picked up where we left off – the mark of true friendship!
Another familiar face in Dublin was a sorority sister of mine from university. Aidan and her boyfriend, Mike, were doing a three week European tour, and like Jenny, our schedules coincided perfectly.
Through a few quick Facebook messages, we planned to meet up and tour the Guinness Factory. After far too much fun and closing the factory down, we set off to find live music and dinner. The night was a blast!
Later in our European travels, we met up with Aiden and Mike in Prague – it’s such a small world!
Out West: Our Time in County Galway
After realizing that we were quickly overstaying our welcome while simultaneously not exploring the “real Ireland”, Jennifer and I decided to venture out of Dublin. We walked to the bus station and took a short, four hour Bus Éireann connection to one of my favorite Irish cities, Galway.
The bus ride was a short four hours, and with complementary wifi and comfortable seats we barely remembered to look out at the fantastic Irish landscapes we were passing. This was certainly first class compared to the trains and buses we experiences in South East Asia!
When we arrived in Galway, we walked about ten minutes to Barnacles Hostel on Quay Street. Hailey recommended that we stay there, and I couldn’t agree more! With its central location, great value for money, and incredibly friendly staff, it was everything we could possibly ask for in a hostel. I would strongly recommend Barnacles Hostel to hostel-goers looking for a great value and unbeatable location in Galway.
During our stay at Barnacles Hostel, we met a few great new friends and enjoyed our days of exploration around the Salthill Prom, as well as our nights out on the town with them.
Our visit in Galway coincided with the semi-final match of the World Cup, which we watched at a packed pub before a night of live music. I was cheering for Argentina, and think I might have been the only one in the entire city…maybe even the entire country.
The Fantastic Aran Islands
During our time exploring Galway the fantastic weather continued, and we were fortunate enough to take a day trip to the Aran Islands, a series of islands located off of the western coast of Ireland.
We spent our day on Inis Mór, the largest of the Aran Islands, where we rented bikes and explored the paths cutting across the rolling meadows and marveled at the fantastic natural landscapes. Before we began our bike journey, we visited the local grocery, Spar, for two sandwiches. When we wanted to take a break later in the afternoon, we simply stopped and enjoyed our little picnic on the beach near the island’s seal colony.
One of the man made structures located on the far side of the island island, Dun Aonghasa, is a famous archeological structure noted in the region for its continued mystery to scholars.
As we stumbled against the strong winds to explore the structure, we were stunned by the dizzying cliffs that marked the end of the island and fourth “wall” of the compound. By building along the cliff, the fort structure only required the construction of three sides to protect the residents. Jennifer and I wondered if the cliffs were safer than the occasional enemy – they were beautiful, but terrifying!
The cliffs along Dun Aonghasa on Inis Mór were eerily unmarked, making us both nervous for the families who had young children running around near the edge. It was exhilarating to get near the edge, but terrifying to think about the consequences of an unexpectedly strong wind.
Although the weather didn’t call for wool, we made an obligatory stop at the famous Aran Sweater Market, a famous local wool and craft market on the island. Although the items were cost prohibitive to the backpacker budgets we were on, it was fun to search through the endless selection of handmade sweaters, scarves, and gloves.
Back to Dublin: Macklemore in Marlay Park
We packed our bags and boarded the bus from Galway anxious for the next chapter of oru Irish adventure – we had scored tickets to see Ellie Goulding and Macklemore & Ryan Louis play in Marlay Park. Though anyone would admit the show was impressive, it was particularly exciting for us as these two are artists are Jennifer’s favorites!
At the entrance gates, we were lucky enough to run into Irish twin sisters who were bubbly enough to invite us to dance and sing with them. Between our endless jokes and pictures, we even listened to a bit of the set!
Revisiting places is always interesting, and can be scary. What if something has changed or it’s not as perfect as you remember? Luckily, my first visit to Ireland back in 2008 was incredible, and so was this one – now, that’s the luck of the Irish!