A thought occurred to me on Christmas day, thanks to Lola. I realized that the adventures I am having now are the ones I’ll be telling my kids and grandkids about. Why that didn’t occur to me in the first four months of living in Europe, I’m not quite sure. But hey, better late than never, right?
|On the boat|
When I started planning my winter break trip in the summer, I didn’t really know what I was doing. How could I, really? No matter how much you research you’re never going to know what a place is going to be like until you get there and you don’t know what traveling alone for a long period of time is like until you do it. It didn’t occur to me until much later in my trip that part of the beauty of traveling comes from not knowing what comes next and from making mistakes. In fact, I often came to resent how much I planned (though my “planning” really only involved reserving hostel rooms and buying some train tickets ahead of time). I also didn’t realize how much I would learn over the course of a month, about traveling, about myself, and about the extraordinary planet we call home (okay that sounds a bit pretentious, I didn’t even leave Europe). If anything, I hope reading this will make you want to travel, to make your own adventures, your own mistakes. I hope it will make you question things you’ve been taught and question yourself. Most of all, I hope it will make you want to see that despite its appearances, the world is a beautiful place filled with good people.
Part 1: Airports and Irishmen
I had been to Dublin before and fell in love with the city so I was pretty excited to be spending another day there. I had big plans but I hadn’t taken into account two tiny details: the fact that I would be running on no sleep and that I’d be lugging around my suitcase.
My flight from Madrid landed in Dublin close to midnight so I immediately headed up to the 24-hour food court that I read about online. I made a bed out of chairs and tried to get some sleep. I think I got about an hour. I kept myself occupied until 7:30am at which point I couldn’t take it anymore so I went outside to catch a bus into town. I promptly returned to the food court because it was dark out and absolutely freezing. I went back outside around 8:30, caught the bus, and was really disoriented and frustrated when I did get into Dublin. I consistently underestimate the importance of sleep, as magical as it is you are still only human when you travel.
Anyway, in my hopelessness I stumbled upon a church that reminded me of my home parish, St. Agnes. They were having a mass within a half hour so I decided to stay. It was all decorated for Christmas and had a much more cozy feeling than the churches in Sevilla. It was cool how it was full of life before mass; the parishioners were moving around and getting the church ready, lighting candles, organizing things. It had a “busy bee” vibe that was both comforting and relaxing. It was nice to hear an English mass and though the Irish accents were pretty heavy, I loved it. An older woman was doing the readings and I could picture her as a grandmother telling her grandchildren a story by the fireplace. It was beautiful. After mass I asked an older man how to get back to O’Connell Street because I was very disoriented. He walked with me for a bit because he was going in that direction, but not until I put on my gloves (“It’s too cold out not to have your gloves on!”) and moved my purse under my coat. He explained that he knew all about protecting purses from his seven sisters. When I told him I was from the United States he said that we were basically related, practically cousins! I love that they, the Irish, actually like us.
When I got back on the main drag I stopped at a café and had a mediocre berry muffin for breakfast and bought a falafel wrap and some fruit for lunch. At that point I started toward the dock as I was taking a ferry from Dublin Port to Holyhead, Wales. I got really lost and confused and was tired and angry and could not figure out where I needed to go. Pro tip: don’t try and walk to the dock. Luckily, an attractive dock worker saw me struggling and gave me a lift. He told me that he drives people all the time, which I totally get because it is F-A-R. We had a nice little conversation, mostly about my travel plans. I think I’m going to marry an Irishman; they’re my favorite so far.
Part 2: Ferry ride and other crappy transportation
One of my favorite parts of traveling is the actual act of moving, there’s something exciting about getting from Point A to Point B. Because of this, I tried to make sure that I incorporated as many types of transportation into my trip as possible, whether or not it was the cheapest or quickest way. I’ll admit, I was pretty pumped to take the ferry from Dublin to Holyhead but when the “fast ferry” that I booked had been cancelled due to weather I was not exactly thrilled about taking the slow, “luxurious” ferry. Not only did it take double the time but it was full of people who were part of tour groups and SO MANY ANNOYING KIDS. I love kids, I really do. Ask anyone, I’m borderline obsessed, but the ferry was terrible. At first I spent time on the deck to avoid the running and screaming children but after a while the weather started to get pretty rough. It was super windy and started raining and I began wondering why no one else was on the deck. I climbed down the ladder and went inside and saw a huge sign posted on the door, no one was allowed on the decks. Oh. That explained that. I went down to a lower deck and dozed off a bit, thinking that if there were a bunch of people around no one would be bold enough to try and steal anything. I fell asleep and then woke up to someone STEALING MY PURSE. They had run away before it occurred to me what happened. I scanned the room once before going down to security to report it. I was mostly concerned about my passport because my phone and camera were on me and I had no money since I knew that I’d have to use pounds once I got to the UK. Whoever did it was must have been disappointed because approximately two minutes after I reported it, another security personnel came down with it. Crisis averted. I pledged to be less trusting of people, but that didn’t last very long. If there’s one thing I learned on this trip, it’s that despite all the “bad” in the world, there’s just too much “good” for it to keep you down very long.
|Pretending I'm in Outlander|
When I finally arrived in Wales I was told that due to the flooding, the trains weren’t running. They arranged replacement buses for us and once I was on mine I gave Laura, my beautiful co-counselor from camp this summer, a call to let her know the game plan. As we were about to pull out of the parking lot, one of the panels fell off the side of the bus. I’m not even kidding. The bus was deemed “un-drivable” and we were stuck again. Luckily, they told us, they could get a train here within the hour. Great. The only plus side to all of this is that they didn’t make us buy tickets. The train finally came and on the way I talked to an older man who was sitting near me. He told me that he spends half his time in Ireland and the other half in Wales. He also said Canadians are the worst because they’re so detail oriented and told me about some of the things I should see in Bangor. When I finally got off the train I was thrilled to see Laura and when I climbed into bed that night I realized that I had only been gone about a day and a half. How was I supposed to do nearly a month of this?
Part 3: Outlander, Roman Camps, and Pizza
I guess you’re probably wondering what exciting things there are in Northern Wales. Well the main thing is my co-co Laura. I didn’t have much reason for going other than the fact that she was there and the few days I spent there proved me right. In Bangor’s defense, it was still Christmas vacation. I’m sure that all the cool places we walked by would have been even cooler if we had been able to go inside. The weather was also pretty awful, but you aren’t reading this to listen to me complain are you?
The first morning I was there we (I) made biscuits for breakfast. Laura and I became slightly obsessed with biscuits at camp this summer so it was an integral part of our reunion. We went on a walk to take in some of the sights, and I must say there’s something beautiful about a dreary little Welsh town. I wasn’t expecting it, but there were pagan and Roman remains scattered around the landscape and I felt like I was in “Outlander” when I was dancing around in a circle/monument of rocks. Fast-forwarding a couple hundred years, we walked along the pier, one of the things Bangor is famous for. Pretty much everything was closed but we did stop in one little store so I could buy a sticker for my suitcase. It stormed all afternoon, so we stayed inside to watch movies. It cleared up by dinner so we went out. We walked by this Italian place but we couldn’t tell if they were open or not, all the employees were sitting at a table eating and talking. After weighing out options and walking by three more times I went in and asked…they were open. I got a tri-colored pizza, which ended up not exactly being what I expected but good nevertheless. We split a bottle of rosé and a fantastic bruschetta appetizer and I had some sub-par lemon cake for dessert. We finished the night by watching “Suits”, a TV series I am now obsessed with.
Our plan for the next day was to see the cathedral. The rule is if a town has a cathedral it is automatically named a city. This is the case with Bangor. Unfortunately it was closed. We ended up at an adorable second hand bookstore instead, which was fine by me. I bought “The Bluest Eye” to read and though it was short, I didn’t finish it until Munich. I can’t say that it was my favorite book but it’s always nice to read something different. I did discover in it what is possibly my new favorite description: “slowly, like Indian summer moving imperceptibly toward fall”. After, we hiked up “Bangor Mountain” and got home just before the afternoon storm. The day was finished with more “Suits” and some Dominos. The next day I would be heading off to London.